The Parks & Recreation Commission will present the preliminary findings of its master planning process during a May 17 meeting at Weed Beach, bringing together months worth of public engagement and data collection. The Parks & Recreation master plan is meant to provide a 10-year view of the town’s objectives for its parks and beaches and identify pertinent areas for growth. Darien’s last parks master plan was completed in 1996.

Since receiving funding for a new master plan in February the Parks & Recreation Commission has worked with two consultants, GreenPlay and Weston & Sampson, to begin development. With the help of the consultants the commission held three focus groups for parties interested in the planning process and interviewed 21 different stakeholders. Parks & Recreation Director Pamela Geary said she and Commission Chair Mary Flynn organized meetings with more than 60 different people to hear their feedback. The focus groups brought smaller groups of Darien residents together to discuss how they use the town's parks and what they want to see in the future.

For those who were not able to give feedback in person, two public surveys will reach Darien homes in May. The first was sent out to a sample group of approximately 3,500 households and should reach homes by the end of this week, while the other is open to all Darien residents and should be available by May 5. Copies of the parks master plan survey can be found at the Parks & Recreation Office and Selectmen’s Office in Town Hall, as well as the Darien Senior Center and Public Library. The public survey will also be available online at Dariensurvey.org on May 5, and is expected to be open for about one month.

Core objectives of the planning process include determining uses for the town’s new and underutilized properties. The Board of Selectmen has said they will consider the commission’s recommended uses for the new 16.25 acre parcel of land purchased from the Ox Ridge Hunt Club earlier this year. GreenPlay also discussed opportunities for new facilities at Diller Park and 30 Edgerton Street, the site of the town’s old senior center.

Consultants have also spent time reviewing prior data on the town’s 10 parks and two beaches to gain an understanding of how those facilities are utilized. Greenplay identified the variety of Darien’s parks as a strength, with different locations appealing to those interested in passive or active activities. In areas of improvement, the consultant recommended upgrades to the walking paths and bike routes in and around the town’s parks. Parking and traffic flow was also seen as an issue in some at some of the parks, particularly those with youth sports activities.

In terms of new amenities, the master plan will examine the possibilities for a public pool and seasonal ice rink in town as well as new equipment in existing parks. Last year the commission explored the possibility of installing an outdoor or indoor pool at the Weed Beach expansion property, but questions of feasibility and public feedback led the commission to explore other locations in town first. In public surveys conducted for the expansion, a pool was the most requested amenity by town residents.

Next month’s presentation of the first round of findings will focus on the research from the consultants and feedback gathered during the interview process. The Parks & Recreation Commission will draft their own recommendations based on the information provided and hold another round of public hearings for the community to respond to the data in July. The master planning process is expected to continue into October.

The presentation will be delivered at the Parks & Recreation Commission’s next meeting on May 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Paddle Hut Building at Weed Beach.