Resident protests Pear Tree changes
Darien resident Kelli Cole says the Pear Tree Point Beach building committee and Parks & Rec aren’t listening when it comes to neighbors’ concerns.
So she took matters into her own hands. Cole posted a series of protest signs about the proposed changes to Pear Tree Point Beach. Cole said at the last meeting she attended about the proposed improvements, there were “25 people standing up talking about how they didn’t want it done.”
Cole stood outside at the beach last weekend with a petition and got at least 125 signatures. She has also started an online petition that so far has five signatures.
This is the second petition that was created in reaction to the proposed renovations to Pear Tree Point Beach. The first was in December of 2018, when beach neighbor Jim Errington presented an online petition he created that garnered about 150 signatures. The purpose of the petition was to “access the sentiment of the entire town of what they thought about this development project,” Errington said at a prior Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee meeting.
In regard to Cole’s petition, she said that despite objections raised at meetings, there’s been a belief expressed that there are many in favor who are “afraid to come forward.”
“We’re all adults here. They shouldn’t be afraid to come forward,” she said.
If the proposed renovations to Pear Tree Point Beach are approved by the RTM, then Cole’s petition could go to a referendum if there are enough signatures. Five percent of the 13,146 registered voters would be required to sign the petition, or 657 signatures.
Many of the proposed upgrades to Pear Tree Point Beach were approved July 17 at the packed three-hour-long Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee special joint meeting with the Parks & Recreation Commission.
With six in favor and one opposed, the commission voted to proceed with the new elevated structure at the beach.
In addition, by a unanimous vote, members approved the construction of an upper level deck for viewing and dining, as well as the addition of elevated flexible community space.
Prior to the vote, Chairman Lorene Bora said the commission should “proceed to develop the building that we really want for this community.”
“I do think it’s not an opportunity that we get to repeat,” Bora added. “We have to make the decisions now.”
All of the suggestions for the beach upgrades were discussed at length the prior week at the Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee meeting, where there was a presentation by Neil Hauck, the principal of Neil Hauck Architects and primary designer on the project.
At that meeting, Dan Biggs, a regional manager of Weston & Sampson, said that priorities include protecting views, providing sidewalks and pedestrian access, reducing sand washing onto the parking lot and roadway, and repairing or reconstructing the boat launch.
Cole also said that members of the building committee said recently they “didn’t have a budget.”
“They said this is like a ‘once in a lifetime that we get to do whatever we want.’ You’re taking my tax dollars and spending them because you can. Not because we want you to. I’ve gone to six or seven meetings and you’re going against everything we said,” she said.
One of Cole’s objections is the prospect of berms, which are raised areas that are being proposed in between the beach and parking lot to alleviate flooding. She also thinks that the large building being proposed is “illogical.”
Cole isn’t against improvements to the beach, but thinks the need is minimal — improving the bathrooms, relining the parking lot for more spots. She said that though the parking lot floods, there isn’t much you can do about it given the tide levels.
One reason Cole is motivated to put her signs up at the beach is that she says despite the community outreach and news coverage, people still don’t realize what is being proposed for Pear Tree Point Beach.
“At least 15 people who signed were really amazed. They think it is still in the planning phase,” she said.
Parks & Rec response
In response to Cole’s complaints, Parks and Recreation Commission Director Pam Gery said the commission understands the importance of the town’s beaches and parks to all members of the community.
“The Parks & Recreation Commission values and respects the input and feedback of all of our residents. We are designing a facility with all the objectives and goals that the Parks & Recreation Commission have taken from our 12 months of research it took to develop our Master Park Plan. The Master Park Plan was completed by Weston & Sampson in February of 2018.
Regarding a budget for the project, Gery said the Pear Tree Beach Building Committee is “working through a process which will result in a proposed design, along with an estimated cost for each of the components. Though premature at this date to discuss costs, we are mindful that we do not have an unlimited budget and well aware of the town’s approval process that lays ahead.”