The final vote is in: Darien will buy Great Island for $103M

DARIEN — The Representative Town Meeting has voted to approve the $103 million purchase of Great Island, marking a historic acquisition for the town.

In a 68-13 split, members voted in favor of purchasing the 60-acre property, which has been touted as one of the largest private parcels of waterfront land in the region.

Members of the RTM have spent weeks discussing the purchase in committees and had toured the island before Monday’s decision, with many members stressing that they had made their choices with the best information that was available to them.

Some members of the RTM pleaded with town officials to keep the space as open and undeveloped as possible, expressing concern that some of the numerous uses floated by First Selectman Monica McNally — like a skating rink or venues for museums or festivals — could entail more costs and disruption to the land.

“Please, please take it slow,” member Amy Zabetakis said. “Let’s do what we can to keep development to a minimum.”

McNally said the town will take ownership of the property after Sept. 5, a month after the conclusion of the 75-day due diligence period that gives the town an opportunity to conduct final surveys of the property before the deal actually goes through.

Tenants, who occupy eight of the nine buildings on the property, will vacate the premises when their leases end in late March, though residents have questioned when they would actually be able to access the land.

Officials have also said they don’t know yet how access to the land will work. Currently, town beaches require a residential parking pass.

While the body largely approved the purchase, many of the people who dissented spoke about their reasoning Monday, saying they did not have enough information and balking at the high price tag.

“Spending $103 million is simply the beginning on this purchase,” member Teresa Vogt said. “We all know that we will need to spend tens of millions of dollars on this property to do all the things that we have been told that we need to do.”

Member Dan Guller referenced the Board of Education’s rejection of the Open Choice program in February — which was partially based on financial concerns — and questioned whether the purchase of the island would be worth the “reputational damage.

“I don’t feel we have enough information to set ourselves up for this kind of, frankly, national ridicule,” Guller said, adding that he also takes issue with the vagueness of what the island will be used for. “We've had a lot of meetings, we’ve been told a lot of things, but a lot of it is fiction — a lot of it is wishes and hopes of what it could be.”