Top 10 stories of 2017: Number 5 - The town's Ox Ridge Field purchase, use debate

While Darien’s purchase of the 16.25 acre Ox Ridge Field has been in the works since 2016, the town spent most of the year debating how the land should be used. Hearings for the town’s parks master plan was dominated by discussion of the new property and whether it should be open to use by organized youth sports or limited to passive recreation.

Earlier this year the town of Darien finalized the purchase of the Ox Ridge Field from the Hunt Club for $6.25 million dollars. The club is using the sale to help fund a revitalization process that includes a new name, the Ox Ridge Riding & Racquet Club. With a legacy of more than 100-years the property has a historic significance in town and will soon become a public resource. For now, town residents can visit the Ox Ridge Field, but there is no on-site parking or organized activity allowed on the property.

This month the Board of Selectmen will begin discussions about a special permit for Ox Ridge which will include another round of public hearings and a review by the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission. The special permit will formally determine the sorts of activities allowed at the Ox Ridge Field along with any time and/or traffic restrictions.

Due to a prior tax agreement between the club and the town, the parcel is protected by an option space restriction until 2042. As a result, no permanent fixtures can be installed on the property other than one single-story building of 1,000 square feet or less. Protective measures such as irrigation, drainage or sewage improvements would be allowed, but the field must remain natural grass.

Though the agreement retains the property as open space, it does not define the intensity of activity allowed on the field itself.

Volunteers representing the Darien Soccer Association have requested that the town follow through with a concept from the parks master plan proposing three multi-use fields on the Ox Ridge Field. The organized has cited increasing enrollment and changing field regulations from the United States Soccer Federation requiring fields of three different sizes for different age-groups. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a large group of neighbors and other concerned residents in town have asked that the town consider passive uses for the property rather than prioritizing organized sports.

Those pushing for passive use have focused on walking trails, park and picnic space, a dog park and community events in the field space. Some have also questioned the impact of having sporting events in close proximity to the horses at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club, suggesting that the noise could create safety concerns for riders and their animals.

The Ox Ridge Riding & Racquet Club will be adding several new facilities to their remaining property, including a new clubhouse with eight squash courts, a fitness center, locker rooms and a member pub. The club will also add four lighted courts for paddle tennis, and two new rings for horseback riding ring. In addition to the new facilities, the club plans to approve as many as 250 new members who will have access to the full range of the club’s offerings, from horseback riding and racquet sports to special events on the club’s lawn.

The Board of Selectmen is expected to unveil their early recommendations for the use of the Ox Ridge Field during their first meeting of the year, Jan. 8, 2018.