Darien 2018: The year in news and photos
The last year, as usual in Darien, had no shortage of news of varying kinds.
The year began with an announcement in January that First Selectman Jayme Stevenson had filed paperwork to run for lieutenant governor in November. Stevenson sought the Republican nomination at the May convention and though she lost the bid to Joe Markley, earned enough delegate support to primary in August along with New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart. Markley prevailed in the primary.
“I’m a better person for having run and am lucky to continue to be the First Selectman of one of the very best towns in Connecticut,” she said in a letter to The Darien Times after the primary.
A late January Sunday rollover, one-vehicle accident in Noroton Heights took the international stage after it was revealed that the driver was nationally syndicated television host Steve Wilkos. Wilkos, 53, a resident of Noroton Heights, was arrested in February 2018 after turning himself at Darien Police headquarters. He was charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence and failure to drive right stemming from the January accident. The incident was covered by TMZ and the Daily Mail, among others. Wilkos later issued a statement thanking the Darien community for its support.
In March, after a February school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Darien High School students participated in an organized walkout that was coordinated with the administration. It was part of a national day of awareness in response to the shooting. Nor’easter number four of the rough winter season canceled many community events. Also notable in March was the announcement that long-time Darien YMCA director Pat Morrissey was retiring.
April included a back and forth between those agreeing and disagreeing on the students’ decision to participate in the walkout at Darien High School on The Darien Times opinion pages. A second walkout was rumored, then held on April 20, the anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine. Also, after some push-back and arrival delays, then Schools Superintendent Dan Brenner apologized for not issuing a two-hour delay as tough weather plagued the area into April.
In May, the community learned its school superintendent of nearly three years, Dan Brenner, was leaving the district at the end of the school year to take a position at the United Nations International School. In his resignation letter, Brenner told the Board of Education he had been recruited by the school and felt he could not turn down a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. Also in May, the town’s annual Memorial Day parade included a proposal from one of its firemen during the event. And debate about the use of the town’s purchased property at the former Ox Ridge Hunt Club continued, with neighbors pushing for passive recreation while the town proposed using it more actively. Also, Darien Democrats attended the state convention which endorsed Ned Lamont for governor. Lamont ultimately beat the Republican nominee, Bob Stefanowski, to be the next state leader.
In June, Baywater Properties revealed its new plan for the area of Corbin Drive downtown redevelopment.Darien High School once again held its commencement ceremony. The newly renovated Darien Public Works garage was re-opened. And after 22 years, citing decreased enrollment, Pear Tree Point School closed its doors at the end of the 2017-18 school year. And Fitch Academy, the alternate Darien High School program, successfully completed its first school year.
July and August were, as always, quieter ones in Darien. The Planning & Zoning Commission approved the town’s application for Highfield Farm, part of the the former Ox Ridge Hunt Club property. The Board of Selectmen intended to make Highfield Farm a destination for both passive and active recreation, with programs and events planned by the Parks & Recreation Department. P&Z also began consideration on the revised Corbin Drive Baywater project. Darien summer traditions, like the Darien Summer Nights concerts in Grove Street Plaza, Fourth of July fireworks, Sidewalk Sales & Family Fun Days and the July 4 Push & Pull parade, were held.
In August, shortly before students returned to school, former Hindley Principal DJ Colella was placed on leave pending an investigation into some unspecified accusations. Colella did not return to his post, later resigning, he said, to return to work close to his home and family in New York. Longtime Darien Land Trust director Shirley Nichols retired after 14 years. Concentration on the November election heated up following the primaries.
In September, Darien Boy Scouts announced their hopes to demolish the current Andrew Shaw Memorial Scout Cabin on West Avenue and build a new one. Problems with the visa process ended, at least temporarily, the 20-year exchange program between Darien and Chinese high schools, when Chinese students were denied their visas twice and have chosen not reapply. The Darien Health Department noted for the first time that sexually transmitted diseases topped its reportable disease list.
October saw the beginnings of the proposed renovations to Pear Tree Point Beach as the building committee began discussions. Election fever continued as the Darien League of Women Voters held its Candidates Night. Darien EMS Post 53 named its first paid executive director, Joe Larcheveque, after Nancy Herling, who had been with Post 53 since 2007, retired. Darien Democrats held a “Blue Wave” rally in Tilley Pond Park with Democratic candidates including Ned Lamont. And talk of a plastic bag ordinance returned to Darien government.
November saw the victory of Democratic candidate Ned Lamont for governor. The RFP for the Pear Tree Point Beach renovations was approved but not without some pushback from the beach neighbors who claimed the project details weren’t made clear enough despite several meetings and public hearings, as well as news coverage. Two big Planning & Zoning projects were approved. After a long process, the Corbin project by Baywater was approved. And after attempting to find a compromise between cabin neighbors and scouts, the new Darien Boy Scout cabin project was also approved. And last but not least, New Canaan prevailed in the traditional Thanksgiving rivalry game, the Turkey Bowl.
In December, the annual State of the Town was held. Some parents took issue with Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky’s comments regarding special education — resulting in some letters and a successful meeting between Zagrodzky and those parents. A New Canaan man was hit and killed by a Metro-North train between the Darien and Noroton Height train stations. Longtime Ring’s End Chairman Douglas Campbell passed away at his Florida home at 90. Wreaths Across America held its annual salute to veterans on Saturday, Dec. 15.