Retaining trees was one of the requests expressed by neighbors to the Diller property in regard to the proposed project at last week’s Planning & Zoning Commission’s Public Hearing.
The project involves the construction of a cross country running path around the perimeter of Darien High School. The five-foot-wide path would be part of a larger path that includes the adjoining Diller property. This path would include the construction of a walking/cross country path as well as six parallel parking spaces along Nutmeg Lane.
The path is about five feet wide and the total length of both sections is 6,070 feet. There is 5,050 feet on the high school property. The remainder is on the Diller property. The site plan was filed by the Darien Athletic Foundation on behalf of Parks and Recreation.
Town’s rights
At the beginning of the meeting, Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini spoke about the town’s rights with regard to developing the properties it owns.
“Both of these applications involve town-owned properties. Their uses are as of right within a residential zone, based on our zoning rights,” Sini said. “The town has a right to develop its properties as it desires within the constraints of its zoning rights, just like any private property owner has its rights to modify their properties within the proper constraints.”
Sini said the Planning & Zoning Commission can’t consider comments about parking, traffic, speeding, garbage, noise, debris, and encroachment of privacy, in regard to the high school. Those concerns should be addressed to the Board of Education.
All complaints about parking should be can addressed to the Police Commission. The parking component of the project was recently approved by that commission.
“It’s also not the commission’s role to act as arbitrator between property owners,” Sini added.
Neighbors request privacy
A handful of neighbors in the area of the proposed project spoke at the hearing, including Paul Michalski, who requested that trees not be taken down.
“The wetlands are getting thinner and thinner as trees fall,” he said.
Another neighbor, Scott Miller, said that while he’s “greatly in favor” of the running trail and thinks it’s a great amenity for the town, he wants to “retain the existing screening.”
“We have an awful lot of trespassers that come into the woods as it is,” said Miller, adding that with the addition of the trails, “that will increase ... I would just like to see either screening or setbacks provided for the neighbors along the trail.”
He asked if there is a way to eliminate the need to remove trees in the wetlands.
Miller spoke about trespassers from the high school coming onto his property. “I would like to preserve the buffer as it stands, as opposed to creating an opportunity for the public to be right on my back property line,” he said.
He added that there was one point when the high school located a port-o-potty right next to his backyard and “people would not want to stand in line and they would just come in my backyard and urinate,” he said.
Dean Hatfield, who lives across the street from where the additional parking spaces would be built, said the proposed spaces would end up being used by high schoolers rather than members of the public at large.
“There are all juniors who are going to parking there, [and] for everyone who is late,” Hatfield said. “It’s going to be a drop-off zone so you don’t have to go through the whole circle.”
Joseph Canas, engineer and certified flood plain manager and principal engineer at Tighe & Bond, said the proposed project would have no effect on the flood plain on the Darien High School property.
“We are constructing a part of the path [in the flood plain boundary]— but we are not changing the grade in there,” so he said there will be no impact on the flood plain on the high school property, Canas said.
He added that there is no flood plain on the Diller property.
On both properties, there would be some minor tree trimming and brush clearing. Two trees would be removed on the high school property. No trees would be removed on the Diller property.
Project support
Lorene Bora, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, expressed great support for the proposed project.
“The Diller property has sat unused and there has been absolutely no maintenance to date,” she said. “It’s basically unusable. It’s turned into a dumping ground. This is an opportunity for the Parks and Recreation Commission, with the support of the athletic foundation, to improve a property that we’ve not had the funding to do anything with. It’s a very appealing project to us for that reason alone.”
She added that the proposed project “provides the opportunity for all the town’s people to have access to another one of our town parks.”
Bora further said that invasive species would be removed and wetlands would be mitigated, “so we are going to be benefiting the property from the state of disrepair that it’s in.”
She said the project is “completely consistent” with the recently completed master parks plan, which involves “exploring options to construct accessible multi-use trails in select parks.”
The Diller property “was purchased by the town for half a million dollars, which was a town asset that we were getting no benefit from,” Bora said.
She added that the project’s financing is coming from the Darien Athletic Foundation. “It’s a very generous gift.”
“We really feel this will support the health and well-being of the community at large,” Bora said. “It is a place that people could go who like to run or exercise, and get them off the roads.”
Next steps
The public hearing on the project is now closed. The Board of Selectmen and RTM will need to consider whether to approve the project, which is a gift to the town. The Board of Education will need to sign off to accept the gift for the DHS path on the property. If passed by Planning & Zoning, the goal is to have the approval process completed by the end of June with construction to commence soon thereafter.
More information on the history of the Diller property can be found on the town’s website.
sfox@darientimes.com