A Darien resident’s accusation that the proposed flexible event space to be built at Pear Tree Point Beach will be used for “drinking” was one of the many points of contention at the committee meeting on June 19.

The all-volunteer Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee is charged with overseeing the upgrading of the beach.

At the meeting, which ran almost two and a half hours, committee members discussed at length the types of upgrades being proposed at the beach.

During the public comment period, the resident —Jim Errington — asked if flexible event space is “just a euphemism for drinking space.”

He was immediately interrupted by committee co-chairman Michael Sgroe, who looked very frustrated.

“We’re here, we’re volunteering our time, we’re attempting to discuss new business when we come here,” Sgroe said. “I think it’s a little bit disrespectful to suggest that we’re talking about just a space that’s going to be used for drinking. Be respectful of the fact that we’re attempting to find a solution here.”

When referring to the type of space to be built at the beach, Sgroe said committee members would like to create a space “that’s usable at the beach for the community.”

He added that it would be “some level of an enclosed space that would be open during the summer season, that people can come into to get out of the sun, for shelter from the rain, for eating, and for socializing.”

Meeting process

Some committee members expressed great dissatisfaction with the process of the meetings to date. Committee member Martha Banks said she and other members aren’t being included in making decisions about the renovations to the beach, and added that she has a “real problem” with this.

“Pam [Gery, director of Parks and Recreation], didn’t communicate back to us what corrections she gave to the architect. [She] went ahead and talked directly to the architect, not based on any discussions the committee would have, and I’m feeling like what role is this committee playing at this point?” Banks asked.

In response, Sgroe said the committee charged Gery to provide her requirements to Neil Hauck, the architect who was hired to develop a professional design for improvements and upgrades to facilities at the beach.

He further said that he has shared with committee members all he has done in regard to the project, and that it’s OK to share updates in between meetings.

“It’s encouraged for the co-chairs to work off line so we can make progress between meetings and coming back to the commission,” Sgroe said.

Different opinions

When explaining his many design suggestions for the project, Hauck said that he wasn’t given a specific design concept.

“Most of all, when we do a project, we’ve been given a fairly clearly defined building program and we can move forward and zero in on schematic design work concepts,” Hauck said. “In this case, through no fault of anyone, there are different opinions of what the building program should be so we had presented a couple concepts.”

Renovate verses rebuild

Banks said she supports the renovation of the beach over rebuilding.

“The renovation is a worthwhile exercise, you could be building decking around the building, you could add more tables and dining space,” she said. “It might look like a totally new facility. I think it’s a worthwhile exercise. I don’t think it should be dismissed.”

Need for concession stand?

One of the proposed improvements to the beach is rehabilitating and replacing the concession-bathhouse building.

Banks said the committee should consider whether or not it even needs a concession stand at the beach. “The current consessionaire is losing money,” she said. “Not having a concession would save a lot of money,” she added.

Instead, she suggested food trucks by special invitation.

Flooding concerns

Scott Fine, who has been a neighbor of Pear Tree Point Beach for 22 years, spoke about his concern with flooding in the area.

He said his dock is underwater consistently, “to the point that we don’t let our four kids anywhere near that water when it starts coming up,” Fine said.

He added that he also has issues with teenagers. “They just love to hang out down here. They love to wander and go out on our dock. We have a real risk that someone can get hurt, especially when it gets really slippery,” Fine said.

Darien resident Perry Boyle also spoke about flooding at the beach. “This is regularly under water. It’s washing away over time. This beach will go away.”

“This is really an environmental nightmare,” Boyle added. “Please look at it as what it is. It’s a sand bar. That’s all it is and it’s going to go away probably within our lifetime.”

Additionally, Boyle sent a letter regarding his concerns to the Parks and Recreation Department, which he shared with The Darien Times. One topic he addressed in his letter in regard to tackling flooding is the use of non-permanent structures at the beach.

He wrote: “Given the seasonal usage of this park and its susceptibility to regular flooding, not to mention the expense of building and maintaining a FEMA compliant facility, shouldn’t we at least consider food trucks and mobile changing/shower/bathrooms as alternatives using criteria such as quality, cost, environment impact, flexibility, etc.?”

Shelter and shade

In his letter, Boyle also addressed his disagreement with committee members’ vision of building a space where people can get inside, out of the sun, and where sunsets can be viewed from indoors.

“Pear Tree is a beach,” he wrote. “People go there to be outside, not to be inside. When it rains or they get too hot, like every other beach, they go home.”

Ideas resident says would save money

In a recent letter in The Darien Times, town resident Vincent Arguimbau suggested some ideas he said would save money on beach upgrades.

Rather than “creating a large multi-million dollar structure,” Arguimbau wrote that a dining out on the water experience can instead be created by “a large open deck with brackets for the easy raising and deconstructing of tents, refurbished bathhouse and dependence on food trucks for the beach during the day, and catering at private rented events on the deck in the evening.”

The next Pear Tree Beach Building Committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 10, at 6 p.m.