Darien’s Board of Selectmen began its new term with a briefing from Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini on the town’s special permit application process. The board is looking to develop a special permit for the use of the Ox Ridge field but the process also extends to other properties owned by the town but not designated as park space, such as the property at 30 Edgerton Street.

Special permits can be used to allow a specific type of activity on a local property for a single occasion or on an ongoing basis but cannot supercede the town’s zoning regulations. Because the 16.25 acre Ox Ridge field is in a residential zone, the property has no specified use as of yet and requires a special permit to be utilized.

Requirements for a special permit application include a detailed statement regarding the proposed uses, a site plan of the property and neighboring lots, an evaluation of the permit’s impact on local traffic and any other required approvals from local or regional bodies. The Planning & Zoning Commission is in charge of reviewing and approving special permit applications.

Early concept designs for the Ox Ridge field had been included in drafts of the Parks & Recreation Department’s parks master plan but have since been removed. Residents were vocal during public hearings for the parks plan, with some pushing for the field to remain largely untouched for passive use while others have requested the field be outfitted for athletic use. Town officials opted to withdraw concepts for the Ox Ridge field and Edgerton property from the plan in order to allow the Board of Selectmen lead the decision-making process on those sites. Both locations are not designated as parks but were surveyed as a part of the parks master plan.

The Board of Selectmen will still be able to reference those concepts when they begin discussing plans for the Ox Ridge field and the public will again be allowed to weigh in on the field’s use. The property is protected by an open space land agreement that prevents most types of development until 2042 but as First Selectman Jayme Stevenson pointed out on Monday, open space does not necessitate passive use. Several of private clubs in town entered into similar agreements as a part of a tax arrangement to preserve open space in town. Many of the town’s private clubs also operate in residential zones under special permit, allowing different types of use on their property.

The Planning & Zoning Commission approved the Ox Ridge Hunt Club;s application for a special permit expanding the use of their remaining property to allow for private events to be hosted at the club. The club is working through its Second Century Plan, which is designed to bring racket sports and other activities to the historic equestrian destination. The town may be able to utilize traffic studies conducted for the Ox Ridge Hunt Club’s special permit as they took the town’s parks master plan concepts into consideration.

No time frame has been set for a special permit application from the Board of Selectmen, but Sini, the planning & zoning chairman, suggested that the board check in regularly with the commission to ensure that all parts of the application are completed in a timely order. Once an application is ready to be reviewed by the commission it will be made a priority, and the public will be able to weigh in as well.