Democrats unveil 2011 platform
Criticism of the current administration's facilities Shuffle plan, inaction on flooding and affordable housing strategies, and support of the Choose to Reuse plastic bag ban were part of the platform rolled out by the Democrat's selectman slate on Tuesday night.
John Lundeen, the Democrats' nominee for first selectman, read from a 12-page statement at a press conference held at his Swifts Lane house that described his slate's platform. He was joined by two-term Selectman David Bayne and Planning & Zoning Commissioner Vickie Riccardo, both of whom round out the Democrats' selectmen slate.
Lundeen, as well as Bayne and Riccardo, held a brief question and answer session following the prepared statement.
The "key elements," laid out in the Democrats written platform are:
• Restore fiscal responsibility
• Support the public schools
• Reinstate sensible planning
• Champion real commercial development
• Improve our environmental stewardship
• Create an open and accountable government
A large part of the statement outlined Lundeen's problems with the Shuffle.
First Selectman Dave Campbell, a Republican, conceived of the Shuffle and set up a facilities task force to look into the idea in early 2010.
The plan would raze the dilapidated senior center and move its programs into Town Hall — where the Board of Education currently is headquartered. The Board of Ed offices would move to the former library property at 35 Leroy Ave., and possibly build affordable housing on the current senior center site at Edgerton once that building is demolished.
Recent schematics of the Shuffle plan came in at approximately $7 million, approximately $2.5 million over the initial estimate of $4.5 million. Campbell said the architect is working to cut costs, and the initial estimate included "nice-to-haves" instead of just need-to-haves.
The town bought the library building in 2008, and then First Selectman Evonne Klein, a Democrat, along with the rest of the selectmen supported affordable housing as the purpose for the site. There was much debate over that purpose. When Campbell was elected with Jayme Stevenson and Jerry Nielsen — returning the selectman majority to the GOP, that purpose was set aside.
The selectmen debated the Shuffle idea over the summer of 2010, with Democratic Selectmen Callie Sullivan and Bayne voting against it, saying they did not have enough information to support it. Sullivan and Bayne have repeatedly objected to the Shuffle, citing increase in government space, spending, not having enough senior center data, not enough operating costs information, and because the plan does not address the town's affordable housing needs.
Lundeen criticized the current Republican majority, led by First Selectman Campbell, now running for selectman, Selectman Jayme Stevenson, the GOP's first selectman candidate, and Selectman Jerry Nielsen, running for re-election, for not performing a best-use study on 35 Leroy.
"Instead, a narrowly-tasked committee was formed and conducted a feasibility study, which was led by my opponent," he said.
During Klein's last term as first selectman, many Republicans pushed for the town to do a best-use study of 35 Leroy. She continually said there was no such thing as a "best-use study" but research did show that the site was ideal for affordable housing.
The Democrats have consistently included the purchase price of $4.25 million into the Shuffle costs. Lundeen accused the current board of supporting a "$12 million" project during a time when most "Darien residents have been forced to tighten their belts."
Lundeen said he supported a move for the senior center, but felt either a stand-alone senior center could be built in the current site, or it could share the Town Hall facility with the Board of Ed.
He also recommended selling 35 Leroy to "a developer who will build a mix of market rate and below market rate housing targeted on empty nesters."
He said the town may take a loss on the sales price, but will make up the difference from the residents' tax revenue.
Aside from the Shuffle, Lundeen said nothing has been done on the town's side to work toward a new affordable housing moratorium after achieving one in October 2010. He also said the community has seen a "lack of progress" on flooding, including "no formation of the Flooding and Erosion Control Board."
Other aspects of the Democrats' platform included a town-wide study of sidewalks, more support for local businesses, and creating a more open government by "encouraging open debate of all points of view" and "disclosing information to both the public and elected officials in a timely manner."
Following the approximately 20 minute statement read by Lundeen, campaign manager Randy Klein, husband of the former three-term first selectman, opened the floor for a "brief" question and answer session.
The Daily Darien's Casey Donahue asked Lundeen what his strategy would be to build more affordable housing in place what he currently called no progress.
Lundeen said he'd go back the town's formalized affordable housing plan, which according to Riccardo, was completed in 2009. He did not specify what aspects of the plan he would put into use.
The Darien Patch's John Davisson asked Lundeen why the vacated location at Edgerton could not also be sold to developers for the same purpose he outlined for 35 Leroy if the Shuffle plan went through.
Lundeen said it possibly could, but that would mean going through with the Shuffle plan, which he did not support.
Bayne elaborated that the neighborhood at Edgerton is already weighed down with traffic and school buses, and the neighbors there had been promised to keep further intensity at the site to a certain level.
Bayne also added that one of the possible alternatives to the Shuffle would be to build a single-use senior center on a smaller scale on the property, which removed the possibility of selling it to a developer.
The Darien Times asked Lundeen what his flooding mitigation strategy plans were if he took office.
"I suspect look at the plan we had in place," Lundeen said, specifying he meant Baker Woods.
The current Republican majority has been vocal in their opposition to the $6 million, 3.5 acre detention pond as a flooding solution. It was one of the main issues the GOP ran on in 2009.
Many residents objected to the plan that would fell 300 trees. A coalition was formed to "Save Baker Woods" at the time.
While Lundeen acknowledged there were some problems with the plan, there are "things about it that worked and permits issued that don't last forever," and suggested the plan could be "reconfigured."
Following the session, Klein told The Darien Times that the slate does not support or intend to bring back the Baker Woods plan to mitigate flooding.
Further clarification was also asked for regarding the Flooding & Erosion Control Board. Bayne confirmed that the current Board of Selectmen did approve the new board last summer, and the formation now remains stalled at the Representative Town Meeting level.
Bayne said that the Board of Selectmen could and should be putting more pressure on the RTM to get the flooding board formed.
Davisson asked Lundeen about the possibility of Tom Golden's Noroton Heights redevelopment mitigating some flooding problems.
Riccardo, who is currently a Planning & Zoning commissioner, said the commission has not heard anything about those plans in a while.
"Those plans are great, but it is not something you can bank on happening there any time soon," Lundeen said.
The Darien Times asked if Lundeen had spent any time out surveying the damages, visiting the town dump or talking with residents about their recovery problems after the week-long clean-up from Tropical Storm Irene.
Some residents were without power for over a week.
Riccardo said she spent some time at the dump, but after helping out a few residents she was told to move on, which she was glad to do to get out of the way.
She said she was impressed with how the Department of Public Works handled the dump and "kept it moving.
Lundeen said "at a time like that, the focus should be on our own neighborhood."
He said he checked in with neighbors and walked down to a nearby dam, but thought it was better to stay off the road.
"It's a time you focus on your immediate street and your immediate neighbors," he said.
Bayne said Lundeen does not "have an official capacity" yet, and being out there shaking hands is not "entirely appropriate" at a time like storm recovery.
"The focus should be on restoring the town's power, and the best thing we as public officials can do is stay out of the way, unless you getting out there and getting information so people know when power is going to be restored," he said.
"There comes a point that if so many cooks are out that running around, the stew gets spoiled," he said.
Randy Klein then called an end to the question and answer session.
More info: DarienWorkingTogether.com