Residents react to draft of Parks Master Plan, Ox Ridge proposal

Draft recommendations for Darien’s new parks master plan were presented during a Parks & Recreation Commission meeting last week and residents offered their feedback as the planning process approaches its completion. The Parks Master Plan is designed to provide a 10-year outlook on how the town can best utilize and improve its parks, beaches and open space.

There are more than 200 acres of park space spread across about a dozen sites in Darien. Sellecks Woods and Dunlap Woods make up the bulk of that space while Cherry Lawn Park is the largest traditional park at 27.5 acres. Darien’s beaches are included in the planning process as well, along with town-owned property at 30 Edgerton Street and the newly purchased parcel at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club.

Consultants from Greenplay LLC and Weston & Sampson individually reviewed all of the town’s park sites to catalogue their existing conditions and determine what improvements could be made at each location. Recommendations were prioritized based on feedback from Darien residents and their current habits. More than 2,500 households participated in a public survey for the parks master plan and the commission collected more specific input through public hearings, focus groups and individual meetings.

During the last week’s round of public comment for the draft recommendations residents continued to request additional amenities for activities like pickleball, tennis, sailing and paddle boating. One resident requested an indoor pool facility; earlier in the planning process others had requested a public swimming facility be made available in all seasons. As it stands the draft lists Cherry Lawn Park and Weed Beach as possible locations for an outdoor pool and splash pad but no recommendation is made for an indoor facility.

Those in attendance seemed satisfied with the overall direction of the master plan, but a group of neighbors near Ox Ridge Hunt Club contested the plan’s intentions for the town’s newly acquired property there. The 16.25-acre property is protected by an open space agreement until 2042, preventing most kinds of development on the property.

In the parks master plan draft there are two proposals for the space, both of which involve splitting the land into multi-use fields and installing a parking lot. One model includes more than 100 parking spaces, a walking path around the property and picnic pavilions, while the other maintains a minimal design with half as much parking and no paths or additional amenities outside of the fields.

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While the proposal is not final and does not have a specific time frame, the plan is the first document from the town that suggests uses for the Ox Ridge property. Leelee Klein, a representative from the neighbor group, said they did not specifically disagree with the designs in the draft master plan but still recommended more passive uses for the space. She suggested that hosting organized sporting events on the field could impact the quality life for horses and their owners at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club, bringing a negative impact. Instead she recommended that the town promote more passive uses for the space, such as dog walking and pre-organized events.

“For the two properties to be married well together, you gotta have quiet, passive recreation happening over there; with dogs and people playing pickup games on those fields, not organized sports,” Klein said.

Other neighbors pushed back against the proposed parking and landscaping structures, which they felt would interfere with a view and atmosphere that has come to be iconic in Darien over the years. The Ox Ridge Hunt Club is also planning their own redevelopment process on their property to install new facilities and welcome new types of activity.

The Parks & Recreation Commission requested funding to develop a new master plan earlier this year as they considered new amenities at Cherry Lawn Park and Weed Beach. Parks & Recreation Director Pam Geary and Commission Chairman Mary Flynn told the Board of Selectmen that an updated plan was important for the commission to continue proposing new additions to the town’s parks. The last parks master plan was completed in 1996 and served as a baseline for new document.

After more than six months the commission is looking to finalize the parks master plan in October. One more public hearing on the draft recommendations is scheduled for next week, Oct. 4, and the commission will discuss a finalized plan and allow public comment on during an Oct. 18 meeting. Voting on the final plan is expected to take place on Nov. 15.