Selectmen accept concept designs for Ox Ridge field
The Board of Selectmen has adopted concept designs for the Ox Ridge Field and Edgerton property originally created for the Parks Master Plan. The designs will help the first selectman outline uses for the two properties and develop special permits to allow organized use of those spaces.
Though neither Ox Ridge Field or the Edgerton property are designated parked spaces both were surveyed and given recommendations as a part of the Parks Master Plan. Public debate about the recommended uses of the Ox Ridge field, which the town acquired last year, dominated hearings about the parks master plan. Hundreds of residents contacted the Parks & Recreation Commission to request that the field be left largely untouched for passive use, while the Darien Soccer Association and other local sports organizations have asked the town to establish more usable field space at the field.
The Board of Selectmen has the final say in how the field is utilized, but must define the uses with a special zoning permit. That permit must be reviewed and approved by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission and residents will once again be able to share their desires for the space during public hearings.
On Monday, Parks & Recreation Commission Chairman Mary Flynn and Director Pam Geary briefed the Board of Selectmen on the concept designs and gave the Board an update on the Parks Master Plan, which is now in its final stages. With their focus returning to the town’s 12 parks and beaches, the commission approved all recommended concepts for those sites. The draft has been finalized and the commission expects to vote on the completed Parks Master Plan in January.
“We had our consultants study the two parcels throughout the year and the process. After listening to an abundance of suggestions and different feedback, they were able to draw up some schematics for you. We’re here to night to hand you those schematics, and wish you luck,” Geary said.
As the selectmen prepare to take on the Ox Ridge debate, there are also larger considerations on how local youth sports organizations and school teams can better utilize the town’s fields. The separation between town-owned fields and those operated by Darien Public Schools has complicated discussions about how much field time is actually available to different leagues. Due to new regulations at the national level the Darien Soccer Association says there is now demand for fields of three different sizes and the Ox Ridge property would greatly alleviate the impact of those changes.
Selectman Kip Koons said the town should be looking for ways to compile information on field use and find a solution that suits the needs of both the school teams and youth sports, rather than resigning to separation between town government and the Board of Education.
“We have all these youth sports programs going on that need field space and I’m concerned with people having their little silos with no communication,” Koons said. “It’s seems that maybe to save the taxpayers some money, we can find a way of better communicating and sharing what we’ve got. After all, it’s all owned by the taxpayers.”
Selectman Pam Sparkman questioned the impact of creating playing fields at Ox Ridge, asking it passive use would still be available for other residents. Geary and Flynn explained that they never understood the installation of fields to an impediment on passive use, as the field is nearly in a playable condition already. Town residents still would be able to use the field when sports are not in play.
“I never understood that they were regulation fields, that got blown way out of proportion, almost got into a sports complex,” Geary said. “Never did it hit the commission or the consultants that we ever anticipated that. It was about multi-use, community events, anything we felt that the land would provide the residents.”
The Ox Ridge field is protected by an open space agreement that prevents most types of development until 2042. Because of this, any sport that requires permanent fixtures such as goal posts or a backstop will not be able to utilize the field on a long term basis. The latest concept design submitted to the selectmen shows two multi-use fields and a new parking lot, with few other changes to the property.
The Board of Selectmen expects to begin discussions about the special permit for Ox Ridge field in the coming month and public hearings will continue into early next year. For now, town residents can visit the Ox Ridge Field, though there is not much in the way of nearby parking.