Letter: Pear Tree Point Beach renovation project is overbuilding in a flood zone

Send letters to the editor to: Editor@DarienTimes.com

Send letters to the editor to: Editor@DarienTimes.com

Hearst Connecticut Media

To the Editor:

You don’t need to look at a FEMA map to know that Pear Tree Point Beach is in a flood zone. The beach and the parking lot are commonly covered with water from the Sound during storms and the regularly occurring extra-high tides brought about by new and full moons.

A recent article in the New York Times said that with the steady rise of our seas, the State of Connecticut is trying to discourage building in flood zones, going so far as attempting to buy coastal properties to maintain them as open space. The State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection predicts that Connecticut will see a sea-level rise of two feet by 2050 - only 30 years from now.

That is one reason more and more taxpayers are questioning the Parks and Recreation Commission decision to replace Pear Tree Beach’s one-story bath house and concession stand with a two-story structure, complete with catering kitchen and multipurpose room on the second floor, designed to be rented out. To be ADA compliant, the building would also have an elevator.

Although the ground-floor bathrooms would be reduced in size, the new building would have a larger footprint than the current one. Incredibly, that puts one corner of the building underwater during some high tides. Just last Saturday, I attended a meeting of concerned residents during high tide at Pear Tree Beach and saw this problem with my own eyes. People had copies of the plans and had marked the proposed building’s footprint with yellow tape.

How is it a prudent use of taxpayer money to construct a building that will have to resist the force of the Sound at extra-high tides, not to mention flooding and wave action during storms? I have a hard time believing that the rising of Sound water over the west beach, and over the parking lot, is simply the result of a broken storm drain, as Mike Sgroe claimed recently. (Photos of Pear Tree Beach at high tide on various dates can be found at: https://www.preservepeartreepointbeach.com/.)

To understand why the Parks and Recreation Commission decided to pursue this massive building project at the relatively small, family beach, I looked at surveys conducted a couple of years ago. The results showed that the second-highest priority for residents was to upgrade Pear Tree Beach, behind a Town pool but ahead of more open space. It seems that commission members took that to mean: make Pear Tree like Weed Beach. Those same surveys, however, also showed that the addition of “programmable space” ranked very low as something desired by residents.

I also noticed that residents want public spaces and restrooms to be better maintained. If we construct a large new building with a second-floor concession stand, deck, heated party room with glass walls that fold open like garage doors, catering kitchen, “beautiful” bathrooms, and an elevator, how well will it be maintained? What will that cost?

Town officials claim that the rental of the party room will generate revenue. But it’s hard to imagine that revenue ever covering the cost of the building and its maintenance. Weed Beach has a room next to the paddle courts that can be rented for $100 per hour, with a three-hour minimum. A former member of the Parks and Recreation Commission told me that room is rented out about once per month. Do you think there will be enough demand for another town-owned, beach-side rental room?

Residents have spoken at meetings or written to the commission or the Pear Tree Beach Building Committee taking issue with their plan, only to be roundly rebuffed, discounted, and publicly disrespected. At the July 17 meeting, where I spoke, one commissioner even said only negative people bother to show up or write, so they (the commission) were going to ignore the unanimously negative comments. In short, the commission appears to be misreading broad public opinion.

Most worrisome to me, however, is that there is no set budget for the construction of this new building, nor any estimate of ongoing maintenance expenses. One can only imagine the costs of heating, keeping pipes from freezing in winter, and maintaining an elevator in a marine environment plagued by frequent flooding.

I am hoping that our selectmen and our RTM members will realize that the Pear Tree Point Beach building plan is ill-conceived and will not approve funding for it, once an estimated budget for the project is finally developed. They could then pursue a more reasonable plan to simply renovate the existing bath house, staying within FEMA’s requirements.

By the way, I do not live adjacent to Pear Tree Point Beach, but I am a long-time beach-goer and taxpayer in Darien. It is not just neighbors who oppose the building plan.

Wyn Lydecker


Editor’s note: The above was submitted as an op/ed piece.