Protests to Darien’s Pear Tree Point Beach renovations continue to heat up
While plans for large renovations to Pear Tree Point Beach continue to move forward, residents’ objections appear to be gaining momentum by the day.
At the recent Darien Road Race, held at the beach, residents Janienne Hackett and Nancy Stein were approaching people while holding a petition that says: “Are you aware the town is about to spend millions to build a rental space in a flood zone?”
They were gathering signatures and support to protest the proposed renovations to the beach. This is the third time a petition has been created by residents to oppose the proposed makeover.
While Hackett and Stein said they want the bathrooms and concession stands to be updated, they’re against “spending millions of dollars to build in an extreme flood zone that floods at every full moon-high tide,” Hackett said.
“They’re building a year-round rental facility for nonresidents and we don’t need it,” Hackett added.
She said residents want to protect the “beauty” and the “charm” of the beach.
The women spoke of traffic in the area, and the dangers this can pose.
“When the flow of traffic is increased on an already windy road with major blind spots, and no sidewalks, you are not taking the safety of our residents and everybody into consideration,” Hackett said.
Both woman also said they are asking for the Parks and Recreation Commission to be “more transparent” about costs.
They created a website, at preservepeartreepointbeach.com, that goes into more depth about their concerns. Their petition is available on the website.
Parks & Recreation response
Darien Parks & Recreation Director Pam Gery said she wants to clarify information that’s misleading and inaccurate.
Flood zone: The commission is committed to working within all guidelines and regulations, Gery said. There are many properties that are built in a flood zone, according to Gery, and all are allowed.
“The current bathhouse, concession, and gazebo are in the flood zone and had required approved variances to be where they are,” she said. “Even if we renovated, the facilities — which would be very difficult with limited appraisal funding - would be in the flood zone. All instances are compliant with FEMA, DEEP, and town ordinances.”
Gery added that “only two variances are required: One that confirms the encroachment on the 40-foot setback (that the current structure is on) for the new structure. The other simply asks to maintain the current parking lot stall sizes.”
Cost: At this time, no cost estimates are available for this project. When the project is better defined, a detailed estimate will be presented, according to Gery.
The cost would never be presented as a lump sum but will be carefully detailed and transparent, she added.
Responsiveness: The Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee has been responsive to the public and their comments, Gery said.
“The berms have been removed from the design. The beach is being enlarged by almost 20 feet on the west side and approximately 10 feet on the south side. The community space has been decreased in size. The boat ramp will be fixed for boaters, and by repairing a storm drain with a check valve, we hope to solve the parking lot flooding,” she said.
Rental space: The proposed community space would be allowed for beach-goers all summer during concession hours and for Darien residents only during the off-season.
“Rental income will help offset maintenance and operations costs, but most importantly, it will give our residents a beautiful place to enjoy year-round, managed by the Parks & Rec Department,” Gery said.
At the Sept. 11 Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee meeting, Lorene Bora, chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission, said Darien is a “changing community” and the commission needs to take this into consideration when making major decisions.
“I’m trying to think about what’s the best compromise for the community. I’m not only looking at the Darien of the past — but I’m thinking about the Darien of the future, and our community is changing,” Bora said. More than 322 new units are coming up in town, which are one- and two-bedroom apartments, she said.
“These are going to be people in small homes looking for access to all of the parks,” Bora said.
The commission is looking at the “big picture” and how it’s going to provide services to everyone, no matter how large or small a home in which they live, she added.
In a conversation with The Darien Times, she said that when charged with a major project such as Pear Tree, it’s the commission’s responsibility “to think forwardly for the town — for what the town’s needs will be five and ten and 20 years down the road.”
“We don’t get a lot of do-over for the projects,” she said. “The committee and the commission is trying to do our homework. We are listening to various perspectives but there are a lot of competing opinions and needs.”
She said the commission has, and will continue to change, going forward.
“We are very densely populated. We are being very respectful of the land, considering the challenges of that property,” she said. “We are really working hard to do the right thing for the community. We have to think about everybody and the changing faces of Darien.”
Gery said the final product will be a “beautiful” one.
“We are confident that the Darien residents will embrace these beautiful improvements and have an incredible year-round waterfront space to enjoy with their families well into the future,” she said.
The Parks & Recreation Department is working on an FAQ list to correct misleading information. They will be posted on its website in the near future, at darienct.gov/parkrec. For questions, call 203-656-7325 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.