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Darien RTM approves Short Lane parcel buy

Published 5:00 pm, Thursday, January 30, 2014
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With minimal opposition, the Representative Town Meeting Monday approved the allocation of $1,925,000 to purchase the property at 4 Short Lane to expand Weed Beach Park.

According to James Palen, District VI, chairman of the Finance and Budget Committee, the property will be "immediately turned over to the Parks and Recreation Department for their care and management."

Purchase of the property was approved in a 57-7 vote, with three abstentions, while a separate vote approved allocation of the funds by the same margin.

In recommending the purchase and allocation, which Palen's committee did so in a split vote, he said the acquisition was in keeping with the both the Weed Beach Park Master Plan and the town's Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan, which was written in 1996.

"The property is one of 12 parcels of land specifically included in the goal," he said, which aims to expand recreational and open space in town. "This property is a potentially important asset," he said, noting that the town had a limited window to make a deal.

Palen noted that those who dissented in his committee's 8-4 vote to recommend the purchase did so for two reasons. One, he said, is that they believed a clearer plan for use of the property was needed, rather than just passing it to Parks and Recreation to oversee, and, two, there was concern about the possible costs relating to further development, which still are unknown.

Joseph Hardison, District IV, was one of two RTM members who spoke in dissent before the votes.

"I'm for this purchase, not this price," he said. "There's one incredibly misleading thing for me and that's the appraisal," he said. "We're only buying this thing for the land value," which, he noted, is appraised at $996,000.

Joanne Hennessy, District V, chairman of the Planning, Zoning and Housing Committee, which unanimously OK'd the acquisition, agreed it was costly, but said the town might not get another chance.

"This is a lot of money," Hennessy said. "We looked at not just the land cost, but what it's worth to us, versus what it's worth to other people ... We did discuss this at great length."

The property itself is priced at $1,750,000, but the allocation includes up to $100,000 in engineering and demolition costs, and another $75,000 for financing and bond costs.

"We don't believe it's going to cost this full amount," Hennessy said, but they wanted to budget for the maximum potential cost.

Jarrett Liotta is a freelance writer.