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$4 million turf fields gift approved

Published 10:46 am, Thursday, June 12, 2014
  • Fred Conze of the RTM made a motion to amend the acceptance of the Darien Athletic Fund's gift of $4 million turf fields at Darien High School. hiis amendment was not approved. Photo: Megan Spicer / Darien News
    Fred Conze of the RTM made a motion to amend the acceptance of the Darien Athletic Fund's gift of $4 million turf fields at Darien High School. hiis amendment was not approved. Photo: Megan Spicer

 

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The Darien Athletic Foundation received final approval from the Representative Town Meeting Monday to move forward with its $4 million gift of turf fields for Darien High School.

The RTM voted 60 for and 15 against, with two abstentions.

The DAF seeks to turf three fields at DHS and improve the junior varsity softball stadium. Each field would cost an estimated $1 million. Next year, the DAF plans to turf two fields at Middlesex Middle School.

RTM member Fred Conze -- who was the Planning and Zoning Commission chairman during the reconstruction of the high school -- proposed an amendment to the resolution that would require a commitment from the Board of Selectmen to develop a master plan for the high school.

Conze said the intensity of use at the high school has increased dramatically since it was rebuilt in 2005.

"The time is going to come when a child is going to get hit by a car trying to run and chase a ball. It's going to happen," Conze said. "It's not a question of if, it's a question of when."

RTM Moderator Sarah Seeyle told the RTM that it could not vote on accepting the fields if it chose to adopt Conze's amendment because it hinged on the Board of Selectmen's commitment to a master plan.

"I have no problem accepting these fields," Conze said. "But the town needs to make a commitment to manage this property that it owns."

Conze's amendment failed with 20 in favor, 54 against and three abstentions.

However, the installation of the fields could be delayed because of a lawsuit against the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Darien resident Paul Michalski filed a lawsuit April 29 against the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Education and the Town of Darien. In the complaint, Michalski asks the court to invalidate the April 8 approval because Michalski believes P&Z commissioner John Sini Jr. had a conflict of interest. The lawsuit also claims the DAF did not adhere to zoning regulations for a special permit.

In the complaint, Michalski claims that Sini was a founding member of the DAF, and mentioned his involvement with the Darien Junior Football League, which is expected to benefit from the Sunny Day Plan. In his complaint, Michalski outlines his concerns that Sini did not recuse himself during the discussion or vote.

Sini pointed to his March 25 statement at the P&Z meeting: "As a former member of the Darien Junior Football League's board, in 2012, I was among a group of more than a dozen Darien youth sports leaders that were involved in the preliminary brainstorming sessions related to the creation of a not-for-profit that might work to benefit various youth and student sport infrastructure needs in our town," Sini stated. "During this time, I had several discussions with town officials and staff on how such an organization could work within our community and conveyed this input to the group of founders."

The Board of Education will not begin any of the turf projects until the DAF has "sufficient cash," Finance and Budget subcommittee chairman James Palen said.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews