Darien continues to piece together Hoyt Street puzzle
As many Hoyt Street residents have expressed concern over the lack of safety when walking to Talmadge Hill Station in New Canaan, the solution is still an unsolved puzzle.
"Just sitting here as a resident, I think all the pieces are out there and they just need to be brought together," said Peter Firmin, a member of the Representative Town Meeting who lives in the affected area.
Firmin suggested the town put together a group of people responsible for creating a plan.
"If you look at what New Canaan has done, they have a fairly integrated approach to sidewalk planning that looks at the town and the key areas of need," he said.
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First Selectman Jayme Stevenson agreed. Taking into consideration other neighborhoods that want sidewalk maintenance, Stevenson said she talked to Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello about creating a group to construct guiding criteria for new sidewalk installations.
"I have concerns over the precedent it sets," Stevenson said. "Right now, we don't have policies on sidewalk installations."
Stevenson said her main concern regarding the Hoyt Street issue is pedestrian safety.
"I'm not standing on any side right now," she said. "Pedestrian safety is clearly a major concern for us here in Darien. It's unfortunate that the Talmadge Hill Station is the only station that doesn't have guided sidewalks."
On Monday, May 21, town officials and representatives listened to two proposals created by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Stevenson said one proposal is to install sidewalks which would cost taxpayers about $650,000; the second proposal, estimated to cost less than $400,000, suggests narrowing driving lanes and widening the roadside shoulders to a national standard of 4 feet.
"What those numbers do not include, they do not include a cost for engineering, they do not include purchase for land, they do not include milling and re-grading of asphalt in any way," she said. "No matter which scenario ... I am going to press certain speed signal signs to make people aware that there are pedestrians nearby. It's a very complicated issue, given that 106 is a state road. [The state] too believes that pedestrian safety is of the utmost importance."
The state DOT's role at this point in the project is only advisory. DOT Transportation Supervising Engineer Joe Ouellette, who has been working with Darien on the proposals for Hoyt Street, said the town would have to receive an encroachment permit, which outlines the work plan, in order to proceed with any project.
Bob Steeger, director of Public Works, added that there are major policy issues collected officials should deal with before proceeding any further.
"Do you want to be building something within a state right of way?" Steeger said. "Do you want to be building something that goes across town lines? Do you want to acquire property? Do you want to use eminent domain?"
Stevenson acknowledged that one of the greatest challenges of installing a sidewalk on Hoyt Street would be having to purchase land from residents. She also expressed concern regarding New Canaan's willingness to commit to the issue.
"Darien is not going to build a sidewalk on New Canaan property," she said. "From what I'm told to date, New Canaan has no willingness to build a sidewalk. What that means, if Darien builds a sidewalk, we're basically building a sidewalk to nowhere."
Stevenson said she intends to visit New Canaan's first selectman, Rob Mallozzi, to discuss the issue.
When contacted, Mallozzi said he wasn't familiar enough with the issue to comment.
"The bottom line is, in order to go forward, we need to make sure we talk to all the home owners [on Hoyt Street] to find out if there's a general consensus," Stevenson said.
Laura Thompson, 502 Hoyt St., said she is against the DOT proposals and said she's focused on safety.
"First and foremost, my number one concern is safety," she said. "The installation of a sidewalk or shoulder on Hoyt Street would be a major safety hazard to all pedestrians and residents of Hoyt Street. It would be a huge liability to the Town of Darien and to the residents of Hoyt Street, who would be responsible to maintain the sidewalk. Our stonewall has been destroyed twice during inclement weather. It is a dangerous place for a sidewalk and would encourage unsafe pedestrian and resident traffic.
"Then there is the issue of financial burden on the town and taxpayers," she said. "Darien is in a position now of trying to cut budgets. This is not a project with any benefit other than allowing some people to get themselves part of the way to a train station in an unsafe way. It makes no sense to undertake this project from a financial standpoint."
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