Future of Edgerton property: Open for discussion
The fate of the property at 30 Edgerton St. will be up for discussion during a public hearing scheduled for sometime this fall.
"There is a variety of competing interest," First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said.
Derek Lublin, a member of the Middlesex Middle School Neighborhood Association, asked at Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting that an open dialogue be conducted when determining the best course of action.
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"Absolutely," Stevenson replied.
Stevenson's recommendations to the rest of the board was that the selectmen should "immediately" go out and get the estimates for the demolition of the soon-to-be-former senior center and to conduct a public hearing about how the community wants to see the land used.
Some of the possibilities that have been suggested in the past, Stevenson said, include athletic fields, open space, a community swimming pool and senior affordable housing.
"I strongly favor senior affordable housing," Stevenson said, adding that the town has seen increasing pressure from the seniors in town and from the state. Stevenson also supports additional supportive housing, like that offered for developmentally disabled young adults at The Cottage, and is "equally agreeable" to open space.
However, she said she would need to be convinced for more athletic fields.
"We know there is a great support with families with young children -- we have children, too -- for athletic facilities," Stevenson said. "From the municipal side of Darien, not the Board of Education side, I'm not sure that we want to be in the business of building more athletic fields, that's my personal opinion."
Other selectmen approved of the possibilities of development on the land, but selectman David Bayne noted that caution should be taken considering the constant changes in real estate in the area, especially the Alan O'Neill development and the recently purchased shopping plaza in Noroton Heights.
"That whole part of town is changing dramatically," Bayne said. "I would be very concerned about over-development on that parcel."
Bayne further asked if the decision to build on the land needed to be done immediately or if the board could allow some time to pass before any development happens on the Edgerton property.
"Two years ago, the town was told that it was not going to see a multimillion-dollar building project at the schools, and now we're being told that we have an immediate need for not just one project but two," Bayne said.
The Board of Education recently proposed two building projects at Tokeneke and Royle elementary schools to address the growing enrollment that will leave the schools with insufficient space to house all the students in town. Additionally, the Board of Education told the Board of Selectmen that it had no plans to develop 30 Edgerton St. and would pass on acquiring the parcel of land.
"Where are those kids in the elementary schools going to go but Middlesex Middle School," Bayne said. "The Board of Education said they have no plans for that property but I don't have a lot of confidence for where they are going to be in two or three years. I think we need to tread very carefully and very slowly, and that if we build anything on that property, we're not going to regret it because the middle school is going to need that property in a couple years."
Stevenson responded that she would "never regret building affordable housing on that parcel of land" and that she was also surprised that the Board of Education chose to pass on the parcel.
The education board, in past meetings, has said the decision to not acquire 30 Edgerton St. was due to the high cost of construction.
"Other needs of the town can't necessarily wait for what may be future needs of the Board of Education," Stevenson said. "We all have to work on a variety of projects at the same time. I would also argue that if we don't find meaningful ways to try and keep seniors and empty nesters in Darien, we will only be exacerbating the problem that is school enrollment. It's a balance. We want to support the school system but we also should be supporting seniors in our town and potentially folks with developmental disabilities."
In a letter addressed to the Board of Selectmen, the Middlesex Middle School Neighborhood Association asked that the board research the two deed restrictions on the property and the challenges they may create for any development.
The association also submitted a letter that was addressed to former Planning and Zoning Chairman Fred Conze about the potential issues that may arise from the development of 20 units of proposed senior housing. The concerns outlined in the June 2, 2012, letter include population density, a lack of sidewalks along Edgerton Street, a lack of parking for seniors and potentially for the athletic games, transparency in planning, the length of the building project near the school and adding congestion along the bus route to the middle school.
In that letter, the association noted that while it supports affordable senior housing in Darien, the property at 30 Edgerton St. is not ideal for such a project.
Selectman John Lundeen suggested that any research concerning the two deed restrictions be presented at the fall public hearing.