Darien parks master plan debate pits athletic fields vs. open space
Updated 5:02 pm, Tuesday, October 24, 2017
DARIEN — Tensions ran high Thursday as residents debated a master plan for the town’s parks and athletic facilities.
“The town survey shows Darien residents favor open space over town fields,” said Middlesex Road resident George Song, at an Oct. 19 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on the plan. “That’s a fact that can’t be attested...It would be an irresponsible use of taxpayers dollars to move forward with such.”
On the flip side, parents of players in the Darien Soccer Association spoke about the importance of maintaining and adding to the number of fields in town so the DSA can function at full capacity.
Parents also came out to speak on behalf of Darien Youth Hockey. Adding an ice rink to the town ranked low on survey results from residents about town needs, however many DYH parents said a rink for the youth hockey teams would greatly benefit the program in light of the current ice rink being purchased, resulting in Darien players losing ice time and having to relocate a facility in South Norwalk.
The fate of Tilley Pond Park was also hotly debated in light of a proposed plan to add an inclusive playground and picnic pavilions to the property. Many residents felt the park should remain untouched and adding structures would ruin the popular location.
Parks and Recreation Chairman Mary Flynn started off the Oct. 19 public hearing portion of the meeting by voicing her concerns about the misinformation and hostility shown in the feedback the commission has received since a draft of the plan went public September.
“Some of these concepts are just concepts,” she said. “They may never happen. It’s disheartening for those who volunteer on the commission because we also care deeply...We’ve listened to the community for over eight months as you’ve told us what you’ve wanted to see...You’re telling us what you don’t want or that you want amenities, but in someone else’s neighborhood.”
Flynn added any proposals in the plan would also be subject to public hearings, as well as approval from the Board of Selectman and other boards.
Many of the comments from over a dozen speakers boiled down to a debate over preserving open space in town versus adding more sports fields and athletic facilities.
“This is an anchor to our town,” said 21-year Darien resident Debbie Ice. “You can’t do this to the town of Darien. When you mow over a little green space and put up a pavilion and a big playground, you are changing the personality of Darien. When you have a signature, you keep your signature. You keep it so when people think of Darien, they think of Tilley.”
However, following the end of the public hearing after many of the speakers left, the commission expressed further concerns over the misconceptions of the public. In particular, several residents mentioned the use of Ox Ridge as a potential soccer field. However, space is under the delegation of the Board of Selectmen. Additionally, the Tilley Pond Park plans would be minor and allow for more areas for people to dine, which several residents said they enjoy doing in the park.
“It comes back to not being given the facts,” said board member Amy Doering. “We need the facts. We need an inventory of fields, roster of who needs them and when. We need those facts because it’s a critical component to what we’re doing here. We’re a youth town.”
And while the plan is just that — a plan — the commission expressed concerns that with most of the town being built out, there was little wiggle room for expanded amenities either way.
The commission will further discuss the plan on Nov. 15.