Town discusses utilities, facilities for master development plan
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson predicts larger redevelopments downtown will soon make it financially feasible for the town to negotiate bringing natural gas lines along West Avenue and into the center of Darien.
While the company’s main interest is in large facilities such as office buildings, schools and other institutional buildings, the project would make natural gas an option for hundreds of smaller customers, Stevenson said Tuesday night.
Natural gas is viewed as a fuel of the future because of its abundance over coal and oil, meaning a expected benefit in lower bills for power and heating for consumers.
“It’s the larger facilities that will drive Eversource’s desire to bring in natural gas,” Stevenson said.
Utilities improvements for power and gas, improving storm water drainage, protecting open space and improving town parks were among a long list of objectives Stevenson and other town leaders aired in a meeting with the Darien Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday as important to balance a state-required update of the Plan of Conservation & Development for the town.
The plan is technically supposed to be updated every 10 years by towns and cities to remain eligible for discretionary grant funding. Darien last updated their plan in 2006, and a final draft of the updated plan is supposed to be finished this fall.
In the near term the town’s parks and recreation department is working to finalize a plan to integrate an acquired property on Short Lane into Weed Beach, but also hopes to revamp Pear Tree Point Park to repair or replace buildings and reduce erosion, said Mary Flynn, head of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission.
Tides often push sand at Pear Tree Point Beach into the parking lot, Flynn said and Hurricane Sandy damaged electrical wiring and structures.
“We have some issues we have to deal with down there,” Flynn said.
Another priority Stevenson mentioned was increasing the use of town parks, suggesting that expanding trails and jogging routes at the 65-acre Woodland Park Nature Preserve to suit resident’s desire to use the park differently.
While trails already exist in the park, Stevenson said she would like to model the trails after those at other similarly large parks in the area such as Waveny Park in New Canaan and the 28-acre Selleck Woods preserve, also in Darien.
“My mind goes to two outdoor nature spaces, Sellecks Woods and Waveny Park in New Canaan, where you have various trails that are a little bit wider and a little bit more manicured,” Stevenson said.
The necessity of building new schools is not a clear-cut issue, said Stevenson, who said the town should scrutinize any proposal to build new schools thoroughly to determine whether expanding schools on existing sites can accomplish the same goal.
Stevenson said the decision has important implications, especially if any of the new school proposals call for using town open space rather than district property. At a time where development pressures and proposals for bigger buildings are at a higher level, Stevenson said protecting open space is a higher priority.
“Without tying the hands of the Board of Education, one of the comments I made was to strive to contain school facility growth to board property,” Stevenson said. “…We don’t want to overbuild school facilities. I would hate to see us in a panic rush to build new schools when we could use additions.”
Town boards and commissions began meeting and working in March with zoning officials and Glenn Chalders, who represents the town’s consultant Planimetrics to give input on how to achieve the town’s main land use and preservation goals.
Zoning Commission Vice Chairman Steven Olvany said an infrastructure blueprint in the plan for broader initiatives such as replacing water mains, widening roads, and putting in bike lanes should include information on how the town will accomplish the goals.
“Some of these are specific and some of these are general but what we’re trying to do is plan for what these guys are talking about,” Olvany said.
Chalders said the suggestions would be part of the consultant’s effort to recommend specific actions to be taken as part of the strategy to accomplish specific goals such as getting more out of the town’s existing sports fields and parks.
“The final word on whether something gets into the plan will be up to the commission,” Chalders said. “We will evaluate these and put them out for discussion.”
The Planning & Zoning Commission will meet again to discuss the status of updating the plan at 8 p.m., Tuesday, July 14, in Room 119 at Darien Town Hall, 2 Renshaw Road.