Year in Review: Redevelopment projects and school changes dominate in Darien
DARIEN — New developments and changes within schools have laid the groundwork for a year of change in 2019.
From the approval of the Corbin Project to the resignation of Superintendent Dan Brenner, Darien residents’ year was full of change. Some of these changes were met with ire, while others saw peaceful resolutions. Throughout it all, residents remained actively engaged in their town affairs.
Here are some of the year’s best and biggest stories:
Football players get accelerated rehabilitation
A Snapchat-related feud, which left two star Darien players benched in last year’s Turkey Bowl, reached a resolution earlier this year.
Brian Minicus, a senior wide receiver on the team and Jack Joyce, the team’s senior starting quarterback, were involved in the incident on Nov. 6, 2017. According to court documents, Minicus allegedly went to a New Canaan home and repeatedly punched a New Canaan boy in the head while other Darien teenagers held him down. Joyce was charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with an officer after he allegedly went to the home and yelled at another teenager and then lied to police about his involvement.
Both boys were accepted into accelerated rehabilitation programs where their charges would be dropped after completing volunteer work. Both were also barred from having contact with the victim.
Students walk out to protest gun violence
This year, students walked out on two separate occasions to protest gun violence in the country.
The protest on March 14 saw over 600 students walk out to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. Darien students walked out again in late April, but this time without the approval of administration.
Unlike the first protest — for which schools scheduled 17 minutes in the day for students to be exempt from rules on cutting class — administrators warned students would be punished for skipping during the second protest.
Despite this. roughly 60 students left their classroom at 10 a.m. to gather for a brief vigil in the high school courtyard. Around 30 students left school altogether to go to New York and join other students in Washington Square Park in a gun violence protest.
Superintendent Dan Brenner resigns
Schools Superintendent Dan Brenner resigned in May.
After spending three years as superintendent in Darien, Brenner announced he would become executive director at the United Nations International School in Manhattan. He announced his resignation at a Board of Education meeting in May.
Elliott Landon was announced as the interim superintendent after Brenner’s departure. The Board of Education is currently in the process of a nationwide search for the new superintendent and hopes to have a replacement in May.
Jayme Stevenson runs for lieutenant governor
The town’s first selectman made a step into statewide politics and ran for lieutenant governor.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson announced in February her plan to run for lieutenant governor. She was defeated by Southington’s Joe Markley in the lieutenant governor primary race in August. Stevenson won 82 percent of the votes in Darien, and won around 19 percent in the state.
Despite the loss, Stevenson said she was more than happy to continue being Darien’s first selectman.
Alternative school gets
After being approved as a district program, Fitch Academy found a new home in 2018.
Previously, the town’s alternative high school program was held in the library. The program was designed for students struggling with attending classes at Darien High School. After the one-year nonrenewable lease ended, it was decided a larger space would also be more helpful. With students on the waitlist, the program was expected to expand from 13 to 24 students.
In August, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a new location of 6 Thorndal Circle for the program. The new location is expected to be the home for the program for the next two to three years, according to the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Chairman John Sini.
Usage decided for Ox Ridge Property
The decision on what to do with a 16-acre parcel of Ox Ridge Hunt Club acquired by the town raised concerns by neighbors.
Plans for the 16-acre property — now labeled as 560 Middlesex Road — included recreational events and the implementation of parking spaces for residents. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved that the Parks and Recreation Department can host programs seven days a week. Both active and passive activities were allowed, despite some residents pushing for only passive activities. With the approval activities on the property could range from youth sports like soccer to nature observing. There will also be 92 parking spaces added for residents to park near the property.
The town now has three years to implement the site plan for the field.
Hindley School principal resigns
Hindley Elementary School’s Principal DJ Colella resigned after briefly being placed under investigation.
Colella was placed on leave in August. At the time, he was under investigation allegedly for concerns of his conduct as principal. Since his resignation, the investigation has been terminated according to interim Superintendent Elliott Landon. On Aug. 17, Landon emailed a letter to the Hindley community to announce Colella’s initial leave. Colella was appointed principal of Hindley in 2016.
Julie Droller, previously the director of elementary education in Westport, was appointed interim principal for the remainder of the school year.
Parents banned from lunchrooms
A change in rules stopped parents from eating with kindergartners and first-graders in the town’s schools.
Citing safety concerns and “educational reasons,” Superintendent Elliott Landon sent an email to parents saying they would no longer be permitted to sit by their children in the lunchrooms of elementary schools while they eat. Parents voiced their concerns, with many not understanding the sudden change.
In an email, Landon said the purpose was to allow kids to “learn how to function independently under the supervision of trained education professionals without parental distraction.”
St. Paul’s parish leaders attempt church takeover
A Darien church is embroiled in a legal battle after accusing its rector of dishonesty.
The lay leaders of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church have accused Rector George Kovoor misrepresenting himself when he was hired in 2016.
In June, a termination letter was sent to Kovoor. Around the same time, parish leaders attempted to change the locks of the church. Since then, Episcopal Bishop Ian Douglas has tried repeated mediation between the two groups. Douglas has even gone as far as dissolving the vestry to reach some resolution. The lay leaders now look for compensation in court if it’s proven Kovoor misrepresented himself.
A plan to rebuild a cabin on West Avenue led to neighbors questioning a long-established town tradition — the Boy Scouts’ annual Big Tag Sale.
During the public hearing for the proposed new 8,000-square-foot cabin, it was revealed a special permit only allowed eight days for the event to take place. However, testimony from neighbors to the cabin said the event could last up to six weeks between the setup period and taking everything down.
After lengthy debate, the Planning and Zoning Commission decided Scouts will be allowed a total of four weeks for the event in 2019 and three weeks in 2020. The cabin was unanimously approved and is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
New downtown development approved
After spending years in the works, Baywater Properties’ proposal to revamp the downtown area of Darien received it’s final approval.
Titled the Corbin Project, the multiuse development will bring a blend of restaurant, retail locations and social spaces downtown. As part of this plan Baywater Properties’ proposed building 12 apartments units in two buildings on 26 East Lane for those who are developmentally disabled.
The proposal drew concerns from residents over separating residents from the new downtown development. There were also concerns for safety and accessibility for the future tenants.
Both the downtown development project and affordable housing were approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 27 with numerous conditions. Baywater Principal David Genovese has said the goal it to start building in spring 2019.