A plan to replace the Noroton Heights Train Station is going to the state for approval, the town will take measures to protect and improve its sanitary sewers and the town government hopes to get natural gas service to the next Ox Ridge School building, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said Monday in her State of the Town address.
Her speech was one of four delivered Monday to the Representative Town Meeting.
Stevenson also noted that the Police Department hasn’t assigned an officer to narcotics investigations, although additional civilian dispatchers have been hired, in part to enable the department to do that.
Full Text, as Prepared
None of Stevenson’s words were removed here, but paragraph breaks were added, along with sub-headlines, and minor editorial style changes were made. For her full speech, as delivered, see the Darien TV79 video, below.
Good evening Mr. Moderator, members of the RTM, fellow elected officials and everyone watching from home on TV79.
Appreciation of Those Who Work for the Town
I’d like to recognize our newest RTM members — would you please stand so we can give you a warm welcome?
I would also like to recognize our wonderful Town Clerk Donna Rajczewski, who is retiring on Dec. 31, and extend to her our gratitude for her 23 years of service to our town and ten terms as our town clerk.
We welcome Caryn Diller as our town clerk along with all the other newly elected officials including my Board of Selectmen colleagues Christa McNamara, Sarah Neumann and David Martin. We are going to have a great year with the depth of experience these folks bring to our work.
I’m deeply grateful for the contributions of my former colleagues, Pam Sparkman, Marc Thorne and Susan Marks and wish them well on their new endeavors. The great news is that they have each taken on new volunteer roles in service to our town.
How fortunate are we to have the best superintendent in the state, Dr. Alan Addley, here in the home of the Blue Wave? Welcome Dr. Addley. Your care and concern for our kids, teachers, staff, families and community is evident and we know that your work with the Board of Education will redefine excellence in education here in Darien.
And speaking of the Blue Wave: although this wasn’t our year to win the Turkey Bowl, Darien did win the “Most Generous Town” award, beating New Canaan in a battle of giving to the Darien and New Canaan community foundations. Way to go team!
Tonight I address you for the ninth time as your first selectman. Thank you for continuing to put trust and faith in me to captain our team both here at home and on the regional and state levels. I appreciate this annual opportunity to share with you our notable accomplishments and to frame our goals and challenges ahead.
Over the past year, the Darien Police Department has been transformed with the retirements of Chief Ray Osborne and Capt. John Lawlor and the promotions these retirements facilitated.
On Sept. 2, after 36 years with the Darien Police Department, Capt. Don Anderson became the 11th Darien Chief of Police, a job his father, the late Bruce Anderson, held from 1988 to 1993. Don and his father are not the only father/son team to serve the Darien Police Department.
In June, 23-year veteran Jeremiah Marron Jr. was promoted to the rank of captain — the same position his late father, Jeremiah Marron Sr. held in the 1980s.
Lt. Bob Shreders was promoted to captain and Sgt. Alison Hudyma was promoted to the rank of lieutenant becoming the first woman lieutenant in the history of the Darien Police Department.
I’m very pleased to share that several years of collaboration between the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Education and the Darien Police Department has resulted in the placement of a school resource officer at Middlesex Middle School.
School, community and cybersecurity are priorities for the Board of Selectmen and we stand ready to work with the district and through our shared IT service model on best-practice security measures.
We now have six civilian dispatchers giving us full civilian coverage for the day and evening shifts. The goal of hiring professional tele communicators was to put sworn officers on patrol, to facilitate the placement of an SRO in the middle school and to dedicate an officer to narcotics investigations. I believe we’ve succeeded in two of these three goals.
On behalf of the Darien Police Department I want to remind you to lock your cars! Car burglaries and thefts continue to plague our town. The problem isn’t unique to Darien but leaving your cars unlocked — often with the keys or key fobs inside — is inviting crime into your neighborhood.
Public Works, Parks & Recreation
2019 has been another very busy year for our Public Works and Parks & Recreation Departments. Solar installations are complete on the roofs of the town garage, police station and here at Town Hall.
The Stony Brook River sedimentation basin adjacent to the Mather Center was successfully dredged this fall and prep work for the new Town Hall generator has begun.
Several town hall safety improvement projects are underway and, as you can see from these design boards, the schematic design for a new Noroton Heights Train Station facility is complete.
Next steps on the train station improvement project are to receive the final draft feasibility study and meet with CTDOT [the state Department of Transportation] to outline our project partnership.
You’ll Hear More About Sanitary Sewers
Not quite as exciting but equally as important is the work underway to improve our sanitary sewer system. Some issues you will be hearing in the coming months are “illicit connections,” “I &I” and “FOG.”
Darien’s sanitary sewer system collects sewage and pumps it to the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority facility for treatment. Darien pays Stamford significant sums for sewage treatment and any excess water entering the system from illegal sump pump and roof leader connections and ground water infiltration, adds to the capacity and financial burden.
“FOG” stands for fats, oils and grease that get into the sewer system from food establishments and cause blockages. If your fascinated by this stuff like I am…google “fatbergs” and be prepared to be grossed out. We’ve hired a consultant for a multi-year project to help us find ways to reduce I&I and improve our sewer system.
Gas Mains, Water Mains
Phase one of the Eversource natural gas main and Aquarion water main installation projects are complete. Additional phases have not been identified although we are exploring whether we can get natural gas to the new Ox Ridge Elementary School site to help realize significant energy savings. We are now in the 18-month natural gas customer connection period after which roads will be repaved.
Ox Ridge School Building Committee
Kip Koons, Duke Dineen and the entire Ox Ridge Elementary School Building Committee are doing an excellent job with this very complex construction project. Schematic design is nearly complete and a robust “value management” process is underway to bring costs back in line with original estimates and the RTM’s $63 million appropriation.
Installation of the permanent parking areas and walking path at Highland Farm will be completed in the spring. Our chosen contractor’s schedule didn’t allow for project completion before asphalt plants closed this fall.
As promised, we will be meeting with adjacent neighbors in the coming months to discuss landscape buffers and we hope to install a Pollinator Pathway meadow on the property.
Commercial Redevelopment Projects
Commercial redevelopment activities are in full swing. Noroton Heights Shopping Center (a/k/a Palmers) tenants have been relocated and groundbreaking is scheduled for this Wednesday. Site work and demolition has begun on the Federal Realty property. The Noroton Heights Stop and Shop will close on Dec. 19.
If you’re a customer, don’t despair, the company has made significant investments in their Goodwives property that will serve our community well.
While we eagerly wait for the Corbin, Palmer and Federal Realty projects to take shape, there is robust small business development happening in Darien.
Flour, Water, Salt; J. McLaughlin; Caffe Nero; Anju Breathing Space; Osteostrong; Shoes n’ More; BonBon Hair Salon; Orange Theory Fitness; Everwell and HAVYN Co-Working spaces and the Residence at Selleck’s Woods, are just a few of the businesses that have opened within the last year.
The Royle Senior Housing is scheduled to open next summer. My colleagues across the state have heard about all the great things happening here in Darien.
We have our fiscal house in order and we fund our pensions; we invest wisely in our schools, parks, beaches and keep our infrastructure well-maintained; we take care of those among us who need a helping hand and we are mindful stewards of our environment.
SustainableCT Bronze Certification
By the extraordinary efforts of the Advisory Committee on Sustainability, Darien has received SustainableCT Bronze Certification!
Certification is awarded to participating towns that have demonstrated achievements in nine areas of community action.
—Thriving Local Economy (C-PACE)
—Well-Stewarded Land and Natural Resources (Watershed Education)
—Vibrant and Creative Cultural Ecosystems (Map Tourism and Cultural Assets)
—Dynamic and Resilient Planning (Sustainability in our Town Plan)
—Clean and Diverse Transportation Systems and Choices (Nelson Nygaard Parking Study)
—Efficient Physical Infrastructure and Operations (LED Streetlight Conversion)
—Strategic and Inclusive Public Services (Sea Level Rise Panel Discussion, Recycling Services)
—Healthy, Efficient and Diverse Housing (Housing Needs Assessment)
—Inclusive and Equitable Community Impacts (Transportation/Coupons for Farmers’ Market and Access to Swap Shop)
—Innovation Action (Single Use Bag Education, Pollinator Pathway)
We received 210 points for 18 actions. Our certification is effective until the end of 2022 giving us time to take our sustainability efforts to the next level.
The Advisory Committee on Sustainability is eager to continue their work and have outlined opportunities and recommendations to guide the next phase of the certification. Craig Flaherty, Kathy Finnegan, Carolyn Bayne and the rest of the committee and town staff deserve special recognition for their efforts.
The Board of Selectmen has made “sustainability” throughout town government a priority. I invite the Board of Education and all town businesses and agencies to partner with us on this effort.
Parks & Recreation
Organizing More Events
It’s been another busy year for the Darien Parks & Recreation Commission and staff. Over 4,000 people attended the town fireworks and the Darien Sport Shop Tree Lighting was as fabulous in spite of the foul weather.
Parks & Rec has successfully taken over the organization of these two beloved town events and as a result, they are better than ever! Program registrations are up over 16% in the last two years and staff continues to innovate on new program offerings for our community.
Cross Country Trail Around Darien High School
Facilitated by the Darien Athletic Foundation and the Darien Community Foundation, a new cross country running trail at the Diller Park property and the Darien High School is nearly complete and plans are well underway for the Weed Beach Meadow and Trial project which will finally integrate the Short Lane parcel into the park.
These projects demonstrate the value of collaboration and public/private partnerships. We are very grateful to our community partners for their extraordinary generosity.
Old Fashioned Holiday
Mark your calendars for the second annual Old Fashioned Holiday this Saturday, December 14th from 3-5 at Tilley Pond Park and Christmas Caroling on Sunday, December 15th at 5pm with the Friends of Gorham’s Pond at 71 Goodwives River Road.
2020 is going to be a fabulous year! We ring in our Bicentennial Birthday year with an opening ceremony here in the Town Hall Auditorium on Friday evening, Jan. 10 beginning at 6:30 p.m. 60 Minutes correspondent, author and Darien, resident Scott Pelley will be our special guest. A reception in the Darien Arts Center will follow.
Al Miller, Maggie McIntyre and the entire 2020 Bicentennial Committee are working hard to organize a wonderful year in celebration of our town’s 200-year history. Volunteers and donations are welcomed.
Two Projects: Pear Tree Beach, Mather Community Center
The year 2020 gives us a great opportunity to look back not only at our history but to reflect on opportunities we were wise enough to seize.
As our community continues debating the merits of the Pear Tree Beach improvement project, I’m reminded of when I first joined the Board of Selectmen. Our priority goal was to build a new senior center to more respectfully support the seniors in our community.
Some of you will remember the repurposed elementary school (Hollow Tree Elementary School) that served as our senior center — a non-ADA compliant building with a leaky roof and child-sized bathroom fixtures included.
At the time, the program supported less than 250 seniors. This body debated and some passionately objected, but the project was ultimately supported.
Today, we have nearly 1,800 seniors who participate in Mather Center programs and our center is the envy of the state. We are making a positive difference in the lives of so many seniors in our beautiful center under the direction of our skilled staff.
My point in sharing this story now is that we must think about the future as we debate the best plan for Pear Tree Beach. Keeping an open mind, thinking about how we want to use the beach for the next 50 years and understanding that Pear Tree Beach is a treasured town asset meant to be enjoyed by all Darien residents is essential to thoughtful planning. Let’s work together on a plan that we all can be proud of.
Community Values Statement
In 2020, the Board of Selectmen looks forward to collaborating with other town bodies on a Community Values Statement — a guiding principle that will define the culture we wish to cultivate throughout our community, in our work and through our interactions with each other.
Darien and 5G Wireless Technology
We will continue our efforts to make our town more pedestrian-friendly and to address our downtown parking challenges and must begin the conversation on the opportunities and challenges of 5G technology.
Governor Lamont is committed to Connecticut being an early adopter of 5G wireless technology. There are significant land use implications and I recommend we take a proactive approach to preserving local control over 5G infrastructure.
The conversation about the economic development potential unlocked by 5G is overshadowing the health concerns of exposure to radio frequency fields.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee earlier this year blasted the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and FDA [Food and Drug Administration] for failing to conduct research into the safety of 5G technology.
WestCOG is convening a 5G task force to help provide information to our member towns.
I’ve had the great honor of serving as chairman of WestCOG and the Southwestern Region Metropolitan Planning Agency since 2017. My term will end in January 2020. I believe the Town of Darien has been well-served by my leadership and collaboration with my WestCOG colleagues.
I will continue to represent you in my capacity as chairman of our municipal insurance agency, CIRMA, and in my newly elected role as second vice president of CCM (Connecticut Conference of Municipalities).
Bike Route: Darien to New Canaan
WestCOG is also facilitating a regional bike plan that includes a pilot project to develop a bicycle route providing connectivity from downtown New Canaan to the shoreline in Darien.
The proposed bike loop is approximately 30 miles long and will connect other key destinations like schools, train stations parks, trails and recreational facilities.
The deliverable will be an action plan that includes a route, facility design guidelines and recommendations on how to complete the trail. The action plan should be completed by year end.
Other notable work by WestCOG includes the preparation of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy; a Regional Plan of Conservation and Development; identifying opportunities for voluntary service sharing between member towns; compiling a comprehensive municipal fee inventory; public safety consolidation for interested communities and technical support for local transportation projects.
There are several issues that are being studied that will likely appear on the 2020 legislative agenda. Tolls may come up for a vote in a January special session. The governor is holding municipal aid for road paving and maintenance hostage to his proposed tolling/transportation infrastructure plan.
The governor’s new Task Force on Transit Oriented Development is focusing on “untapped economic potential in Fairfield County” that may include the development of state-owned rail station property for affordable housing and commercial development.
CCM has convened task forces to study alternative revenue sources to help offset the over-reliance on local property tax and solutions for the state and municipal pension crisis.
A working group in the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) is studying alternate methods of valuing motor vehicles. I look forward to working with my fellow board chairs to keep you updated on proposed legislation that will impact our community.
Taxes and Spending
The November election was a great time to knock doors and talk with folks about our community. It is wonderful to see so many young families choosing Darien as their home.
Our schools and parks get high marks and everyone is eager for the redevelopment projects to transform our commercial centers. Keeping property taxes low was a common refrain. They’re counting on us to be good stewards of their tax dollars.
I must extend a special thank you this year to the Darien Fire Commission for working with me to significantly reduce the use of the audible fire horns. After years of discussion, a 90-day trial began on November 1st to limit horn use in an effort to improve the quality of living for folks living and working near our firehouses.
Thank You, Staff
And finally, a big shout out to our fantastic town staff who, with good cheer, keep the wheels of town government moving to make all of our lives a little bit better.
Warm holiday wishes to you and your families!
See the Speech on Darien TV79
Stevenson’s speech is at the end of this video, from about 1:08:08 to 1:30:18: