Editor's note: These are the final two letters to the editor Darien Patch will publish regarding the Shuffle before voting ends on the referendum. However, anyone is entitled to comment, and continue commenting at length.
Vote 'No': Stop-the-Shuffle allies on Why Darien Should Refrain from Shuffling
To the Editor:
The Shuffle is an overly complex and expensive solution to the straightforward need for a new senior center, and tomorrow voters will have the opportunity to veto this unnecessary project and its $6.9 million price tag by voting "NO."
We support a new senior center. However, proponents of the Shuffle ask that we suspend disbelief and accept that the only means of providing our seniors with a new center is to spend $6.9 million to relocate both the Board of Education and the to newly renovated spaces at 35 Leroy and Town Hall, respectively. This is simply not true.
Shuffle proponents ask us to believe that a 23,000-square-foot senior center, one that is 24 percent larger than the current center and includes a cafeteria for 170 people, is needed to meet the programmatic needs of the 45-60 seniors a day who use the senior center. We don’t.
The shuffle proponents ask us to ignore the use of 35 Leroy for housing, despite the fact an agreement for such a use had been signed between the town and Mutual Housing, a private developer. Instead we are to believe that an unknown not-for-profit group is going to develop the Edgerton site for senior affordable housing, while acknowledging that there is “no money, no land, no vision” for such a project. We can’t.
The shuffle would result in a 23,000-square-foot senior center at , space that is necessary, as Mrs. Stevenson has repeatedly stated, to meet the programmatic needs of our seniors. However, a Shuffle supporter publicly contradicted this need, stating that the space would also be used for the Youth Commission and Darien Arts Center. We are at a loss.
The vote is one day away and there remain too many moving parts and too many unanswered questions to move forward with this project.
Here’s what we do know:
There is a need for a new senior center, but not a 23,000-square-foot senior center. Senior centers in neighboring communities are smaller than the Shuffle-proposed center while meeting the needs of a larger senior population. Westport’s senior population is twice the size of Darien’s and its senior center is 12,000 square feet; New Canaan’s senior population is 2,787, and its senior center is 11,000 square feet. It can be done right and well with less space.
There is no need to move the Board of Education, at a cost of $2.6 million, to provide our seniors with a new center. Under the shuffle proposal, 43 percent of the $6.9 million bond issue would be spent to move 30 school administrators to the old library, at a cost of $86,000 per person. has neither asked for nor needs new space, and its unnecessary relocation is a wasteful use of our tax dollars.
There is no need to tie up 35 Leroy, Edgerton and Town Hall sites, in effect eliminating any opportunity to develop existing town-owned properties for other uses and to meet other needs, such as for a pool, more fields or a school. Darien is almost 100 percent developed, so there is an even greater need for thoughtful, deliberative decision making with respect to how we develop and use our properties.
There is a need for affordable housing, senior and otherwise. This is a subject that some have unfortunately used to instill fear in our town in an attempt to gain support for the shuffle. While Darien is home to three housing communities, Clock Hill, Allen O'Neill, and the Old Town Hall houses—a senior housing community on the Post Road. The law requires that we have more. The New York Times real estate section on Sunday had yet another story about our town and its struggles with this issue. There is a Department of Justice investigation underway, and at least one other lawsuit. The issue isn't going away.
The town had signed an option-to-lease agreement with Mutual Housing to develop the 35 Leroy site as 21 owner-occupied units modeled after Clock Hill (residences nestled between the train station, Grove Street plaza and the Sport Shop). That agreement was nullified by the Campbell administration. Despite protests to the contrary, the 35 Leroy property is an ideal site for a sister development to Clock Hill as it is close to town, public transportation, shopping, entertainment and restaurants.
It is no secret that Darien has a shortage of developable land and it’s a hurdle the state understands. Developing 35 Leroy, while not getting the town into compliance with the affordable housing law, would demonstrate our effort and commitment as a community towards reaching the goal required by law.
It’s all about the mill rate. In discussing the shuffle at on Dec. 8, Liz Mao, chairman of the Board of Finance, warned that we are facing a spike in debt service and need to (based on this new debt) look closely at operating budgets this year. When commenting on the major drivers in the upcoming budget (debt service on the Police Station, Weed Beach and increases in Special Education) she acknowledged that one could argue the town should not do any marginal spending. This is our point exactly.
Our town is capable of a much better solution to the need for a new senior center than the shuffle. We can make better use of 35 Leroy, a valuable asset and parcel of land that is worth much more to the community than to be used for municipal offices for 30 school administrators.
We ask that you join the 970 people who have already voted, by signing their names to the petition that began this referendum process, in supporting Stop the Shuffle and Vote No on Dec. 13.
Stop the Shuffle
Mary Ellen Moore
Shawn St. Jean
Vote 'Yes': Joseph Pankowski on Why Darien Should Shuffle
To the Editor
Jenny Streeter, Jim Cameron, Debra Hertz, Norm Guimond, Caroline Murray, David Genovese, Karen Armour, Bob Calve, Robin Woods, Bruce Orr, Debra Ritchie, Ron Heinbaugh....if you know the people on this list, you know that they’re a pretty diverse bunch. They do have two things in common, though: they are firmly committed to making our town a better place and they all support the plan that has come to be known as the Shuffle.
I can’t speak to all of their reasons for supporting the Shuffle, but as chairman of the Commission on Aging and Vote Yes Darien, I can tell you why I’m so passionate about this cause.
I’ve been involved with the Commission on Aging for nearly 15 years. We’ve examined numerous proposals to address our dilapidated Senior Center building, which opened as an elementary school in 1954. These include a full renovation of the center, constructing a new center, merging the center with the DCA, and moving our senior programming to a new location, such as the old library at 35 Leroy Avenue. For a wide variety of reasons, none of these options were acceptable or gained the necessary political momentum to move forward.
One of the members of our board, May Lechak, worked at the Senior Center and participated in programs there. Several years ago, after yet another Senior Center proposal went up in smoke, May expressed her frustration at a Commission on Aging meeting. “You know,” she said, “I’m going to die before we get a new building.” Sadly, May was right. On October 17, May Lechak passed away at the age of 84.
In short, it is well-past time for our town to finally address the Senior Center issue. The Shuffle will not only provide our seniors with a safe, welcoming Center at the Town Hall annex, but allow our children to have additional educational and recreational opportunities after 3 p.m. each weekday. The Center will also be from the Department of Social Services, the Health Department and the Parks & Recreation Department.
Why is this important? Just one example: Olive Hauser, our fantastic director of Social Services, helps people apply for government benefits, assists them with their day-to-day issues, and even has a pantry to allow folks to pick up necessary items. How great would it be for our seniors to simply walk down the hall to meet with Olive? Not one of the other options the Commission on Aging has studied over the past 12 years includes this component.
When the Shuffle was presented to our commission, we supported it nearly unanimously. It was also approved by the Social Services Commission, the Board of Finance, the Board of Selectmen and won a landslide vote (58-28) in the RTM. In short, every town board that has actually studied this plan approves of it. We are blessed to have some of the best and brightest people in our town volunteer on our boards. Do you think that all of these boards would vote for this plan if it wasn’t an excellent one?
Some people are upset that we have to renovate the old library building and move there in order to make the Mather Center a reality. A few have asserted that the BOE's operating budget will somehow be affected. Thankfully, our school superintendent, Dr. Stephen Falcone, put this issue to rest when he told the Darien Times, "I don't think there will be any costs associated with a building move that would impact anything in our budget. These are two different things. This is not a trade-off in my mind."
What is the cost for retrofitting two existing buildings instead of constructing one new one? Less than $7 million. Bonded over 20 years, a taxpayer with a home valued at $1.4 million will pay only an additional $58 in taxes a year. It's cost-effective, given the fact that renovation projects are significantly less expensive on a square-foot basis than the costs associated with a new building.
Furthermore, the Shuffle is environmentally friendly, as it's far better to re-use existing structures than to tear down and rebuild. Finally, the Shuffle’s price-tag is basically the same as the Community Center proposed by the Klein administration in 2008—and we will get so much more.
If you decide to vote "No" on Tuesday, you are asking us to go back to square one. We will be forced to pay for more studies to evaluate options that have previously been discarded, engage in innumerable debates at town meetings, and who is to say that there won’t be another referendum on whatever option our government chooses?
Meanwhile, for the foreseeable future, our senior programming will continue in a former elementary school complete with child-sized toilets. We, as taxpayers, will also have to bear the significant costs of maintaining the Senior Center building, which is almost literally coming apart at the seams.
If you decide to vote Yes on Tuesday, you are not voting for a perfect solution—there isn’t one. Rather, you will cast your vote for an excellent plan that has been approved by every town board that has studied the same. You will be saying that it’s time to get the job done.
Please join the Commission on Aging in supporting the Mather Community Center by voting Yes in Tuesday’s referendum.
Chairman, Commission on Aging
Chairman, Vote Yes Darien
Editor's note: Here are some Web links on this topic:
SHUFFLE REFERENDUM INFORMATION:
Websites for each camp:
From the town website:
- Taxpayer Impact of BOE/Mather Community Center Renovation
- P&Z Commission Mandatory Referral, 2 Renshaw Rd.
- P&Z Commission Mandatory Referral, 35 Leroy Ave.
- Mather Community Center Cost Analysis
- BOE/Mather Community Center Presentation, 9.19.11
- Annual Debt Service & Outstanding Principal
- Bond Total
- Public Works Garage Remodel
- BOE Occupancy Comparison
- Town Facility Optimization