Lundeen: Shuffle Vote Leaves Key Questions Unanswered

'With a $6.979 million appropriation on the near horizon, these questions need to be answered,' writes the Democratic nominee for first selectman.

Selectmen have 'shifted responsibility' with shuffle vote

To the Editor:

On Monday night the Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 along party lines to appropriate $6.979 million for the three-phase “shuffle” of municipal facilities, which has become the primary issue in the 2011 selectmen’s election. By hastily voting to fund the entire project at a price that is double the original feasibility estimate, they have shifted responsibility to answer important questions to the Board of Finance, and, if that body approves, the Representative Town Meeting. Here is a sampling:

  • Will Darien’s population of seniors and active adults grow as dramatically as the Shuffle’s architect projected? Robert Foley, a financial professional, who studied 50 years of Darien census data, says “no.” Rather, the age bands and overall population has been remarkably stable. With the town 98 percent developed, past trends should continue. The demographics used to justify the shuffle are wrong. 
  • How many users attend the senior center, and are they Darien residents? No one has counted or asked these questions over representative periods.
  • What other options are there for resolving the problem of our crumbling senior center? Holly Schultz, a local architect, commented that the project architects should have been asked to evaluate the Town’s facilities in light of our need to replace the building and identify uses for other town spaces. Instead, the architect was given a narrow mission based on pre-conceived notions about how to use Town facilities.  
  • Should 35 Leroy be sold to obtain funds to build a new Senior Center? Local developer David Genovese said that 35 Leroy may be worth $4.8 million, based on the price he recently paid for local development property. On Sept. 26 at an RTM meeting, Board of Finance Chairman Elizabeth Mao said 35 Leroy could be sold, and last night Robert Foley noted that the tax exempt status of bonds issued with reference to 35 Leroy will not be jeopardized so long as the proceeds are used for another municipal purpose. The bonds are not secured by a lien on 35 Leroy.  
  • What will the operating costs of the new shuffle spaces be? No one has addressed how the senior center will operate as a “community center,” but surely that will entail longer hours, more wear and tear, and require additional headcount to run and maintain it. The exercise room, in particular, will require professional services for user safety.
  • Should affordable housing for seniors be built on the Edgerton Street site of the current senior center as phase 3 of the shuffle? With the coming re-development of the Allen O’Neill homes and the prospect of mixed-use re-development in the Noroton Heights shopping district, the Noroton Heights neighborhoods are becoming saturated. A 501(c)(3) organization is exploring a financial structure for senior affordable housing on Edgerton that resembles the ground lease arrangement proposed some time ago  for 35 Leroy. Should this arrangement, with its focus on seniors, be re-considered for 35 Leroy so a new senior center can be built on Edgerton Street, thereby reducing the potential burden on Noroton Heights?
  • Should the Town increase its debt load to nearly $100 million and its annual operating expenses to build office space for school administrators while requiring activity fees to participate in sports and clubs at the high school, and claiming that adding foreign language instruction to the grade school curriculum is too expensive? 

With a $6.979 million appropriation on the near horizon, these questions need to be answered. David Bayne, Vickie Riccardo, and I support building a right-size, fully accessible, flexible floor plan senior center in short order. However, the shuffle plan is not the way to achieve that goal.

John Lundeen

36 Swifts Lane

The author is the Democratic nominee for first selectman.

Jim Coley October 05, 2011 at 11:51 AM
I would think that the property would be significantly less than $3.8mm. That was not the price that 'cleared' the market several years ago, but rather a sweetheart deal. But if it could fetch, say $2mm, that is $2mm that could be used to knocking down the existing senior center and building a brand new one in the current location. Plus the town would pick up additional tax revenue on 35 Leroy from the new owner.
John Sini October 05, 2011 at 09:01 PM
At the RTM meeting, Mrs. Mao explained that the sale of 35 Leroy would be disadventageous to Darien due to the municipal use restrictions on the property for the next 4-5 years and she would not be in favor of a sale. Did she really say Darien could sell the property at the BOS meeting, or is this statement taken out of context?
Chris Noe October 06, 2011 at 11:17 AM
Will? How? What? Should? What? Should? Should? So many question so few answers. I am against the shuffle for many reasons but after reading Mr. Lundeen's comments it seems like "the shuffle" is the last chance to get the seniors what they deserve. Mr. Lundeen's opinion may have just thrown some votes toward the shuffle not against it. "Community" is the buzz word we always need to focus on. Darien is a great place, a great town, close to NYC, and we have Long Island Sound. Darien is cozy but fragmented by it's private clubs. The clubs are huge assets to Darien. Use Wee Burn for example, the members use their club and little else. As town planners of public facilities I really don't trust the farmers from the other end of the state to understand the complexity of Darien. As residents and tax payers we are all in this together whether we like it or not. The political party bickering leaves us all as losers. No one knows that better than anyone who walks in the current senior center. Two years ago I set out on a mission to learn all I could about this subject. I spent 6 weeks touring facilities and meeting their executives. The first thing I noticed were the quailty of people in the senior care business, people like Beth Paris and so many others. Darien needs greatly expanded programs in their new facility. Community building programs that bring children to the center when seniors are there, as simple as Bingo on Friday nights. Chris Noe www.duc06820.com
John Boulton October 08, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Mr. Lundeen’s last point smacks of political opportunism. School administrators are everyone's favorite punching bag, but the reality is the Board of Education did not request this move. They are being good citizens to help the Board of Selectman execute a creative plan to maximize use of existing Town facilities. This move will be operating cost-neutral for the Board of Ed, and will have no detrimental impacts on funding for the classroom. I know every member of that Board personally; they would never agree to it otherwise. This is the danger in people running for office who just don't know enough about Town finances, since questions about how the Town's capital budget and the Board of Ed's operating budget impact each other are indeed questions for the Board of Finance, not the Board of Selectmen.
John Sini October 08, 2011 at 03:40 PM
There you go again, Mr. Boulton - exposing those darn facts! They are just so inconvenient for the Dems this election season.
Chris Noe October 09, 2011 at 09:23 AM
To: John Boulton, The DTC probably let Mr. Lundeen write the last question himself. Your clarification of capital vs operating expences really wasn't necessary. Had the shuffle drawn from the BOE's operating expences they would have cancelled the sports programs already. I am glad you know all these people personally because it 's our kids who are the punching bags. Hopefully this time you can be part of the solution. I keep wondering how, "Facilities Transfer Engineer" looks on anyone's resume.


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