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.
36 Swifts Lane
The author is the Democratic nominee for first selectman.