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Shuffle Opponents' Referendum Push Appears to Succeed

Petition organizers turned in roughly 970 signatures to the Town Clerk Friday.

Update, 3:58 p.m.:

"These petitions represent a non-partisan, grassroots effort that has taken place over the past week," Kathy Finnegan, one of the organizers of the effort, wrote in an email. "The petitioners have sincere concerns about the proposed 'shuffle' project and the $6.9 million bond approved by the RTM last week."

"Over 950 signatures have been collected from Darien citizens who are concerned that this projected has not been fully vetted or justified," she added.

Update, 3:23 p.m.:

Shuffle opponents have turned in 73 petition sheets bearing about 970 signatures, according to an estimate provided by organizers to the Town Clerk — well above the roughly 630 required in order to trigger a town-wide referendum.

If the signatures are verified — a process that won't begin until next week — the Board of Selectmen will be obligated to schedule a referendum "as soon as practicable."

According to First Selectman-elect Jayme Stevenson, that process has historically resulted in a vote about one month after a successful petition is filed, potentially setting a referendum in this case for mid-December.

Stevenson, outgoing First Selectman Dave Campbell, and RTM Moderator Karen Armour joined Town Clerk Donna Rajczewski in the lobby of an otherwise empty Town Hall Friday, where they looked over some of the petition sheets.

"I am obviously very disappointed to know that it looks like potentially they have enough signatures to move the referendum vote forward, but I am eager to now spend the time between now and the vote to more fully educate the people," Stevenson said. "I have every confidence that upon the vote, it will just be a third affirmation that this is a very good project, and it will move forward."

In order for the referendum to overrule the RTM's funding of the $6.979 million project, a majority of participants totaling at least 25% of registered voters (or about 3,100 people) will have to vote "no."

The last referendum in Darien came in Dec. 2001, when residents affirmed the RTM's decision to fund the reconstruction of , 4,335 votes to 2,539. Ten weeks prior to that, voters overruled a $26.7 million appropriation to purchase the property now occupied by Avalon Darien, 2,505 votes to 3,207.

Original story:

may be closed Friday in observance of Veterans Day, but one office — the — is set to hold special business hours. 

That's because Friday falls ten days after a pivotal decision by the Representative Town Meeting and bond issue for town's pending facilities shuffle.

The 58-28 vote was the last major approval by a town body needed for the Republican-led plan, which would see the 's offices shifted to the old library at 35 Leroy Ave. and the fraying  given a new home at a renovated annex (dubbed the Mather Community Center).

But since last week, a group of opponents to the project on the RTM's action. In order to trigger such a vote, the town clerk must, within ten days, receive petitions signed by at least five percent of registered voters as of the last municipal election (or about 630 people).

If the petition effort is successful, the Board of Selectmen will be obligated to organize a special electors' meeting "as soon as practicable." A majority of referendum participants totaling at least 25% of registered voters (or about 3,100 people) would then have to vote "no" in order to overrule the RTM.

As of early Thursday evening, organizer Kathy Finnegan said she wasn't sure how many signatures had been collected but that she and other petition supporters would work to tally the names Thursday night and Friday morning.

"I know we're not making some people happy that we're planning to file tomorrow," Finnegan said, adding that several opponents of the petition had asked organizers to withdraw their efforts on Thursday.

Finnegan said that the breakdown of residents who had signed on was "not coming back to us along party lines."

According to the Town Clerk's Office, its doors will stay open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday to accept petitions, but staff will not verify signers' names until later.

If a referendum is triggered, it would be the first in Darien since Dec. 2001, when residents affirmed the RTM's decision to fund the reconstruction of Darien High School, 4,335 votes to 2,539. Ten weeks before that, voters overruled a $26.7 million appropriation to purchase the property now occupied by Avalon Darien, 2,505 votes to 3,207.

According to First Selectman-elect Jayme Stevenson, past referenda suggest that it would take about a month after a successful petition effort to hold a vote.

If a referendum is triggered but fails to overrule the RTM's decision, Stevenson said it would "definitely delay the [shuffle] process by approximately a month."

The current timetable calls for renovations at 35 Leroy to finish in time for the Board of Education to relocate by late summer 2012.

"I'm still holding out hope that even with a month delay, the board of ed could be moved into that space by the end of the summer," Stevenson said. But, she noted, "Those will be conversations that we'll have to have with the architects in the coming weeks."

Stevenson said she had left a voicemail with Finnegan on Friday acknowledging that, while there had been "some pretty heated dialogue" around the petition effort, she respected the organizers' right to pursue a referendum.

Still, Stevenson said, "My sincere hope is that they don't get enough signatures by tomorrow afternoon."

Chris Noe November 14, 2011 at 01:05 PM
58 Yes-Men in the RTM voted for an incomplete plan.
Chapin November 14, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Luca - The normal Democrat thing? First off, I am a registered Republican. Second, the political discourse in this country (and now Darien) has hit rock bottom. Stevenson in one breath pledges nonpartisan leadership while key members of her own party and ardent supporters use tactics designed to divide the community. Mr. Pankowski's statements continue to imply opponents of the plan are aegists. As for the costs, in your reply to James Clarke, you state "it was originally under 4 mio and now its 7 mio!! Ok? It was voted yes still. By everyone. And was the number one issue for the dems who got trounced at the polls." I am fairly confident that if the original shuffle proposal put on the table 12 months ago had a price tag of $7 million, several alternatives would have been given a thorough examination as Darien Dad has noted. Simply arguing the RTM voted for a project that appears to have been "sandbagged" (for political reasons or awful budgeting or both?) does not make it a fiscally prudent decision. Additionally, I re-read the proposal from 2010 and find some of the assumptions and statement used to support the Shuffle in the slide deck unbelievable including the value of 35 Leroy. Whether or not taxpayers take a loss on 35 Leroy is irrelevant. Again it is a sunk cost, as asset if you will that the town owns at a $4.2 million price tag. Whether it is sold or held, it still cost taxpayers money if the fair market value is below the purchase price.
Dave November 14, 2011 at 10:50 PM
Okay, Joe and John, So I am going to vote no and encourage my friends to do so. If we do the facilities transfer plan as is, we are doing so prematurely. I don't want to move the offices of the BOE to a new space and the senior center to a new space until I know what will happen to the current senior center property. Until I have those facts, I am not ready to say yes. When Mr. Campbell introduced this plan it had three components. The homework has only been done on two of those components. Until all those bodies vote to turn that land over to your private citizens group you are just spinning your wheels and there are still many hurdles to cross. I've been around Darien to know that things can change rapidly. One argument seems to be that we need to use this building that sits empty at 35 Leroy - well after the current plan we will just have another town owned property sitting empty. I realize they all voted for it but the votes were far from unanimous. So now the public will get to weigh in. Good luck. One thing I think we agree on is that we should not sell 35 Leroy because a company like Avalon could hold on to it long enough to wait out the moratorium. But I just think we should consider senior housing there before we move everyone around,
sebastian dangerfield November 14, 2011 at 11:11 PM
Well Chapin, your belief that it is not worth the money is what the debate is about. You say that just because people voted yes to it (people who studied the issue at length) doesnt make it right. I agree. And just because it was originally thought to cost 4 and now 7 doesnt mean its way too expensive. I dont quite get why you say that "some of the assumptions are unbelievable." And then go on to say whether or not taxpayers take a loss is irrelevant. True again, on some level. But if the asset we were talking about was worth 3,000 dollars --the entire conversation would be different. You can conclude that its a sunk cost and therefore dismiss its value....but same time you cant when its worth that much.
sebastian dangerfield November 14, 2011 at 11:33 PM
To the Chapin's Dave dsmith etc. I keep wondering what plan you think is out there, that is being buried that will result in a more dignified senior center being part of our community. Chapin seems to advocate for selling 35 leroy. Ok. So then what? Then we demolish the edgerton building. And construct a new senior center there (which will be opposed by the neighbors because a nicer facility will no doubt increase traffic.) And then how much will that save/cost? If you have those answers, I d love to hear why that plan makes more sense. If you are simply against spending any money on our senior citizens--who pay a reasonable amount of taxes --yet have no kids--then thats your view-that I think a lot of people disagree with. I dont think its fair to say that the senior center might negatively affect our schools. Schools have always, obviously, taken a huge priority-so to raise your voice in support of schools , as though they suffer enough, is ludicrous. But anyway-instead of saying 'its too expensive' and 'there has to be something better' --why not throw out some details. Anyone with a great idea, probably should have showed up at a meeting in the last 10 years with that idea. But there is still time. But you cant just say there has to be something better--because a lot of people have done a lot of work to get to here. And if you have put in 10 minutes vs their 200 hours--Im going to go with them.
Chapin November 14, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Luca - You are clearly missing my point. If the cost of the Shuffle was accurately presented as $7 million (vs. the $4.5), the evaluation of the alternatives would and should have been thoroughly examined. Modifying the Town's own document for the meaningful overage in the Shuffle project yields the following data. -Renovate existing senior center - $3 mm (for full repair, not improvement) -Shuffle - $7.0 mm (and growing) -New Construction - $6.4 mm Did the supporters of the Shuffle dedicate the same resources in analyzing the alternatives? Probably not. Taxpayers deserve a comprehensive analysis of the situation. As for 35 Leroy and the assumptions. The document suggests a draconian loss of $1.5-$2.1 million on the property. Let's for the sake of this discussion assume that is correct. The property is a $2.1-$2.7 million asset of the Town and taxpayers marked at today's fair value. Holding the asset because "taxpayers will take a loss" is similar to a residential homeowner refusing to sell a house because they paid more for the property several years ago hoping/praying the market appreciates/returns. It is 100% irrelevant. The decision that everyone should be asking regarding that property is what is in the Town's/taxpayers best interest today going forward, not holding out hope that the "loss" will diminish over time.
Joe Pankowski November 14, 2011 at 11:47 PM
Dave: although we'll have to agree to disagree, thanks for the reasoned discussion. And, yes, the following quote is right-on-the-money: "One thing I think we agree on is that we should not sell 35 Leroy because a company like Avalon could hold on to it long enough to wait out the moratorium."
John Sini November 15, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Chapin, the BOS, BOF, RTM was aware of the $7m price tag when they voted for the proposal. It hasn't grown since then and could actually come down with contingencies. I think everybody agrees that the sale of 35 Leroy was a bad idea and that spending $3m on renovation of the current Senior Center is throwing good money after bad, so let’s put that all to rest. So that leaves us with the choice of building a new Senior Center on site versus the renovations at town hall. A few things to consider: 1. Despite misguided claims otherwise, P&Z wouldn't allow a new senior center building to be constructed along side the existing building. There's simply not enough room back there for parking, construction vehicles, and both building footprints to coexist. That means the program would be taken off line for about a year during construction. 2. The difference between the cost of new construction versus the approved Shuffle plan seems to be somewhere in the $1m or less range. The new construction option would not optimize the floor space at town hall and would likely result in the destruction of 35 Leroy, which is still in good shape. It also allows for different uses of the building if the Town finds itself in a bind at some point in the future. It amounts to sensible capital management. I think that is why a vast majority of the RTM voted in favor of the project.
Chris Noe November 15, 2011 at 02:51 AM
Plan B Plan B represents a compromise between the Republican's "shuffle" and the Democrat's affordable housing at the old library. The points: 35 Leroy, the old library receives 20 high end senior town houses at one million dollars each. Town Hall has the new Senior Activities Center on the first level of the annex. The Board of Education administration remains, only BoE maintenance moves to the town garage. The old Senior Activities Center on Edgerton Street is razed and ball fields are installed there. Estimated cost: 3.5 Million. Estimated time of construction: 6 months Chris Noe 242 Old Kings Highway South Darien, CT 06820 203 554 4013 I presented Plan B to the new BoS tonight. It came right after Jayme announced there are enough names for the referendum.
sebastian dangerfield November 15, 2011 at 05:39 AM
chapin I understand what you are trying to say--but I dont agree that your points are what is driving the decision making process. The fact that it is mentioned as a loss, i dont think has entered into the discussion. As far as I read, the point continually has been made by the Democrats , while they were in control, and now the republicans, that they are not for selling it. So whether it would be at a loss or a profit, I think is only for informational purposes. The point that you keep making 4.5 vs 7 mio changed the considerations/ options. Are you saying that if the final cost came out at 20 mio the votes would have remained unchanged ? 58-28? Im thinking they would have changed drastically. On what basis are you concluding that people who voted were ignorant, inelastic with respect to cost? Not as smart as you? I think that they thought it was a great plan at 4.5 and a good plan at 7. Im sure they would think it was a non-starter at 30 mio. That in the end, they voted with the same amount of intelligence as you would. Costs matter to everyone. The issue has been looked at for 10 years. Smart people bantied ideas back and forth --and came up with this. Are your numbers real? Why do you say 7 mio and growing? Because it changed upward? that means you think it is a function time? Or that you think by characterizing a move from point a to b as a trend makes it sound more foreboding?
sebastian dangerfield November 15, 2011 at 05:47 AM
I still think that numbers such as 7 mio are somewhat inflammatory. If I lease a mercedes that retails for 78k for 629 a month I can say I drive a car that costs 78 or I can say i spend 7500 a year on a car. But John Sini has repeatedly asked the question --without one solid answer from the anti shuffle people. If cost is the biggest concern--then why was there no referendum for an 18 mio dollar police station? From view, the answer is " because klein wanted affordable housing at 35 leroy. and klein was also fine with a police station." The shuffle was opposed by the same people when it costs 4.5 mio as when it costs 7 mio. They just think the higher cost and the fact that it shifted --gives them a bigger bone to pick. To that end--if private citizens were able to raise 1.5 mio to give to the shuffle--bring it down to 5.5 mio--would that eliminate the concerns of the anti-shuffle crowd? Not saying it would happen--but I seriously believe that cost is not what is the concern. Im thinking its simply the same as the entire last 4 years--that a faction in town wants affordable housing there and will bring up any issue to block anything other than that.
Chapin November 15, 2011 at 01:30 PM
Luca - As we noted to John, we do not have insight into why or why not people voted for the Police station. Regardless, what's done is done and is not germane to the current discussion. I have no doubt taxpayers/elected officials opposed the Shuffle when it was a $4.5 million project. I did not oppose it at $4.5 million. What I find troubling is the substantial overages the project seems to be experiencing. One can look at the price tag several ways. The original cost of the proposal was "sandbagged" to garner support for the Shuffle at the expense of other options or the individuals behind the proposal/budgeting process performed their roles poorly. A 75% cost over-run is not a rounding error. Supporters argue the cost spread across the entire tax base it is a small/capita increase in absolute dollars. That is disingenuous. It is a bloated project, end of story compared to "potential" alternatives. I do not have detailed figures as Mr. Sini but do you think the town might prefer a new construction site for less than $7 million or possibly the proposal articulated by Mr. Noe above? Our household would personally like to the see all options rigorously analyzed. As for affordable housing, I can't speak for the motivations of the different groups in this town. If certain opponents of the Shuffle want affordable housing, they should present a compelling case and let the Town decide provided it satisfies state mandates.
Mike November 15, 2011 at 02:42 PM
I have three comments: 1) Regarding the referrendum, why are people upset now when the town plans to spend $7 million for a Community Center but not one word when they decide to spend god knows what for a huge police station that seems totally unneccesary? 2) Remember, while the cost of the Shuffle is estimated at $7 million the cost of other ideas is not $0. There will be some cost unless we do nothing. 3) Putting any kind of senior/affordable housing at 35 Leroy will create "significant" traffic issues.
Chris Noe November 15, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Million Dollar town houses at the library place the property back on the tax collectors list. The property taxes would pay back Darien in 12 years for the cost of the land. You must consider the loss of taxes plus every other cost when you put the BoE at 35 Leroy. The shuffle is a total loser.
sebastian dangerfield November 15, 2011 at 03:56 PM
chapin--are you against spending or not? and if you are--(in stamford and the shuffle) why is the police station not worthy of discussion? You keep bringing up stamford (in the past) as a way of describing your desire to avoid spending...but now you dont want to discuss the police station?? Sorry dude--but you sort of blew it.
sebastian dangerfield November 15, 2011 at 03:57 PM
chris noe i have an even better plan. ready? 5 million dollar town houses at 35 leroy.
Mike November 15, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Mr. Noe; Your assumption is that there is a market for these homes. Do you know for a fact that there is a demand for million dollar homes at that property. I have a hard time anyone wants to pay that kind of money for no land - I could be wrong but don't think I am. Therefore your payback period could be a lot longer.
Chapin November 15, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Luca - People are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. Fact, I never mentioned Stamford. I think you are confusing my posts with another commenter on the site. Fact, as for the Police Station, it is not relevant to this discussion because we can't turn back time. It is a sunk cost and has no relevance to future capital spending plans. I never stated my desire was to avoid spending but rather hold our officials accountable for a plan that was either poorly thought out as evidenced by the massive over-runs or deceptively presented to make the alternatives appear less attractive. I blew it? I have my facts correct and my reasoning. What is the harm of letting the town vote on alternatives that in the long-run might prove to be a more effective use of town resources and assets? If the Shuffle is the best plan as you suggest, it should have no problem beating the Referendum providing closure.
Chris Noe November 15, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Mike, I am not going to argue my point on this website. Have a nice day.
Mike November 15, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Mr. Noe: From what I have read on this thread, all you have been doing is arguing your point. However, when your assumptions are challenged you back off. I did not use offensive language or name calling, so I am confused as to why you are not "arguing your point on this website" A case of taking your ball and going home. Good thing you did not win the First Selectman position if that is how you behave. And yes, I will have a nice day!
AlleyCat November 15, 2011 at 04:53 PM
First, let me start by saying I am against the Shuffle. I have lived in this town for almost 10 years and never cease to be amazed by how the BOF and the Selectmen are penny wise, dollar foolish. 35 Leroy should be sold and affordable housing for seniors built there. Everyone forgets, the moratorium will end one day and Darien will be open up to developers who can do what they want and sidestep all our zoning laws. By selling the property to a developer of our choosing, we can build up Darien's argument for another moratorium. Conze's scare tactic on the potential for a particular developer to buy the property is just that, a scare tactic. The property makes absolute sense for affordable housing in its proximity to the trains and I-95, as well as the center of town. Next question, why does the BOE need to move? I have never heard that there was a problem with their space, why the sudden need to move them, and if we shuffling and not selling 35 Leroy, why can't that just become the new Senior/Community Center? As for the police project, I was never for that either and quite frankly, never saw that $18 million figure covered here on the Patch or the Darien Times. Most people I know are against that project, so RTM members, why did you vote for that and why was that price tag not advertised in the way this Shuffle price tag has been? I am 110% certain that if the people of Darien knew that price tag, there would indeed have been a Referendum.
Chris Noe November 15, 2011 at 08:06 PM
Many items came before the RTM for approval as the economy started to slide. I can specifically remember speaking to the RTM saying we need to watch the greater economic picture before proceeding with these capital projects. Evonne Klein pulled the plug on the police station and Weed Beach as she should have. Dave Campbell just had to plug it back in and he did. Dave's father was the long time police commissioner. Unfortunately, you can see who made the decision for him and the "we are united" group backed him up. Really disappointing in these economic times.
Chris Noe November 15, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Plan B The Republicans will do nothing until their plan is dead. The Democrats may see it as a plan that is a good compromise should the shuffle lose in the referendum. It will be the elected Democrats who bring it or some variation of it forward. Plan B would receive a higher vote in the RTM than the shuffle.
sebastian dangerfield November 16, 2011 at 12:04 AM
Alley Cat When you say we can sell to a developer of our choosing--do you mean we should vioate the Fair Housing Act? Are you saying that we should not sell to certain minorities? Or religions? Its against the law, I think, to only sell to a particular type of people. As for your assertion that "everyone forgets the moratorium will end one day"...its not one day--its a specific day and no one forgets. The price tag for the police station was talked about for probably a long time. Google darien police station and Im sure you will find 30 articles with the price tag. Im sure the RTM voted yes for it, just like this project, because they thought its the right thing. I dont. But they did. Was that a rushed project? Seems like they approved Weed Beach and the police station with less debate--with less studies and less scrutiny.
sebastian dangerfield November 16, 2011 at 12:14 AM
Yes Chapin- I confused you with someone else. Sorry. You didnt blow it-as a result, with respect to respecting the past, and then opting to ignore it. My point was wrong on who you were. If you want to assert that the planners did a bad job with cost estimates-- thats valid. If you want to say it was deceptive--I find it hard to believe. But neither of us, I think know where the initial number came from. Im guessing that the BOS/Campbell got some preliminary numbers and relied on them. I will ask you again, do you think that if the numbers came in at 20 mio as opposed to 7mio- the project would have passed? And please dont say -"i dont know" An honest answer would be appreciated--and I think we both understand it wouldnt pass. Meaning that the 7 mio tag was not ignored or considered unimportant.
sebastian dangerfield November 16, 2011 at 05:12 AM
chris noe Who was your father? and what decisions has he made for you during this election? I think its beyond total crap to go with the 'my dad was police commissioner" and so therefore I want to get a new police buidling. I think the vote was unanimous--so was david baynes mom also on the commission? was callie sullivan's uncle a policeman? Hey--I came up with another plan. 31 mio dollar town houses at 35 leroy. build senior center-cost 30k. And if anyone asks me to explain--Im gonna say I wont!! Awesome dude.
Chris Noe November 16, 2011 at 01:09 PM
Fred Conze said, "Affordable Housing is a parasite." I agree but only in the way the town is approaching it. I put a team together two years ago to hit 8-30g head-on to solve it. We solved it. The redevelopment of Allen-O'Neill and projects like that are parasites as Fred Conze states. We need to change the way the town does business. We have a newly elected BoS to lead us. In a short two years we will see what they have accomplished.
AlleyCat November 16, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Luca, Where did you get from my comment that I meant that Darien should not sell to minorities? Let's face it, this town is afraid of 2 developers, and if you want to sell 35 Leroy and they make an offer, don't sell it to them. That has nothing to do with race and for you to imply that I meant that is really nasty of you and quite frankly you should apologize. As for the RTM, perhaps they should ask their constituents their thoughts before voting on these large projects, or perhaps town laws should change where if a certain amount is spent on a project, it automatically goes to a town vote.
sebastian dangerfield November 16, 2011 at 11:30 PM
alley cat-- Im saying that if the town adopts your stance "we can sell to a developer of our choosing", it violate the fair housing act. The fair housing act was created to make illegal choosing particular types of people to live in town. You cannot exclude anyone. Im not implying that you alleycat (a virtual name--so not exactly sure why you bristle at an imsult-but whatever) are bigoted. Im saying your stance can be interpreted as bigoted if we would ever adopt it. IN other words, if you put the property up for sale--fred conze's scenario is possible. As far as 2 developers--I only know of 1 -and that stefanoni...and this doesnt apply anyway. People dont like stefanoni, not because of his desire to build affordable housing. Its where he proposes to build. In residential neighborhoods, If he wants to build AH at 35 leroy--thats fine with me. If AH ends up at 35 leroy --thats fine with me--so long as the town with its limited fiscal resources (thats the argument , right?) doesnt pay for a thing. The proponents twist and contort facts --saying the property is a sunk cost for AH but costs money for the shuffle. The proponents talk about the need to be near public transport, while at the same time telling us about all the car tax the town will receive. The proponents talk about families there, then not include the 12,000 educational costs per kid the town bears. An honest calculation-and an honest approach would be far more palatable.
sebastian dangerfield November 16, 2011 at 11:48 PM
An honest approach by the Democrats ---who simply want town sponsored affordable housing at 35 leroy--would help their cause, in my opinion. They think the way to approach the subject is by fooling people. But Darien is stock full of smart people. They claim that AH there, wont cost the town a nickel. (they are referring to Non profit developer constructing the units)--but they refuse to acknowledge the resulting costs, but somehow do remember to tell us about the resulting revenues. Its not honest. By my back of the envelope calc---the shuffle will cost 350 000 a year (the 7 mio figure is misleading-because its bonded)--and AH will net cost the town 225,000 a year. That means either 50 dollars per household or 30 dollars per household--the latter while not doing a thing for our seniors. My opinion is that the Town should look after its own residents before setting out to make sure that the rest of the world is a better place. To me--the State of Ct is already overreaching there, as well as the Federal Govt--so on a local level, we should look out for our own. I realize this is the type of stance that draws ire from the do-gooders. And perhaps it should. But I am not insensitive to others' needs. I just think there are boundaries for each government --and town govt should not be enmeshed with making sure other people are taken care of. eg, a kid from New Canaan cant just take a class in our school because the teacher is better. THere are limits.

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