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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."

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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