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Officials: Shuffle Would Rid Town of Edgerton Building

At a public meeting Thursday in Town Hall, all of the town officials discussing the Shuffle plan who gave an indication of their view seemed to be in support. Several said they wanted to rid the town of the Edgerton Street building.

More elected officials than town residents attended a public informational meeting about the Shuffle on Thursday evening, just five days before the proposal is up for a townwide referendum vote.

About 10 people, including several town officials, were at the meeting in , at which the public was invited to ask questions about the plan. District 5 members of the Representative Town Meeting organized the public meeting, which was covered live on TV79, the town cable channel.

One very desirable part of the Shuffle proposal, Finance Board Chairman Liz Mao said, was being able to get rid of the building that now houses the Senior Center on Edgerton Street.

"As far as I'm concerned, tear down the building," Mao said. That would get rid of the maintenance and repair costs.

The Shuffle plan would move the from Town Hall to the site of the former Darien Library at 35 Leroy Ave. The would then vacate its current Edgerton Street address and move into the space freed up in Town Hall. The Edgerton Street building might then be torn down and some other use made for its land—probably affordable housing for seniors if a number of town officials have their way.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson pointed out that if the Shuffle plan is rejected in the referendum, there will be a cost to the town, including continued maintenance and upkeep of the Edgerton Street building—and those costs won't be able to be paid for through bonding, but through the operating budget, which would have an immediate impact on taxpayers, she said.

Extensive repairs are needed to keep maintaining the former school building on Edgerton Street, she said. The roof and boiler both need repairs, and work would need to be done on the foundation.

It was pointed out that the Edgerton Street building uses heating oil, which is more expensive than natural gas, used now at Town Hall and, Guimond said, possibly 35 Leroy Ave. in the future. Guimond said a request has been made to  Yankee Gas to install natural gas service to 35 Leroy.

Size of the Senior Center

Martha A. Banks, vice chairman of the Board of Finance, said she thought the size of the proposed Senior Center in the Town Hall annex was larger than the space that even bigger towns were using for their senior centers.

New Canaan's senior center uses 11,000-12,000 square feet, she said. Ridgefield, a larger town, uses 15,000 square feet. Wellesley, MA, also larger than Darien, has a study that recommends a 12,000-square-foot senior center, she said.

With 24,000 square feet proposed for the Mather Community Center, she said, "I think we've come up with an oversized center."

Guimond responded by saying the proposed space to be used by Senior Center programs in the Town Hall Annex is 16,000 square feet. Other Mather Community Center space would be used by the Darien Arts Center (about 2,000 square feet), youth services (1,000 square feet), and corridors and the mechanical room would take up the rest of the space, he said.

Joseph Pankowski Jr., chairman of the Commission on Aging is one of several people in a group who want to organize a transformation of the Edgerton St. tract where the Senior Center now stands and make it 20 units of affordable housing for seniors.

Pankowski's proposal is not officially part of the Shuffle plan, but it appears to have the support of a good number of town officials. He said that he never expected to get so much support from Republicans for affordable housing in Darien.

Editor's note: This article originally was posted at 6 a.m. Friday. The timestamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Darien Patch homepage.

John Sini December 11, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Deb Ann, I was simply taking a guess why Kathy found the Times op-ed "laughable" when the editorial staff clearly and rationally outlined the reasoning behind its recomendation to vote "Yes." It's unfortunate you inferred something different, thereby directly linking her name to the point made in the Times op-ed.
kathy December 11, 2011 at 05:28 PM
Mr. Boulton, The Patch article that we are blogging on is about the demolition of the Edgerton property. Ms. Mao is quoted in the Patch as saying "One very desirable part of the Shuffle proposal, was being able to get rid of the building that now houses the Senior Center on Edgerton Street." I simply pointed out the fact that the town did not include the cost to demolish the old senior center in the $6.97 million bond. You assert that "There is already a committee formed to develop affordable senior housing on the current Senior Center site. Costs for that project, including demolition, will NOT come out of Town". Mr. Pankowski stated publically Thursday that there is no money, no plan, no land. Which is it? Have agreements been made in a "cone of silence" that the public should be aware of? Who has approved the donation of town/school land to a private developer, and where are all the government approvals that would be needed to build 20 units of senior affordable housing on Edgerton? If that project you elude to does not happen who pays to demolish the old senior center?Taxpayers are entitled to an answer. Facts please.
kathy December 11, 2011 at 05:32 PM
As I just replied to Mr. Boulton, Ms. Mao is quoted in the Patch as saying "One very desirable part of the Shuffle proposal, was being able to get rid of the building that now houses the Senior Center on Edgerton Street." I simply pointed out the fact that the town did not include the cost to demolish the old senior center in the $6.97 million bond.
John Sini December 11, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Joyce, the total cost of constructing a proper stand alond senior/community facility won't be much different than the Shuffle -- or could even exceed the $6.9 million when you take into account emergency repairs that will have to be addressed while we decide what to do next. That's the other thing that opponents fail to address.
Dave December 11, 2011 at 09:12 PM
John, Won't we need to do those emergency repairs anyway why we wait for the BOE to move and the Town Hall to be renovated? Thanks for highlighting another hidden cost of the "shuffle". I am not against spending the money on a new senior center. I am against shuffling things around. When this idea was first proposed it was meant to save money. Now it looks like it will cost the same or more - so it was a good idea which did not bear out. I don't want the BOE moved away from town hall and I would rather see 35 Leroy used for housing (be it affordable or market rate) and have the Senior Center on Edgerton. Especially if all these things will cost the same. If you don't shuffle you can have a new SC in a year or two, housing at 35 Leroy in a year or two and the BOE can remain happily ensconced where they are. I'm Voting NO! Dave
John Sini December 11, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Not if we're only talking re: nine months versus two years. Well, now that we agree we're talking about similar funds if we Shuffle or not, why wouldn't you want to rennovate two town facilities for the same price as building a brand new one??
Joyce Ishimata December 11, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Dave, i dont know how you can call costs that will be incurred with or without a shuffle, a hidden cost of the shuffle. You are planning to vote no. Are you saying that any plan that you have now has hidden costs--such as repairs? I find it completely disingenuous. The no people have no plan. Therefore they are fine to have the seniors live in squalor. Is that fair? I dont think it is. I think trying to find reasons such as cost of demolition and repair costs and now including them with this plan, is not fair. You oppose the shuffle because you think a better plan might be formulated. FIne. But, those plans all will include repairs and demolition, so it cant be something you oppose. If you desire the seniors continuing to spend their days in that poor building, then you can argue that costs of demolition and repair matter. The No people should be talking only abut the costs that they fine unacceptable. I think its a worthy argument to say that moving BOE at a cost of 3 mio is too much. Mr Sini/Bolton anyone. Why is that cost so high? It would seem to me that I can move a house for 5,000 . I cant understand why moving the BOE cost 3 mio. What am I missing?
Joe Pankowski December 11, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Ms. Ishimata: if we are not going to sell 35 Leroy to a developer, we need to figure out an alternative use -- otherwise we're just paying to maintain an empty building. The first option of affordable housing did not get through the town boards and the RTM. Thus, instead of modifying the building to that use, the Shuffle (if approved on Tuesday) will retrofit the former library to office space. In addition, the building will need to have a new sprinkler system installed, a new roof, etc. For more, see the link below: http://www.voteyesdarien.com/More_Information_files/Bond_Total.pdf
kathy December 12, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Joyce, you misunderstood my comment about the cost of demolition. Logically demolition is a cost of the project and it has nothing to do with my opposition to the shuffle. I was responding to the Patch article and Liz Mao's comments that the best part of the shuffle is the demolition of the old senior center and I made note that those costs are not funded in the shuffle. I object to the fact that supporters like Mr. Boulton tells us that demolition will be paid for by the developer of Sr housing at Edgerton. As of now there is no approved plan for such housing. No land, no money, no official notification to the neighbors. We have nothing to go on. You tell me how long the old Sr. Center might sit empty and decaying if there is no approval of a housing project at the middle school? How can Mr. Boulton assure us the senior center will be demolished at no cost to the town. That was my point which I guess you missed. As far as $3 mill to move 30 administrative staffers ($86K per employee), this is an extremely wasteful use of public funds, in my humble opinion and the reason for my objection from the start!
John Sini December 12, 2011 at 12:30 AM
The bottom line Kathy &Dave make is that the opponents would like to upgrade much less space for similar cost to taxpayers, if not more -- just so we don't move the BOE!
Joyce Ishimata December 12, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Ok Kathy, So, if I try to sift through both arguments, you find it wrong for a plan to not include demolition costs and repair costs and that when Mr. Bolton tries to say those costs will be borne by a future developer you think that should not be uttered. But, Kathy, without a plan of your own, how can you also claim something better exists? I dont think its fair to examine a whole plan and find one or 2 holes, yet somehow ask voter to believe what you say. What the stoptheshuffle side is saying is 'there has to be something better." I can find more than 2 holes in that plan...I can find infinite holes. Now, I know you are saying that its not a choice between plans, but I think its very hard to choose to vote for the side that has no plans and has done no fundamental research to support any claims. Let me analogize. The U.S found Osama Bin Laden in Sept of 2010. I am a layman--but I would have thought the US would be invading his compound 2 days later. But they took 8 months. For people to make conclusions about what SHOULD be done, but be laymen, is rather arrogant and naive at the same time. These people who developed the plan I'm certain know more than you do about the complexities of the planning. To simply label it as a 'waste' is possibly as naive as I am about the necessary steps to take down Bin Laden. Unless you have a plan that I can compare , its very tough to say the Shuffle is bad. The other plans may be worse, and u might oppose all plans?
Dave December 12, 2011 at 02:09 AM
So John, you are going to renovate one building, move into it, then renovate another and move into it in 9 months? That is a very ambitious plan. I think it won't happen that fast. It is no bargain to renovate space that was not previously identified as needing renovation. I have been all over town hall. Sure, it could be nicer but it is nowhere near the need of the senior center. And you are completely leaving out the cost of housing at Edgerton. Whether it is paid for by the town or donors, the people of Darien will be paying for it. Why not lease 35 Leroy to a developer and let them build it for nothing? It doesn't have to be affordable.
Dave December 12, 2011 at 02:10 AM
And Joyce - my plan is simple, build a new senior center, leave BOE where it is and lease 35 Leroy to a developer who will put housing for seniors there - mixed rate.
Joyce Ishimata December 12, 2011 at 07:27 AM
Thanks Dave, So you will demolish the old Senior center? Sounds like it. I think my question to you is why do you worry about the cost of demoltion and repairs, when the same thing will exist in your plan? One question to anyone who knows, is it possible to define the housing that goes in 35 Leroy? Can we limit it to town residents, or the elderly? That seems like it could cause problems with the DOJ? Dave wants to build only for a particular age group-and I was wondering if that is exclusionary, and therefore illegal? And Dave could you give me an idea in your plan of all the costs. How long you propose the lease for. What are the ramifications of a developer who you sign a lease with going bankrupt , how much the lease will bring in vis-a-vis the bonding on the property? We must pay roughly 150k a year in carrying costs, what will happen when interest rates go up? Would this make economic sense to a developer ? To have age restricted housing. Perhaps your plan is simple, Dave. I hope it is, but I think it may have more to it, than you may think. But, I may be wrong. You, indeed , may have all the answers to my questions at your fingertips. Its just my idea, that the people who studied this issue for years, probably know more than I do. And maybe you?
John Sini December 12, 2011 at 10:38 AM
Why not lease Edgerton to a developer and let them build it for nothing? This way you don't have to destroy a perfectly usable building that was purchased for a municipal use. What's been most interesting in this two year old debate debate is to realize that the Shuffle could bring Darien exactly what for former First Selectman Klein sought, for the same cost, yet just in a different syntax: 1. A new, comprehensive multi-generational community center which includes the arts, parks & rec programs, and of course, the seniors and 2. Twenty units of affordable housing. Yet from the start, the Shuffle has been opposed by some of Mrs. Klein's closest supporters, with one even two days ago contradicting his previous, very public statements supporting the need for a comprehensive community facility. Starts to make you wonder what this is all about.
kathy December 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM
Joyce You ask:"Can we limit it to town residents, or the elderly? That seems like it could cause problems with the DOJ? Dave wants to build only for a particular age group-and I was wondering if that is exclusionary, and therefore illegal?" I ask: What is the difference of building senior housing on Edgerton? Do the same "rules" not apply there? Do tell.
kathy December 12, 2011 at 12:21 PM
Mr. Pankowski says "The first option of affordable housing did not get through the town boards and the RTM." This is not the case. The affordable housing option for 35 Leroy was unanimously approved by the BOS and use of the property specifically as affordable housing was approved by the the BOF when we were buying the property in the first place. There was an option to lease agreement in place with Mutual Housing of Southwestern CT, which had followed a preliminary architectural plan for the building and property approved by the building committee, with preliminary approval by P&Z and the Fire Marshall. The reason the final lease agreement with Mutual Housing never got in front of the RTM was because Mr. Campbell unilaterally cancelled the agreement with Mutual Housing upon taking office, with no public discussion or debate.
John Sini December 12, 2011 at 12:52 PM
Kathy, it was a preliminary plan and, at the time, the option-to-lease was a very contoversial unilateral move move by the Klein adminsitration. The BoF, P&Z and RTM would have had to weigh in on the lease (just as they will if the Edgerton concept is moved forward). As I said in another post, elections have consequences. Just because one administration had started to pursue a policy, doesn't mean the following has to pursue them. Heck, Misters Lundeen and Bayne and Mrs. Riccardo ran on a platform that they would overturn the Shuffle -- after a favorable P&Z mandatory referal, and favorable votes from BOS, BOF, and the overwhelming RTM vote! I didn't hear you complain then!
Joyce Ishimata December 12, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Kathy, I was asking if we can limit it to the elderly? I was not looking for a tit-for-tat response. Do you know? Also you say that Mr Campbell unilaterlly cancelled it. Just again, my ignorance, but the rest of the BOS did not participate in that decision? Or are you saying "unanimously and then unilaterally" because it sounds more like a dictator? I also asked you before to point out where anyone said that it was not the stoptheshuffle's right to hold a referendum. The 'unilateral', the 'bully' and the we have a 'right' stuff seems to be unsupportable. But I may be wrong. I didnt think the First Selectman could make those decisions without a vote. So, again, I am simply looking to understand the issues. I dont really understand if the proshuffle crowd is as mean and unreasonable as you say, Ms Ice says, Mr Bayne in his letter claims. I want to know the issues and consequences and if no one is bullying you, then I think you should stop saying that. That's my opinion. Joy
Joyce Ishimata December 12, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Kathy, Im sorry , I said Mr Bayne is claiming to be bullied now. It was Mr. Lundeen who is claiming that he is being told to keep quiet.
Dave December 12, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Joyce, I do believe you can limit it by age or income but not to current residents only. There are many senior housing developments and many affordable housing developments in the state. Why would we want to limit it to only Darien residents? Wouldn't that devalue the property? As Kathy mentions, these same questions apply to Edgerton. And yes the demolition costs would apply, but since we have no up to date numbers on what it would cost to build new on Edgerton anyway that is irrelevant at this point. It is however relevant to the shuffle since it is part of the shuffle plan and we don't know the answer to who is going to pay for it. AND just BTW, we have already raised the eyebrows of the DOJ. John - Thanks for highlighting the reason why I am voting NO. It is precisely because we have no guarantee, numbers or approvals about what will be done on Edgerton. Like you said, it could be started by this administration and changed or cancelled by another. When we get those approvals and facts about who will pay for what we will know the real cost of the shuffle and what we will really get for our money.
Dave December 12, 2011 at 10:59 PM
And before anyone jumps down my throat...what i mean by devalue the property is limit the buyers, not that there is anything wrong with Darien residents.
Dave December 12, 2011 at 11:22 PM
John, as per your comment above. Why would we choose to use 8 acres for 20 units instead of 2? When did I say we would tear down the building? I believe the original plan was for 21 units using the old building at 35 Leroy, so something similar for seniors would be fine. I would rather it be affordable housing - which would be a municipal use. However, this is one area I am willing to compromise - if people are afraid to have those who may need to live in "affordable housing" here in town then make it market rate and impose the inclusionary housing provision to get 12%. I just think it is stupid to do this shell game so that we don't use 35 Leroy for affordable housing. If the majority of the voters don't want more affordable housing then so be it. I think they are stupid and will just be giving Stefanoni more to do and the DOJ more reasons to send lawyers but if that is what we want to spend our money on instead of being generous with those who are less fortunate then so be it.
Jean Gillespie December 13, 2011 at 03:45 PM
" There is already a committee formed to develop affordable senior housing on the current Senior Center site. Costs for that project, including demolition, will NOT come out of Town funds. Should the Shuffle pass on Tuesday, they will proceed with more formal plans." Says Mr. Boulton.....hmmmmm....curious!??! Who are THEY?
Joe Pankowski December 13, 2011 at 04:07 PM
Ms. Gillespie: the current members of the committee are Debra Hertz, Jenny Streeter, Caroline Murray, Bob Calve and myself. We are hoping for a Yes vote today so that we can start meeting with folks in the Edgerton neighborhood and raising money. We have some hurdles to jump, for sure, but our biggest one is today. Thus, if you are in favor of affordable senior housing on Edgerton Street, please get out and VOTE YES DARIEN....
Liz Mao December 13, 2011 at 04:17 PM
When the RTM was asked to approve the resolution of the Board Of Finance, it voted to remove the proviso that the property be used for affordable housing. The RTM wanted to leave all options open,
Jean Gillespie December 13, 2011 at 05:35 PM
If the Shuffle passes and the development of Edgerton moves forward with the committee that's in place (Joe Pankowski, Debra Hertz, Jenny Streeter, Caroline Murray, Bob Calve) who will own the property? How and when was this committee formed and by whom?
Joyce Ishimata December 13, 2011 at 05:37 PM
I am beginning to see that nearly all the stop shuffle people want affordable housing at 35 leroy and have no real plan for the future. I never heard a reliable answer with respect to limiting housing to age groups. That means , if Dave is right, we can exclude the elderly as well. I doubt that . I never said we SHOULD limit to Darien residents, but when you become exclusionary, you become exclusionary. The stop shuffle people I now realize have no real vision for seniors. They have no idea what the next step is. They want AH at 35 leroy, and are hiding their agenda, by claiming costs on the shuffle make it the issue. This is not fair to the people of Darien. You should be honest.
Joe Pankowski December 13, 2011 at 05:49 PM
@ Ms. Gillespie: the property will continue to be owned by the Town of Darien. Clock Hill Homes (near the Darien Train Station) is a great model for what we would like to do. To answer your second question, the committee was formed early this year, with Ms. Hertz and yours truly joining in the summer. We will be expanding the committee to include at least one person from the Edgerton neighborhood, as well as others who can be helpful to our cause. All of the above, of course, being contingent on getting a Yes vote today.....
Shay K December 13, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Joyce, I think it's unfair to assign motive to many of us who oppose the Shuffle. I am opposed because I see no need for the unnecessary development of a community center when we already have an abundance of unused community space around town such as our new library and existing town hall spaces. I hate the idea of further financial waste (and very little sense) of moving the BOE to 35 Leroy. But my greatest objection to the Shuffle is the loss of the Edgerton property. What sensible town with limited land resources would choose to give away 8 acres adjacent to its only middle school? I can't imagine why town officials would be so shortsighted not to realized the value of keeping that land for future needs.

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