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Selectmen Set to Vote Monday on $6.979M Shuffle Appropriation

Planners presented the latest designs and cost projections to both the Board of Selectmen and Representative Town Meeting over the past 10 days.

The Board of Selectmen is set to vote on a $6.979 million appropriation Monday for a Republican-backed facilities shuffle plan, according to a published agenda.

Item 6a calls for the board to "take action on a resolution appropriating $6,979,000 for the renovation of 35 Leroy Avenue and 2 Renshaw Road and authorizing the issuance of bonds and notes in the amount of $6,979,000 to meet said appropriation."

Under the three-phase shuffle proposal,  green-lighted last summer in a 3-2 party-line vote:

  • The Board of Education's offices would be moved from their current home abutting the old library at 35 Leroy Ave.
  • The  would then be relocated from its aging venue on Edgerton Street to a revamped Town Hall annex, dubbed the Mather Center. 
  • The Edgerton facility would finally be razed to clear the way for senior affordable housing at the site. (This third component is not part of the current planning process and would likely be handled by a non-profit.)

Board members were given a formal presentation on the project at their most recent meeting, held on Sept. 19. Building committee chairman Norm Guimond, architect Rusty Malik, and architect Tom Arcari updated the selectmen on their latest designs and cost projections. The three delivered a similar presentation at Monday's session of the Representative Town Meeting.

Officials have raised the possibility holding a special RTM session to vote on the project, which could allow construction to proceed in time for a summer 2012 move by the Board of Education. Funding for the plan would require sign-off from the Board of Finance before reaching the RTM.

First Selectman Dave Campbell, joined by fellow Republican Selectmen Jayme Stevenson and Jerry Nielsen, contend that the project is the most space- and cost-effective approach to developing a new senior center and making good use of town facilities.

Democratic selectmen David Bayne and Callie Sullivan argue that multi-phase plan is inefficient and more expensive than constructing a new purpose-built center at the current Edgerton Street location.

Democratic first selectman candidate John Lundeen — along with runningmates Bayne and Vickie Riccardo — has advocated selling the 35 Leroy Ave. building to a private developer "who will build a mix of market rate and below market rate housing" geared at "empty-nesters."

Tom Valentino September 30, 2011 at 12:11 PM
Sorry John but that's how I see it. I sit on the COA and was there when this first came out. Everyone agreed we needed a new Senior Center. Suddenly Dave Campbell comes into the meeting and announces something called the "shuffle". I suspected immediately it was more than just the renovation or replacement of the Senior Center driving this. And I was right. When asked at the next COA meeting why Leroy Avenue was going to be used for bureaucratic office expansion, Campbell said - "I wasn't elected to provide affordable housing" When I reminded him of those remarks at another COA meeting he threw a curse word at me (sent me a letter of apology letter about that) and denied everything. Instead of just simply replacing the Senior Center this project has ALWAYS been about some sort of political payback for Leroy Avenue as well by the Republicans on the BOSS ad well. Whatever happens at least everyone should be clear as to how and why we got here. And also how it got to ultimately be so expensive when everything is said and done.
Tom Valentino September 30, 2011 at 12:37 PM
Sorry for the inaccurate auto word complete at the end of the above post. It should read simply "BOS" second to last paragraph.
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 12:48 PM
Tom, It's interesting to note the Campbell admin has added more affordable units and supported more local policy re: Affordable housing in two years than the Klein Admin did in six! Moreover, what's Campbell's drive for this so-called "payback??". The won the election by record margins, across the board. It's much more likely you are of the ilk for some "payback." PS: I've tried to turn "BOS" to "RTM" via auto-complete and just can't for the life of me, produce the same result. Go figure...
Tom Valentino September 30, 2011 at 12:55 PM
John What happened I think is that BOS turned Into "Boss" as the auto complete. Anyway at a COA meeting just a few months ago Jayme Stevenson simply admitted that anything at allthe happening at Edgerton is, in her words "NOT GUARANTEED". These meetings are indeed interesting. Slowly but surely the truth pops itself out now and then.
Tom Valentino September 30, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Uh sorry again. Typo second paragraph. "Allthe" should read "all"
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Of course, the Edgarton project is not guarenteed at this early point! When the previous BOS signed the option-to-lease with the affordable housing devloper (without weighing in with either P&Z, BoF or the RTM) did you think that project was "guarenteed?" In reality, the facts and evidence blatantly show that calls for 35 Leroy are nothing but "payback" and that is the sad reality of what has happened since previous plans were abandoned by the majority.
Tony Imbimbo September 30, 2011 at 01:52 PM
John and John, As members of the Republican Town Committee, you would likely agree with me that every opinion you have is not shaded by your party affiliation. So it's disappointing that you would claim the DTC is politicizing this. To say this is being politicized during election time simply ignores the debate that has been going on for the past year. From the beginning of this discussion on the Board of Selectmen, Callie Sullivan and David Bayne have asked the majority to consider either a less-expensive, purpose-built facility for the Senior Center or a smaller facility at Town Hall, leaving the Board of Ed where it is, and maximizing the value of 35 Leroy in some other way, including by selling it to a developer for senior housing. Both ideas were worth analyzing, meaning comparing the costs of each to the town and the services that could be provided. Unfortunately, David and Callie were overruled, and that kind of analysis was never included within the scope of the advisory committee. The proposed Mather center will be 20,000+ square feet. In comparison, Westport's senior center is 12,000 sq. ft., and they have 1900 more seniors than we do. New Canaan's senior center is just 11,000 sq ft. Ridgefield's tops out at 15,000 sq. ft. All those towns have more seniors than Darien. I know you both are reasonable and respectful people, and so I'm sure you can see how reasonable people can respectfully disagree over whether or not "the Shuffle" makes sense.
Tom Valentino September 30, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Well John That's the way it's been presented. In fact I have a "prop" bet with the Chairman of the COA on if it will happen. Anyway isn't this my point as well? Why is the RTM voting on something that we don't really know how much will cost, may not even happen on Edgerton St., isn't needed by the Board of Education and could have simply been done on site at the Senior Center as a stand alone project That's all. Sounds crazy to me
Joe Pankowski September 30, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Tom: Senior affordable housing on Edgerton Street makes a great deal of sense. There would be less traffic for the neighbors than there is at the site now, we would have just as many units as we would have had on 35 Leroy, and the housing would be dedicated for seniors. Plus, with a public-private partnership, there would be no cost to the town. Stop by the Selectmen's meeting on Monday night to hear about the initial efforts on this proposal. You might be pleasantly surprised....
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Tom, 1. The Town Hall facility is dramatically underutilized. Next time you're over there go see the >10k feet of empty space in the annex that has been wasted for decades. 2. 35 Leroy has sat vacant for almost 4 years. In the this asset was specifically bought for municipal uses (in the words of the Klein admin) and therefore, should be utilized as such. 3. Visions of creating a multi-generational Community Activity Center have been on the table for years (see former BOS speach to the RTM, 9/08). Putting the Community Center up on Edgarton (a residential area) would increase traffic, face neighbor opposition and perhaps even be denied by P&Z (see the YMCA's troubled past for an example, at that is located on a already busy Post Rd.) 4. Residential use on the Edgarton property better fits the surrounding neighborhood and would most likely reduce traffic in the area and be welcomed by the neighbors. All seems to make sense to me!
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Tony, 1. Whne this plan was initially proposed, Callie was quoted in the Darien Times as being concerned that the annex was not big enough for the "150 people" moving from Edgarton to the annex. Now she's concerned we won't see enough use?; 2. I simply point out that facts and statements show that the previous BOS, with a Dem majority, was originally in favor of the concept of a multi-generational community activity center that would "combine the arts, the seniors and the community" -- their words, not mine; 3. The previous BOS is documented numerous times resisting calls to sell 35 Leroy because such actions would not bring a benefit to our community. 4. The previous BOS never included the $4.2 purchase price when it was planning to use 35 Leroy for affordable housing. You even once said on this site that affordable housing would "cost the town nothing." If this is all non-political, then, as I have asked before, please feel free to explain these blantant contradictions in recent months. Thanks, John S.
Tony Imbimbo September 30, 2011 at 04:15 PM
@ John Sini: 1. I can't speak for Callie, but she has consistently recommended having the advisory committee look at whether the two alternatives might better serve the community. Such questions would have been answered by the advisory committee. 2. Not sure what you mean. I don't think anyone is opposed to a Senior Center with community space. The only questions are size, cost, location and timing, which the advisory committee might have analyzed, for each prospective site. 3. The previous BoS wanted to use 35 Leroy for affordable housing. The P&Z's 2006 Town Plan recommends (on page 6-3) that the town: "Identify specific parcels that should be considered for affordable housing, as for instance the present library site on Leroy Avenue." Selling the site to develop a mix of market rate and affordable senior housing is consistent with that strategy. 4. Clearly, how 35 Leroy is accounted for is subjective. Two years ago, you argued we should we develop MORE than 21 affordable housing units there to justify the $4.2 million cost. I argued it was a sunk cost, and you argued it wasn't (now you're agreeing with me, and so you were being "political" then?). In either case, it is something the advisory committee might have looked at while considering the best location and costs/benefits of the new senior center. So, reasonable people -- Republicans, Democrats, and Independents -- can respectfully disagree as to whether a 20,000+ sq ft senior center makes sense or not.
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Tony -- 1. No need for further discussion. 2. Questions arose from a DTC member at our RTM meeting along the lines of "when did the idea of a community center arise and why aren't we considering it at 35 Leroy? I'm just pointing out it's a concept that has lived through multiple adminsitrations and 35 Leroy was ruled out by both the Campbell and Klein adminsitrations . 3. Of course the previous BOS, which includes current candidate Mr. Bayne, specifically presented the following to the RTM: "Only public uses were considered for the site Why? Municipalities typically purchase land for a public benefit. A public use results in some public advantage, benefit or enhancement of public welfare. Sale of the property at this point delivers no real public benefit. Sale in an adverse market would likely require a long holding period and carrying costs or sale at a loss to the taxpayer." So you can't argue that a selling the property contradicts the prior administrations stance that such a move "delivers no real public benefit." 4. You misrepresent my position. I argued that the utility of 35 Leroy was not being maximized with 21 units, especially since 27 was allowable by existing Town Code. Of course anyone in their right economic mind would want to maximize the ultilty of the valuable property -- especially when we were trying to get as many moratorium points as possible. Was the previous BOS even trying to accumulate moratorium points??
Tony Imbimbo September 30, 2011 at 05:21 PM
@John Sini 2. That question did not come from a DTC member. We agree on that issue. The best place to put a community room is a question that the advisory committee might have considered had it been within its scope. 3. If you sell property for the purpose of affordable senior housing, then it achieves a "public benefit" and doesn't contradict anything. 4. Right. You wanted to maximize the utility of a $4.2 million property. That's what we both want, no matter how you account for it. And yes, the previous administration took steps to actually get affordable housing units built, not just for the most recent moratorium, but planning for four years out when the next moratorium deadline hits. Conversely, the current majority on the BoS has not pushed to build any new affordable units, and admittedly, has no desire to "chase" the next moratorium. That's another strategy over which reasonable people -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- can respectfully disagree, given the fact that the town has predatory developers.
sebastian dangerfield September 30, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Tom, Tony Question: should 4.2 mio be considered in any project that ends up being done at 35 leroy? (please answer -so that at least we understand how to account for these projects.) Tony and tom seem to include the cost when they account for the shuffle, but dont when its affordable housing. Tom, you accuse the current administration of 'fraud' with respect to representing costs. Now, as you are including 4.2 mio in all of your letters, then when Tony and Callie amongst others....say that building affordable housing would cost taxpayers nothing (not to mention forgetting about anticipated boe costs etc).....I really would love to know how you are able with a straight face to offer up these contradicting arguments, and then have the audacity to accuse the current adminsitration of misrepresenting costs. In any event, can you once and for all, let us all know if 4.2 mio should be included in any project, and then correct whatever statements that dont coincide with your position. Thanks.
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 05:58 PM
Tony, "Sale of the property [35 Leroy] at this point delivers no real public benefit." -- BOS presentation to the RTM Sept '08. Those are not my words, those are straight from the previous BOS' presentation. I guess you can take it up with Mr. Bayne and the others who presented that point if you disagree. I would ask you what developer in its right mind is going to purchase the property for below market housing without having access to the "density benefits" that 8-30g would bring them?? Remember, if it’s not a town owned property, they can only get 21 units onto 35 Leroy. The previous admin took steps to increase stock, agreed. But let's be honest its execution was dismal with no new units built in town over its six years. Ironically, there have been new privately funded units built in town under the current administration and even more are currently proposed. The Campbell admin has also supported every measure that has come before it to assist in getting Allen O'Neill's new units built. Moreover, we'll hear initial plans Monday evening for Sr affordable housing at Edgarton. Lastly, this current administration certainly showed the desire to obtain the 1st moratorium -- something the previous administration miserably failed at pursuing. I agree reasonable people can have differences of opinion and I have respectfully posted my arguments without claiming fraud, etc. as your fellow DTC member, Mr. Valentino, has done.
John Boulton September 30, 2011 at 06:03 PM
@Tony Hi, Tony. To respond to your 9:52am post to me and John S, I always agree that reasonable people can disagree; that's democracy at its best. It's when things veer into the unreasonable that I get concerned (and, trust me, I've seen both around here plenty of times). I was responding to Mr. Valentino's attack of yesterday, and his further comments using words like "fraud" etc that, frankly, do nothing to advance the discussion on this issue. Two lessons I've learned from being part of the Darien political scene these past 15 years are a) the RTM will do what it wants, when it wants...if it wants to vote in October, it will, and if it doesn't, it won't...and b) when people say they don't have enough information, and that something that has been in the public eye for over a year is being rammed down their throats, that's code for "I'll do anything to kill this proposal". Fair enough; as you said, people can disagree. However, the animated discussion you and John Sini are having proves to me that there is plenty of information available. So, let's have that discussion, let's let the RTM consider the facts, and if they choose to vote on it in October, so be it. I think the proposal is a good one given the cards dealt to Dave Campbell by the previous administration; you don't. Game on, my friend! :)
Tony Imbimbo September 30, 2011 at 07:03 PM
@ John Sini: Two or four years ago or whenever that statement was made, the sale "at that point" would not have delivered any public benefit because the sale at that point was not for affordable senior housing. But you had the opportunity to debate that strategy, whenever it was, without anyone claiming you were politicizing the issue. And that's how it should be. I give the previous BoS (and P&Z) credit for creating a strategy to put the current housing in place to achieve the moratorium. And I credit the current BoS for following through to get it. Give credit where it's due. Now we're looking at the future. And the town may soon have to decide whether it makes sense to build a 20,000+ sq ft senior center at Town Hall and move the Board of Ed to 35 Leroy, or go in a different direction. Again, it's something Republicans, Democrats and Independents can respectfully disagree about for any number of good reasons.
Joe Pankowski September 30, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Tony, I absolutely agree with this statement: "it's something Republicans, Democrats and Independents can respectfully disagree about for any number of good reasons." A respectful debate, without allegations of fraud, failure of due diligence or disregarding duty, would be most welcome.
Tony Imbimbo September 30, 2011 at 07:19 PM
@ John B. Hi John. October? Geez, we just finished voting on the leash law. The World Series is coming up too. Should be an interesting month. :-)
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Hear, hear. Let the process of debate and decision making begin -- without the calls of "fraud" or charges of ignorance among RTM members from your fellow DTC members.
Tony Imbimbo September 30, 2011 at 07:54 PM
@ John and Joe, Guys I can't speak for Tom but, you know, when we first heard about the shuffle, it was supposed to include a swimming pool at Town Hall, a probate court at 35 Leroy, and it was only supposed to cost around $4 million, I believe, so the claims haven't really matched what's been put forward. The advisory committee's scope was narrow. And we don't know anything about what's happening at Edgerton yet. I wouldn't use the word fraud either, but I hope you can understand the frustration.
James Palen September 30, 2011 at 08:03 PM
As a member of the RTM, and its Budget and Finance Committee, I take offense to the comment that anything is "shoved through" the RTM. The 100 residents and tax payers that make up the RTM volunteer a significant amount of their time and energy to the analysis and evaulation of all projects that come before it -- which includes any significant expenditure and the budget. These people come from both sides of the political spectrum, commuters, teacher, lawyers, bankers, and retirees. This open nature of our goverment is one of the reasons why this town is such a great place to live. Decisions are not just made by 5 people, they are moved to public debate and review at the RTM where each member represents 175 residents. Further more, like the budget which is effectively reviewed by all of the RTM's committees, the decision to invest in the two proposed facilities and the use of the towns assets will likely be put in front of all (or most) of the various committees - planning and zoning, budget and finace, etc. The proposal has been presented in great detail and questions will continue to be answered. The fact that three selectman firmly believe that the benefits and timing of the investments are prudent for the town and the other two are questioning the project is what actually insures that all views are made public. This RTM, like the last and the next, are made up of good qualified people who choose to represent - let them vote it in a non-partisan manner.
James Palen September 30, 2011 at 08:05 PM
And yes, in addition to being a member of the RTM and the FOB committee, I am a member of the RTC, soccer coach, father of school age children, husband and I commute to 2-3 days a week.
John Sini September 30, 2011 at 08:07 PM
As you can understand my frustration to hear that a candidate who acquired a key piece of land "as an investment in our community" with no specific use defined is now making push to sell it, almost four years after its acquisition. This town has been so miserably short sighted on both land acquistion and facilities managment in the past (Mostly the fault of the previous GOP admins). Note the lack of playing fields, pool, open space, parks, etc. throughout town. Now, I'm seeing others fall into that same trap by looking to dump 35 Leroy.
sebastian dangerfield September 30, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Again, I ask Tom and Tony, do you consider the 4.2 mio dollars that was spent years ago, to be part of the calculation of any project that goes in there? To me, it's ludicrous to. To include it, would then on many levels, argue for it's remaining vacant. I just wish people who try to accuse others of fraud and misrepresentation, would acutally look in the mirror and be honest in debate. And while Tony 'cant speak for Tom', it would be refreshing to see a guy who is capable of debating points of Republicans, also be courageous and principled enough to debate ridiculous accusations by Democrats-in an effort to tone down the rhetoric. John Sini says in a recent post that Republicans are to blame for much of poor management of facilities. Why is it impossible for a Democrat to ever take issue with other Democrats, if the assertions are offensive and misguided? Dont talk about past or current administrations misrepresentations or hypocrisy of John Sini with respect to politicizing things, when you understand (and it's clear you are not dumb) that you also play games with numbers and take different approaches to numbers as it fits into your agenda. It does not take a genius to read Tony's determination that affordable housing at Leroy wont cost taxpayers a dime--and then read he includes the 4 mio dollars when determining costs to the taxpayers for the shuffle. You insult everyones intelligence with your disingenous assertions. Just tell the truth.
Darien Taxpayer October 01, 2011 at 04:59 PM
It is quite amusing to see the Democrats trying to portray themselves as being fiscally responsible now that they are not in charge and out in the wilderness. We sure didn't hear much of that when Evonne Klein was running things. They couldn't spend taxpayer money fast enough. I remenber when they laughed at the option of selling the old library. Now they want to sell it? What a joke. On the other hand, the Republicans have nothing to crow about. Sitting in that presentation at the RTM was painful. You guys need to do a much better job of preparing your presentations and making sure guests do the same. It was a mess and people couldn't read much of anything or even see the pictures very well. My eyes may not be what they used to be, but middle school kids could have done better.
Chris Noe October 03, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Right now this issue is about "power." Seniors and taxpayers just pawns in this pathetic display. Darien paid "top dollar" for a downtown property and the Republicans think "office space" is the "best use?" Every Republican should be ashamed. The Channel 12 debate airing now Jamie says, "Shortly after the election we visited the Senior Center and were appauled at it's condition." Think about how ashamed every Republican should be. Your candidates had never been to the Senior Center prior to being elected. Shame on all of you who support this. This is failed government. Darien deserves better. Chris Noe RTM District 2 Ultra-Conservative Candidate for First Selectman www.duc06820.com
robert bewkes October 03, 2011 at 11:08 PM
no I like it the way he wrote it
Debra Ritchie October 03, 2011 at 11:59 PM
Our seniors deserve better. They have been neglected by naysayers who ignore their needs and left to spend their days in a facility that is falling apart around them. I am ashamed of the state of our senior center and proud of Dave, Jayme and Jerry for coming up with a great solution.

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