Casey Field Expansion

Below, we are presenting a listing of considerations we urge be addressed. Some of these have already been brought to your attention, either at public meetings or by letter. Because we are approaching a final approval by the RTM, we believe all should be reviewed, whether new or not, as we are at a critical juncture.

  1. Already Intensified Use – As the only multiple-use park in Darien, and offering a number of activities, Cherry Lawn Park realizes an incredible level of usage already. On many days the Park is literally overflowing as soccer, tennis, gardening, the tots playground and baseball diamond are in full swing. So many people are at the Park they find they have to park on the grass, on the grass dividers and circle, and along Brookside Road.
    Some park their cars along the driveway causing a hazard for pedestrians (children and adults) as well as to cars flowing in and out of the Park.

  2. Expansion Will Draw Even More Participants Adding to Traffic and Parking Problems and Creating Serious Safety Conditions – Six soccer teams (72 children) will practice simultaneously, rather than the present four, and two games, rather than one, will be scheduled simultaneously (approximately 60 children); bringing an estimated 48 cars into the Park each hour, while 48 cars are exiting. In addition, from March through June, sixteen members of the High School tennis team practice or play matches every day.

    The increase in traffic and demand for parking space will make it extremely difficult for those who wish to visit the gardens or playground
    or participate in any of the other activities to find parking. The overflow will have to park along Brookside, where people walk with baby strollers, jog, etc. as well as on any grassy area they may find.

  3. Additional Parking Will Make a Problem Become a Critical Problem – There are a total of 79 spaces in the entire Park. 25 are dedicated for Nature Center parking, and are at an extreme distance from the tots playground, tennis courts, community gardens, etc. This leaves only 54 spaces to accommodate those participating in the Park’s many activities.

  4. A Professional Traffic, Parking and Safety Study Has Not Been Conducted – The issue of safety should be of primary importance, particularly where pre-school and young children are concerned. Everyone knows how children are inclined to be oblivious to dangerous traffic conditions, to cars backing up and obstructed sight lines.

    Presently the wide bank at the western end of Casey Field provides a pleasant esplanade between the Nature Center and the parking area adjacent to the tots’ playground. Depending on which direction you are traveling, this embankment permits safe access to the playground, community gardens, tennis courts, baseball field and nature trail. With the northwest corner of the soccer field now designed to abut the ninety-degree left-hand turn in the driveway, where a steel guardrail to prevent cars from accidentally driving over a retaining wall and onto the soccer field is to be constructed, safe passage to and from the Nature Center, and its bathroom facilities, is essentially sealed off. Passage will require walking along the driveway at a particularly dangerous point – or across the field when a game or practice is not in progress. From a safety point-of-view, for both children and adults, this appears to be a totally unacceptable situation.
  5. Failure to Document Need and Underutilization of School Fields – The Sports Council, a prime mover of this project, has been asked on several occasions to document the need for expansion of this magnitude. In fact, one present member and one past member of the Board of Selectmen have also made this request. To our knowledge, other than a “we can use six fields”, no such documentation has been forthcoming. An informal survey of town playing fields conducted on Saturday, September 13, 2003, with camera, revealed 3 underutilized fields – Holmes, Hindley and Tokeneke Schools – and one not utilized at all – Ox Ridge. At a recent meeting of the RTM Finance and Budget Committee a Parks and Recreation Commission representative explained Ox Ridge isn’t used because “it is out of the way” and “the field is in bad shape”.

    (Please refer to this landscape drawing for remainder of discussion.)

  6. Scale and Scope of Field Will Dramatically Alter Character of Park – Elevations in the described area range from a high of 111 feet to a low of 102 feet. Assuming an average of 107 feet to achieve a level playing field, this means scouring out as much as 4 feet in the high areas and a building up by as much as 5 feet in the low areas.

    The field area itself will be slightly double in square area from 33,000 sq. ft to an enormous 68,200 sq. ft. (150’ x 220’ and 220’ x 310’)

  7. Many Trees Will Be Removed Destroying the Open, Natural Feel and Beauty of This Area – Several trees in the present open lawn area are to be removed, including two 80-foot catalpa trees, plus a number of trees in the wooded southeast corner which will result in a broad, open expanse rather than the pleasant pastoral landscape it is.
  8. Steel Guard Rail Inappropriate to Natural Setting of the Park – A large, unsightly Merritt Parkway type guard rail will be installed at the northwest corner of Casey Field, where the driveway turns left to the parking area, in order to prevent cars from accidentally driving onto the playing field. Steel safety rails or bulky rails of any type, which inevitably get scarred up, are not an appropriate fixture for the Park.

Lastly, we understand the expanded field will require the installation of at least one retaining wall, the replacement of an existing water filtration system which the Nature Center was required to install in order to prevent torrent runoff during heavy rains, and the relocation of a sewer line. We have heard this project, in its entirety, will cost in excess of the $355,000.

$355,000 to expand one existing soccer field and at the same time destroy one of the most pleasant playing fields and its natural surroundings just isn’t a good expenditure of our taxes. This is more than a simple landfill and re-grading project.

We think expanding Casey Field to these enormous proportions is wrong!

Thank you,

John van der Kieft
The Friends of Cherry Lawn Park
P. O. Box 143
http://foclp.darien.org


Opinion Survey Shows Residents Against Major Changes

Preliminary results of the 2004 Opinion Survey, conducted by The Republican Club of Darien, show residents continue to be concerned that any development or alteration of the Park does not compromise the character of this Town gem.

2004 Question:

“Do you support the Parks and Recreation Commission’s proposal to expand Casey Soccer Field to regulation size at Cherry Lawn Park, which will require tree removal and loss of wetlands?”

Of 548 responses to date: 66% No
28% Yes
6% Undecided


Last year’s Survey, which asked a different question but which again focused on significant change to the Park, had a very similar response.

2003 Question:

“Do you support the current Town proposal to change Cherry Lawn Park ($1.5 million)?”

Of 596 responses: 68% No
16% Yes
16% Undecided

Explanation of Survey:

Each year, in recent years, The Republican Club of Darien has conducted a mailed Opinion Survey to all registered Republicans. The Survey seeks recipients’ point-of-view on a Yes, No or Undecided basis to questions asking whether they “agree with” or support” selected issues. Issues queried are segmented on a Town, State and Federal basis.

Comment:

Because Cherry Lawn Park is basically a non-political issue we feel these results provide a fair sense of “feeling” among many Darien residents.


Letter sent to First Selectman Evonne Klein from RTM member, district 1, Flora Smith

April 13, 2004

Dear Evonne,

Last week, you stated in the newspaper, “I firmly believe in identifying any problem and bringing it to the forefront as soon as possible.” To that end, I would like to ask why you and your board have not demanded a proper traffic, parking, and public safety study in the wake of the approved and soon to be constructed $355,000 regulation soccer field in the center of Cherry Lawn Park.

This is especially important given the concerns that have been raised in public time and time again regarding the decision to eliminate sidewalk construction on Brookside Road and ignore documented parking and traffic dangers that currently exist inside Cherry Lawn Park.

Both the Environmental Protection Commission and Planning and Zoning have issued permits for the regulation sized field that will extend from the gazebo to the roadway, and from the tennis courts to the Nature Center. In the new environment, we will see the following ON A DAILY BASIS:

-Dozens of visitors to our wonderful new playground;
-Approximately 72 children (six practices) at a time practicing every 90 minutes or so on the expanded field;
-At least two dozen little leaguers playing games on the baseball diamond;
-Gardeners working their plots;
-The high school tennis teams practicing on the tennis courts;
-Visitors to the Nature Center programs;

How will so many cars and people get in and out of the park? Where will the cars be parked? Why did Planning and Zoning exclude a discussion of traffic and parking during their deliberations?

There are only 54 parking spots available for public use in the park and only one roadway for traffic flow. It is already a nightmare not only getting in and out of the park, but trying to find a parking spot, as well. People are parking, on an ad hoc basis, on the roadway, the dividers, and the grass (illegal according to town ordinance) and it is very difficult to see who is walking (or in the case of young children, running) around.

There are no sidewalks on Brookside Road north of Meadowbrook . For pedestrians and especially young children, it has historically been a hugely popular street on which to stroll, bike ride, jog, or roller blade.

I have enclosed photos taken in the park last Friday which show how impossible and dangerous the condition within the park is today.

The new expression around town, to be “Cherry Lawned,” implies having something slid in under the cover of darkness and in through the back door in order to have it accomplished. In this case, all town agencies and commissions approved this plan without the proper parking, traffic, and public safety reviews or examination of intensification of use. One needs to ask, “Why,” and “Whose purpose does that serve?”

According to the town lease with the Nature Center, the old site was to be returned to open grassland after construction of the new facility. The old building is finally down and some members of the Park and Rec Commission are already advocating parking cars on the new grassland. Is that your solution as well? The EPC has stated that approval for additional parking must be referred back to that agency for review and consideration for any new activities within the park. What if we spend $355,000 and find out that parking cannot be accomplished? What if residents balk at a 100+ asphalt car park at Cherry Lawn?

This field expansion has an initial price tag of $355,000, according to landscape architects, Wesley Stout. How much will it really cost taxpayers in the end? Will approval for additional parking be granted by EPC? Why wasn’t that secured before spending one dime of taxpayer funds on this project? And, shouldn’t we know the total cost of the project, including parking, before we commit taxpayer funds to such an expensive project? Does it really make sense to spend almost a half million dollars to expand the field 110 feet and provide parking? Is that why we are not undertaking the proper review process before the RTM votes on this capital project on May 10?

We have made so many mistakes in the past with taxpayer funds (the 1961 high school, Tokeneke School, air-conditioning at Middlesex, the Diller Property, etc.). Shouldn’t we properly line up our ducks this time before pulling the trigger on this expensive and, perhaps, potentially hazardous situation in the park? Anything that can stand up to scrutiny usually prevails.

Sincerely,

Flora Smith
42 Hamilton Lane

cc: John Wayne Fox


By Patrick Barnard

The Board of Selectmen convened a special meeting Monday to discuss the need for mandatory referrals for four projects being planned by the town: the expansion of Casey Field in Cherry Lawn Park; the replacement of the playground at Cherry Lawn park; the installation of a turf field and other improvements to the football stadium at Darien High School; and the refurbishment of the town’s boat ramp at Pear Tree Point Beach.
The meeting was called two weeks after RTM member Flora Smith — an outspoken opponent of the Casey Field expansion — questioned why the Board of Selectmen never requested a mandatory referral for the project when it was approved last year.
According to Section 8-24 of the Connecticut General Statutes, Municipal Improvements, “No municipal agency or legislative body shall locate, relocate, substantially improve, acquire land for, abandon, sell or lease any airport, park, playground, school or other municipally owned property or public building ... locate or extend public utilities and terminals for water, sewerage, light, power… until the proposal to take such action has been referred to the commission for a report.”
“The Mandatory Referral is that exact report and, when completed, should be directed back to the original body proposing the project BEFORE a vote at the RTM,” Smith said a in letter to the editor in the April 29 edition of this newspaper. “Why is this important? For months, residents have documenting public safety, traffic and parking issues at Cherry Lawn in the wake of the massive changes to the park.”
Smith said the report is necessary because the project involves more than just a simple replacement of an existing town asset. The project, she said, also involves moving around more than 4,200 cubic yards of fill, “permanently changing the topography of the park;” removing “almost all of the mature, gorgeous trees in the center of the park;” relocating a sewer line servicing homes adjacent to the park; changing the drainage system under the field; and installing guard rails and retaining walls. For these reasons, she claims the project should not have been approved by the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and RTM until a mandatory referral had been received and reviewed.
The RTM approved the town budget — including the funding for Casey Field — during Monday’s RTM budget meeting at Town Hall — thus raising questions about the need for a mandatory referral, since the project has already been approved.
A mandatory referral is a report from the Planning & Zoning Commission which indicates whether or not a planned municipal project falls within the scope of the Town Plan of Development. It is, in essence, a safeguard to ensure that municipalities undertake projects which are in keeping with the Town Plan of Development, as well as the town zoning regulations.
A mandatory referral is a legally non-binding document. Even if a mandatory referral recommends that the town not undertake a particular project, the town can can still pursue funding for the project and complete it with little risk of an injunction or other legal action.
In addition to Smith’s request for a mandatory referral, Darien residents Tony and Beverly Lamb, who are also oppposed to the Casey Field project, have hired local attorney Joe Rucci to put pressure on the Board of Selectmen to request a mandatory referral.
During a brief interview, Rucci, who was present at Monday’s special meeting (along with town counsel John Wayne Fox), said his clients are hoping that the Planning & Zoning Commission will decide to draft a mandatory referral and hold a public hearing on the project (under state law, a mandatory referral requires a public hearing). He said in his clients’ view, the issues of parking and traffic safety pertaining to the project have not been properly addressed by the town — and a mandatory referral and public hearing would have the effect of making the Planning & Zoning Commission more thoroughly explore these issues.
During the meeting, Selectman Linda Santarella said she didn’t understand why, when the selectman went through the process of approving the project, town counsel did not recommend that the selectmen request a mandatory referral.
Fox said because the statute dictates that a mandatory referral is needed only when a “substantial improvement” is being proposed, it was decided early on that the expansion of the field was not a substantual improvement, and therefore did not require a mandatory referral from P&Z.
Santarella said she wasn’t clear as to why, when the project was presented as part of a larger plan to improve the park years ago, it did require a mandatory referral then, but the field by itself, as a separate project, didn’t require one.
“There are some who feel that it is not substantial improvement ... and I think you could argue that,” Fox said.
He added, however, that because the project includes the relocation of a sewer line and new drainage (improvements which were not part of the original proposal, but are needed to do the project), that it could also be argued that the project is a substantial improvement over what exists.
Fox said in a recent conversation he had with Patrick Damanti, chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission, Damanti indicated that the commission would be willing to at least discuss the issue.
“I believe it is the position of the chairman of P&Z that in a scenario like this, where there appears to be some unhappiness in the community — that certain members of the community never had the opportunity to present their position with respect to this — that in this situation it might be simpler, easier, and more practical, to take the air out of that balloon.”
“I tend to agree with [Damanti] ... that it is sometimes more practical to take it, hear it, and render a report on it ... ,” he said.
Fox pointed out that the debate over whether or not a mandatory referral is required for a project often centers on whether or not the proposed improvement is considered to be “substantial” — “and that is something which is open to interpretation.”
Rucci said in his opinion, “the process is better with a mandatory referral,” because it allows residents an opportunity to express their views on all aspects of the project, not just those related to the town zoning regulations.
Fox said although it could be argued that a mandatory referral is not necessary for the Casey Field project, “there is no downside to P&Z holding a public hearing.”
After some discussion, the Board of Selectmen decided that the project to build a new turf field at Darien High School falls under the purview of the Board of Education _ therefore, it will be up to that board to request a mandatory referral for that project (if it chooses to do so). the board also decided that the boat ramp improvement project did not consitute a “substantial improvment” and therefore does not require a mandatory referral.
The board did decide, however, that the replacement of the playground equipment at Cherry Lawn Park was a substantial change, so it requested a separate mandatory referral for this project as well.
Fox said the RTM could go ahead and approve funding for both the Casey Field and playground projects, regardless of the fact that there are no mandatory referrals as of yet for those two projects.
The Planning & Zoning Commission reportedly discussed the selectmens’ request for mandatory referrals during its meeting on Tuesday — however, it was unclear as of press time whether or not the commission will be drafting the reports. Director of Planning & Zoning Jeremy Ginsberg said the commission decided that it wanted a written decision from town counsel as to whether or not a mandatory referal is needed for either project.
“Until we get that opinion ... we’ll have to wait and see ...” Ginsberg said.


May 20, 2004

Letter from Flora Smith in response to the recommended mandatory referral

To The Editor
The Darien Times:

Despite the fact that the Board of Selectmen called an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss and recommend that the projects in Cherry Lawn Park go to Planning & Zoning for mandatory referral, you can now officially kiss Cherry Lawn Park goodbye.
Yes, Planning & Zoning will hold their required public meeting and, once again, hear all of the evidence regarding over intensification of use, public safety, traffic and parking problems. They will, nevertheless, approve the changes, write their report on same, and move the Casey Field expansion along. Next will come the parking lot, a piece of blacktop large enough to accommodate at least 100 cars.
Cherry Lawn should probably be renamed Darien Recreational Park since almost all of the cherry trees and the rolling lawn that they shade will soon be gone, and the character of the park will be forever lost in favor of a flattened, treeless expanse.
So many have loved Cherry Lawn Park. I, myself, have wonderful memories of bringing my two daughters there when they were little, years before their entrance into the wide world of organized sports. We picnicked there in the warm months, brought sleds there when it snowed, hunted for pretty leaves there in the fall, and enjoyed endless hours of looking for buttercups and four leaf clovers there in the spring.
I watched my girls roll around on the huge, open field of grass and giggle at their grass stained clothing, knees and elbows. Then, they lay quietly on their backs, looking up at the sky, trying to put names to all of the shapes they could find in the billowy, white clouds.
I remember the beautiful crab apple trees that flowered and then dropped their fruit along the north end of the park, near the playground. They’re gone now. Soon, the beautiful, graceful, and all knowing trees that stand in the middle of the park will only be a distant memory, too. The world has no place for parks that can’t provide immediate and organized activity and sports for children. The park will become a sterile home court advantage for a few.
After more than a year of fighting to keep Cherry Lawn “as is” for future generations, I now cross the finish line knowing that I did all I could to save what many refer to as our crown jewel. I have spoken honestly and have always tried to maintain a positive demeanor. I am sad for all of the small children and senior citizens who will be displaced, with nowhere else to go in town for a quiet afternoon in the park.
As for me, and my teenagers, we shall never forget the days we spent at Cherry Lawn Park.

Flora Smith
42 Hamilton Lane

 

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