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Darien’s Weed Beach Expansion Project Put On Hold Over $1.9 Million Price Tag

A view of Weed Beach in Darien

Posted on April 15, 2024

With costs for the project nearly doubling initial estimates, the town has decided to pause plans for the Weed Beach Meadow and Trail.

Town officials had been moving forward on planned improvements to the Weed Beach recreation area which were slated to cost $1 million but the two construction bids received for the project called for nearly twice that amount.

Due to higher-than-expected costs during an already challenging budget year, First Selectman Jon Zagrodzky recommended tabling the Weed Beach Meadow and Trail Project and sending it back to the Parks and Recreation Commission where it originated.  “It just didn’t feel like the right thing to do to put forward a now $2 million project given those concerns,” Zagrodzky said at Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting.

“Clearly, it’s disappointing,” said Parks and Rec Commission Chair Lori Bora.

“We’ve worked hard to go through the approval process and get our permits and we were ready to go and hoping that we could be getting shovels in the ground shortly.  This is just a very difficult bid environment.  The town has seen this with other projects, in terms of either a dearth of bidders or bids coming in way off of where the town expected so it’s just the unfortunate environment that we’re seeing,” she explained.

Plans for the Weed Beach Meadow and Trail Project include an extension of the beach area to nearly double its current width and the creation of a large grass lawn and a quarter-mile-long paved walking path. The plan also included the removal of invasive plants, construction of sand dunes and stormwater drainage improvements to reduce flooding.

The expansion of Weed Beach has been in the works since the town purchased two adjacent lots on Short Lane in 2014. The proposed recreational space would be built on a 4.9-acre site of what was once privately owned waterfront properties.  The project was initially approved in 2019 but had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parks and Rec plans to discuss the Weed Beach project at their next meeting on Apr. 24.

Bora said that the panel will be looking at all of their options, including moving forward with the project in its totality or reducing its scope to fit the allotted budget.

“We really have to look at whether we could break part of the project out, look at what we could get done for a million dollars and how much of the project could be sliced up. It could be we get part of it done now and then maybe part next year.  So we need to look at that and see if that’s workable or not.  Right now our homework is to do a deeper dive into the numbers that we got,” she said.

Bora said she doesn’t think the delay means they’re going back to the drawing board.  “We spent years on this, planning and permitting, not to mention there are costs involved in doing all of this.  So the town has invested money in getting this far so you don’t want to just throw your arms up without really looking at what all the options and opportunities are right now to find a way to complete the project.”

Zagrodzky said he remains supportive of the project.  “I believe that it was well designed, and by that I mean not just the concept of the project which was to balance environmental and nature concerns with having a place that provides additional recreation for people who live in town but also to clean up a property that has been lying fallow for quite some time,” he said.  “It gives us a chance to redevelop that property in a way that turns it into a terrific addition to one of our best municipal assets which is Weed Beach.”

Lifelong Noroton Bay resident Luke Raymond said he was disappointed in the town’s vision for Weed Beach and hopes that officials will use this time to rethink those plans.

“There needs to be a mission statement for ‘What do we want that park to be?’  And if that park is intended to be a serene, natural environment let’s lean into that and make it a serene natural environment.  And that doesn’t mean taking the Short Lane property and planting grass and making a lawn.  That’s not natural.  That’s not in keeping with what the seashore of Connecticut looks like,” he said.

Even though the plans have been paused, Raymond thinks the town should continue the beach restoration work that was planned.  “That would be money well spent, that speaks to erosion, that speaks to stormwater, that speaks to a lot of important and valuable environmental concerns that we have as a town,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, the first selectman also asked the commission to look into interim solutions to address neighbors’ complaints about the preliminary clearing of the Short Lane lot earlier this year.

According to Raymond, the town removed mature trees that had provided a sound barrier for neighbors and a home for wildlife, leaving a “half-baked mosquito swamp” prone to flooding.

“I think it was totally irresponsible of them to move forward and clear cut an entire habitat and natural resource without all of the pieces of the puzzle being solved that gave them the green light to do that.  And that’s frustrating now because if they hadn’t done that then we wouldn’t really be in the situation we’re in,” he said.  “Now we’re in a situation where you can’t put mature trees back in there, can’t bring animals back.”

Bora said the commission will explore the possibility of creating some kind of tree buffer if that’s what the most-impacted residents want.  But she defended the decision to clear the property and said she has heard from some Noroton Bay residents who appreciate the unobstructed view of the water that resulted from the downed trees.

“Our staff routinely works in our parks clearing out invasive plants that have grown up on the properties over the years.  You could say that it’s irresponsible to have a piece of property that the town paid almost $2 million for 10 years ago sit looking the way it was looking and not clear out some of the dead material and underbrush.”

While she understands the neighbors’ concerns, Bora said that it’s important to fashion a compromise that will work for all residents. “What we’re trying to do is make the property usable for the entire Darien population.  We really are trying to come out with the best result that will serve the community in its entirety while being respectful of the immediate neighbors,” she said.

“I’ve been on Parks and Rec a long time and let me say that it’s rare that everybody is 100 percent satisfied.  You have to come to a compromise.”


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