Petition Forcing a Referendum on Great Island Falls Far Short of Signatures

Great Island, Darien, CT (Photo by Douglas Elliman)

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DARIEN – A petition seeking to force a referendum on the town’s decision to buy Great Island for $103 million failed to secure enough signatures by the deadline today.

The petition was submitted today with 182 unofficial signatures, Town Clerk Christa McNamara said – far short of the 742 that were required to bring the purchase to a town-wide vote.

The Darien Representative Town meeting voted 68-13 last week to approve the $103,465,000 purchase of Great Island – a 60-acre property on Long Island Sound, that has been hailed by First Selectman Monica McNally as a unique opportunity to buy such a large, lightly developed piece of coastal property.

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Proponents of the purchase, like McNally, highlighted the opportunities for the property.

McNally has said the property could provide a space for recreation like an ice rink or pickleball courts, a museum or arts center, and a conservation space with trails, camps and space for environmental education.

But some residents have questioned the hefty $103 million price tag, which would raise the combined town debt to $243 million.

According to the Darien town charter, a referendum can only be called to overturn the decision of a town meeting, so the issue of whether the town should buy Great Island could not have been brought directly to a referendum. 

A referendum can also only be called on a town meeting decision to adopt an ordinance, or to spend or issue bonds worth $50,000 or more, according to the charter. 

The charter gives Darien electors 10 days after any town meeting decision to gather signatures from five percent of the number of electors in the last municipal election, in order to bring a town meeting decision to referendum. Electors are residents of the town who are registered to vote.

Darien had 14,821 electors vote in its last election, so 742 signatures from registered electors in Darien would need to sign the petition to bring the purchase to a referendum.

The Representative Town Meeting voted on Monday, June 27, to approve the purchase of the Great Island property, so town residents had until 4 p.m. today, Thursday, July 7, to submit their petition.