Landscaping Firms Vie to Shape Future of Darien’s Great Island

A map of Darien's Great Island included in the town's RFQ for landscape architects (Darien Town Website).

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DARIEN — Over a dozen landscape architectural firms have expressed interest in creating a development plan for Great Island, bringing the town one step closer to utilizing the space.

In response to a request for qualifications, the Great Island Advisory Committee received applications from 16 firms, one of which will be tasked to transform the 60-acre waterfront property, create community recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities and utilize the island’s 1.5 miles of shoreline.   

The chosen firm will also be responsible for repurposing the existing buildings on the island which include a 13,000-square-foot estate house, equestrian facilities, a carriage building, three residential dwellings, a boathouse and dock, and three outbuildings on a small beach. 

The team hired by the town will additionally be charged with making park and open space recommendations, protecting the island’s wildlife and ecology and exploring project funding opportunities, such as grants and philanthropic support.  

First Selectman Jon Zagrodzky said the committee was pleased with the number of responses and the quality of applications.  

“These were not submitted on index cards but in giant FedEx and UPS boxes full of very carefully prepared credentials,” he said. 

In choosing a firm that will lead the town into next steps of the planning process, Zagrodzky said they will be looking closely at financial qualifications and past experience in developing master plans. He said the town wants to hire a firm with “the horsepower to get this job done.”  

According to Zagrodzky, the committee will spend the next few weeks reviewing applications before selecting which firms to be interviewed. He expects a master plan team to be in place before summer.  

No budget or cost estimates for the development of Great Island have been determined.  

Zagrodzky said it’s important that any comprehensive plan for the island’s future include a commercial, income-generating element.  

“We spent $85 million on this island,” he said. “I’d be surprised if we would be comfortable with a strategy that includes no revenue as a part of that. The question is what might that look like? And I’m going to leave it to the committee and the professionals to think about what that could be. But it ought to be something where people can say only Darien could have done that. It shouldn’t be mundane or pedestrian.”  

Zagrodzky said the process of developing a plan for Great Island will include opportunities for public input and an outreach program. 

“We want to use the consultants to help us shape a process so that everybody feels that they had their chance to speak and provide input, but that the input is useful and productive,” he said. “We don’t want to waste time on things that simply won’t work.”

Selectman Monica McNally told CT Examiner that the committee is hopeful that residents will continue to share their thoughts as the town creates a vision for the property.

She said she has received many suggestions so far, ranging from a community swimming pool to a nature preserve. The committee has also received a suggestion to repurpose the stables into a hockey rink.  

Residents will get a chance to visit Great Island beginning March 1, when the property opens to pedestrians. Advisory committee members said they will be on hand to greet visitors to the island on March 2. 

Darien police will also be monitoring the area to ensure visitors follow the designated rules for early access, which include no parking on side streets, no pets and no wandering off the paved roadways when exploring the island.