Residents Call for Delay in Darien’s Weed Beach Expansion Amid Environmental Concerns

A map of Darien's Weed Beach Meadow and Trail project (Contributed).


TwitterFacebookCopy LinkPrintEmail

DARIEN — Neighbors are asking town officials to delay plans for the Weed Beach Meadow and Trail Project until environmental impacts are further studied.  

The town has been moving forward on planned improvements to the Weed Beach recreation area, slated to cost $1 million. The final plan extends the beach area to nearly double its current width while also creating a large grass lawn and a quarter-mile-long paved walking path. The approved plan also includes removing invasive plants, constructing sand dunes and improving stormwater drainage to reduce flooding.  

Darien has considered expanding the Weed Beach space since purchasing two adjacent lots on Short Lane in 2014. The new recreational space would be built on a 4.9-acre site of what was once privately owned waterfront properties.

The town is currently seeking construction bids for the project, which was approved in 2019 but had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. With a closing date of April 4 for bids, town officials are anticipating the improvements could be completed by the end of the year.

But residents in neighboring Noroton Bay are asking the town to pause the project to further study environmental impacts and consider more natural alternatives to a paved road and grassy lawn. While the current proposal includes some environmental augmentations, residents said it doesn’t go far enough to protect the fragile coastline.

Residents outlined their concerns during the March 20 Parks and Recreation meeting. They objected to the town planting an extensive lawn area, removing mature trees, laying an asphalt path and the extensive use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on the lawn and wetlands, which they argued would eventually flow into the remaining wetland and Long Island Sound.

The group also wants the town to commission a complete environmental assessment study of the Weed Beach project, similar to the one performed for Great Island. 

Noroton Bay resident Brian Dominianni said he recently moved to the neighborhood for the natural beauty of Long Island Sound and thinks the town should do more to protect its coastal assets.

“I ask this commission to consider the ramifications of the current plan as it’s written and to see if there’s a way to find a more natural solution, one that preserves the natural beauty of the area, avoids potentially polluting the Sound and the surrounding beach with pesticides, and exacerbating the flooding on Nearwater Lane.”

Noroton Bay residents said the area has always been prone to coastal flooding and that those risks have been amplified since Darien recently removed dozens of mature trees on the Short Lane lot. According to the group, the coastal flooding in and around 155-159 Nearwater Lane has increasingly cut off access to Noroton Bay, endangering the safety of Noroton Bay, Pratt Island and Nash Island residents. 

The residents presented their vision for enhancing Weed Beach to Parks and Recreation members, envisioning it as a version of the “wild but functional” High Line Park in New York City, featuring lush woodland greenery and raised footpaths. They contend that their idea is more aesthetically pleasing and that the use of native plants would eliminate the need for constant maintenance, fertilizers and pesticides. 

Darien resident Natalie Tallis noted that the Weed Beach Meadow and Trail is a misnomer. 

“There is no nature trail, per se, but an 8-foot-wide asphalt road winding through a grass field,” she said.

Tallis also questioned the town’s choice of asphalt, which could pollute surface water and emit compounds harmful to vegetation and wildlife. She thinks the town should consider installing a permeable footpath made of natural materials as a more environmentally friendly and attractive alternative.

According to Tallis, the town has also underestimated the maintenance costs of the planned expansion.  

“The project is going to be a financial sinkhole for the town,” she said. “It is being built on a flood plain, and rather than long-term coastline preservation, the plan calls for filling wetlands, planting a vast grass lawn and extensive use of pesticides, herbicides and other poisons.  Removing invasives from the area will take years, and the current maintenance plan only extends for three years. They haven’t taken any of that into consideration in their budget.”  

Despite her concerns about the project, Darien resident Juliet Cain is worried it may be too late to affect any changes in the plan. She said many local residents were unaware of last year’s public hearing on the topic, which was scheduled between the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  

She lamented that the town is moving ahead with plans despite the potential damage to coastal resilience. 

“I think there’s just a sort of lack of sensitivity to where we are now in terms of having a very fragile and vulnerable coastline that’s going to be subject to erosion and all the stresses of climate change and more frequent storms, and rising sea levels,” she said.

Land Use Director Jeremy Ginsberg said residents had ample opportunity to give their input at different hearings held by Parks and Recreation, the Environmental Protection Commission and Planning and Zoning over the last five years. 

He said it would be “a little unusual” at this point for the town to make any changes to the plan.  He also said the appeal periods for the approvals have already occurred. 

“All those things have been presented, reviewed and approved by multiple boards,” he said.

Regarding concerns raised by Noroton Bay residents, Ginsberg said Planning and Zoning did not find evidence of flooding impacts and that clearing the lot of certain plant growth aligned with the town’s coastal management goals. 

“It’s just been laying dormant for 10 years, so a lot of it was understory growth, invasive species.  These are not giant sequoias, not beautiful cherry trees or dogwood. A more appropriate wetland planting plan was submitted. Plantings that will be in the coastal area will be salt tolerant. So while there is some cutting of some trees and some overgrowth, there is new planting going in as well,” he said.

Ginsberg also denied that the town didn’t thoughtfully study the environmental impact of the plan. He said razing the houses on the lots, expanding the beach, creating more sand dunes to minimize erosion will enhance coastal resiliency.  

He said the project represents “a very rare opportunity” for the town to expand an existing beach.  

“The parking lot will be improved. The area of the former houses and driveway will be turned into a lawn, a walking path, some improvements to the wetlands and a better area for junior sailing right on the beach. So it allows for all these improvements adjacent to an existing town property,” he said. “This is what was already in the works. It’s been in the works.”