Unfair criticism of expansion plan

How disheartening it has been to hear the recent complaints and portrayal of my fellow co-workers at Giant Steps school. I know each and everyone of the Giant Steps Staff, they are highly educated, compassionate, hard-working individuals and are dedicated to caring for and educating students with neurological disabilities.

I would be happy to invite the neighbors and zoning board to come to Giant Steps and see how hard our staff works helping our students meet their goals and objectives so they too may have a good quality of life. I have been the administrative assistant/office manager at Giant Steps for over 20 years. We have been located at 309 Barberry Road for 15 years, and in that time I can recall only one complaint from a neighbor who contacted us. We addressed that complaint immediately.

I was quite surprised to hear the neighbors comments at the zoning board meeting and in the newspaper, they made our staff sound like non-caring individuals, riding through the neighborhood, wreaking havoc. Let me assure you these individuals work harder than most people I know, and many of them have children of their own, they are not looking to harm anyone or anything — they are good people.” I wonder with all this so called activity happening in the neighborhood why the Police Department hasn't received reports or contacted us regarding these issues. I have never gotten a complaint from these neighbors, they certainly have had the opportunity over the past 15 years to do so.

It saddens me to see what individuals will do to keep programs out of "Their Neighborhood." I can't believe this attitude still exists. I have lived in Fairfield my whole life, this is my hometown as well, a town that has always taken pride in education, growth and opportunity. Almost daily I receive calls from parents desperate for program suggestions, on where to go once the students have aged out of Giant Steps; it is heartbreaking that there are so few programs available to meet the needs of these individuals. These young adults are our future and they need our assistance.

We have an opportunity, at this time, to set up a Next Steps program, a place where we can continue to address the needs for young adults, a learning program for them to continue to progress. We are trying to help and give these individuals and their families hope so they can have just a tiny piece of what we take for granted every day.

Sandra Arnold

Fairfield

Giant Steps’ business does not belong in neighborhood

I am a homeowner in the Barberry Road/Juniper Lane neighborhood. I have been attending recent Fairfield TPZ meetings listening to and speaking out against the special exception application of the American Institute for Neuro Integrative Development for 309 Barberry Road. This application is “to establish a school and offices for charitable institutions in an existing building."

Genevieve Reilly’s Aug. 14 article in the Fairfield Citizen quotes Kathy Roberts as saying the proposed venture by AIND, Next Steps, is not a school as it does not meet state regulations. Ms. Roberts also made that same statement when questioned by TPZ Chairman Matthew Wagner.

Since this proposed venture is not deemed a school, I believe it to be a business venture. Also, the plan is to convert 4,335 square feet of floor space on the second floor into office space and then lease this space to other businesses which could also include weekend hours. Businesses do not belong in Residential AA zones.

The 309 Barberry Road property, at the top of a cul-de-sac, is in a Residential AA zone. It is only accessible by one gated driveway. All traffic must flow onto and off the property through either Barberry Road and/or Juniper Lane. Currently there is no other option for rerouting traffic as this piece of property is surrounded by homes and open space properties. Traffic studies have shown that currently, peak morning traffic through the two neighborhood streets is at 164 vehicle trips. This number includes 37 trips for buses, vans or livery cars for the students. (I doubt Mill Hill School has this many contracted vehicles moving through their parking lot in the morning.)

Using the numbers supplied at the TPZ meetings, there will be an additional 133 vehicle trips generated by the original Next Steps’ proposal. That would bring up the peak morning traffic to 297 vehicle trips through my neighborhood. Note: This traffic study was not performed during the public school year when there would be approximately 24 additional trips in and out of the neighborhood when neighbors are taking their children to school and starting their day.

My neighborhood’s streets cannot safely accommodate all this additional traffic. Recently, Giant Steps has had staff members standing out on Barberry Road slowing down traffic. (Yes, there has been a speeding issue). This monitoring will not decrease the volume of vehicles now or in the future.

Special exceptions conditions for approval 27.4.3 states “The streets serving the proposed use shall be adequate to carry prospective traffic ...”

And 27.4.1 “the location, type, character and size of use and buildings and structures shall ... not hinder or discourage appropriate development and use of adjacent property or impair its value.”

I believe the current application does not meet these conditions.

A final note: Giant Steps’ mission and accomplishments are admirable and no one at any of the TPZ meetings has said anything contrary to this statement.

Bonnie Zygmant

Fairfield

Disheartened by lack of understanding of autistic adults’ needs

I found the recent Fairfield Citizen article on the proposed Giant Steps expansion incredibly disheartening. As a friend and volunteer at Giant Steps, I can personally attest to the amount of good work the organization is doing.

Giant Steps has created an environment that I have not seen anywhere else. The students there are happy and successful. The Giant Steps school is a hugely important resource for young children with autism and their families. The Next Steps expansion could offer the same support to adults and their families.

The A.J. Drexel Autism institute in Philadelphia published a report in April on the availability of services for adults with autism. The report found that one in four adults lacks access to services that could help them find work, continue their education, and live independently. Because there is nowhere in the community to cultivate their skills and socialize safely, they become isolated. To block Next Steps from providing those services is shameful.

Everyone wants to feel that his or her life has purpose. Next Steps can make that happen for an especially vulnerable group of people. These adults want to work in their community just as much as anyone else. They want to feel connected to those around them and see the evidence of their good work.

Everybody wants what’s best for their children. Sometimes those children are neurotypical; sometimes they have autism. Sometimes they are young, and sometimes they are grown. No matter what, they all deserve a chance to succeed and thrive. Our community has the opportunity to help make that happen.

Sarah Vooys

Norwalk

Business in neighborhood not appropriate

I am writing in response to the various letters and articles written regarding Giant Steps school's expansion plan being proposed on Barberry Road. Specifically, I am addressing comments in response to the Aug. 7 article, "Neighbors aim to trip up Giant Steps expansion plan."

I am a resident of Barberry Road. I am opposed to the expansion plan as it is currently written. The application that the AIND Corp./Giant Steps is filing is for a special exception to open a business in a residential neighborhood. This is the primary reason we are against such an application.

While we are seeing many letters attesting to the good that the school does and the need for a new older age program, no one is addressing that this is indeed a business proposition in a residential neighborhood. This will affect all the surrounding streets with an increase in traffic! Whether or not the school is needed is not up for debate. The issue is ultimately that they are trying to add businesses in our quiet neighborhood street. As it is, having young children, I know that there are certain times of day when my kids cannot play in the front yard. The traffic can only get worse.

Additionally, if they are truly trying to acclimate these older students to a realistic working environment, I would think that the last place to have such a facility is on a quiet neighborhood street.

Joanne Burstell

Fairfield

Giant Steps’ plan unfair to neighborhood residents

I live on Barberry Road and I strongly oppose the expansion of Giants Steps school.

For a small street and neighborhood on a cul-de-sac, we currently have a lot of traffic due to the Giant Steps school. Here are the facts:

The majority of the traffic is in the mornings between 7:30 and 8:30, and in the afternoons between 3:30 and 4:30.

However, there is constant traffic all day long.

Many of the cars speed.

Many of the drivers are smoking and on their cells phones.

Sometimes buses and other vehicles pull to the side of the road and hang out for a period of time.

Despite what Kathy Roberts says, neighbors have complained over the years. I believe the complaints have lessened more recently because nothing has changed. I don’t doubt that her printed directions say to be cautious driving through the neighborhood. And I don’t doubt that she tells her staff to drive cautiously either. No one in the neighborhood doubts that the school is a wonderful place for children and/or teens with neuro-interactive disabilities.

Myself, and the residents of Barberry and Juniper Roads, as well the neighbors in the immediate Mill Hill area, are concerned for the safety of our children. I want my kids to be able to ride their bikes or take a walk without them or me having to worry about the cars flying around the blind curve at 50 mph.

If the school expands, the traffic will increase dramatically! That is a fact. This is supposed to be a small, tranquil cul-de-sac. Our streets cannot handle this amount of traffic. It is already hazardous to the 30-plus children in the neighborhood. The expansion will only create more of a safety issue. As a licensed real estate agent, I can also tell you that this traffic will be detrimental to our property values.

Giants Steps has stated that the expansion cannot be called a school because it is not a school. They are looking to add businesses where “complex adults” can work. They want to build a café. There is no telling what kind of vehicles will be in and out of our neighborhood all day long.

We think what the school does is good work, but it does work in our neighborhood. They are asking for a “special exception” per Section 27.0 of the town zoning laws. There is not one thing in their plan that complies with the conditions for approval stated by the town planning and zoning commission.

Kristen Morison

Fairfield