With sweeping views of Newtown's rolling hills, a field at the town's highest point emerged early on as the first choice for planners of a permanent memorial to honor the 26 people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Open space advocates, however, objected to construction on the pristine area known as the High Meadow. As more community members have spoken out, the planning commission, which includes parents of the some of the massacre victims, agreed recently to go back and consider other options.
It was a setback for the commission whose chairman says he never expected the project would be easy.
"We know that we're not going to please everybody," chairman Kyle Lyddy said Tuesday. "This continues to be a very emotional process for commission members, for community members. There is still a long way to go. I would encourage people to be patient with us."
The 12-member commission, assembled in October 2013, is tasked with choosing a design and location for the memorial honoring the 20 children and six educators gunned down inside the schoolhouse on Dec. 14, 2012.
The plan originally envisioned by the commission had a memorial occupying less than an acre of the 800-acre parcel on the Fairfield Hills campus, which also includes the town government's offices. The views were part of the appeal, Lyddy said, and it fit the commission's criteria as a serene, out of-the-way destination.
Critics argued that building a memorial could take away from the beauty of the area, which includes popular walking trails, and violate the town's pledge to maintain the field as open space.
"Via a map filed on the Newtown Land Records, the town agreed to perpetually preserve, protect, limit, conserve and maintain the entirety of this property. Read: no development," wrote Ann Astarita, a former chair of the Newtown Conservation Commission, in a January letter to The Newtown Bee.
Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, a supporter of the High Meadow site, urged the commission to consider alternatives.
"The concern was being expressed, and the volume was becoming greater than was reasonable to continue the pursuit for that area," Llodra said.
Lyddy said the original location has not been ruled out but the commission has begun working with the town to find another fitting site where a memorial would bring minimal disruptions.
"We're trying to make it work for the community," he said.