An application to increase the community room of the new affordable housing development that will replace the former Allen O’Neill homes, called The Heights at Darien, reopened a discussion of some on-going neighbor concerns at a recent Planning & Zoning Commission meeting last week.
The plan to increase the size of the community room is to accommodate extra space for a computer room, according to development partners Arthur Anderson and John McClutchy. It will also include a space for community washer and dryers.
Each unit will have hook-ups for washers and dryers, but residents will have to either buy or rent them for the individual unit.
The redevelopment of the current Allen O’Neill homes, which would double the development’s homes in density and received approval for $2.47 million of 9% low income tax credits from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority last year, kicked off in March.
The plan will double the current 53 single-family home units to 106 units.
The computer room is part of recommendations by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority made after review of the project. McClutchy said it was an oversight on his part that the community room was not made this large to begin with.
McClutchy told the commission that the computer room would accommodate programs he puts in place in all of his similar projects around the country that include after school tutoring, job hunting, interview and resume help for residents.
Another possibility for the expanded space was the relocation of the Darien Housing Authority’s office to The Heights from Town Hall.
Planning & Zoning Department Director Jeremy Ginsberg said it was the first he’d heard of the move and said it would require a special permit, which Anderson said the developers would pursue.
Commissioner Kevin Cunningham, who said he was not on the commission when plans were approved, brought concerns from neighbors that had been shared with P&Z via email. The neighbors expressed concern with a chain link fence along the property and also have expressed consistent complaints about balconies which they feel will invade their privacy.
Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Fred Conze said those concerns had nothing to do with the current application and said all of those aspects were handled during the public hearing phase before the ultimate approval.
Since the proposal for the community room addition has been put forward, some neighbors have continued to circulate e-mails voicing concerns.
In an email from Pamela Thompson dated Sept. 25 to a group of neighbors and town officials, she comments on the stone wall with the chain link fence that runs along some properties adjacent to the project. She also mentioned the balconies and their possibly privacy concerns. Thompson also voiced concerns for traffic patterns and the safety of residents and neighbors.
Another neighbor, Allison Stolar, suggested via email that the commission make removing the balconies a “condition” for its approval of the community room addition.
“If they are asking for something that is not part of the original approved plan you should have the right to request other things as a condition for approval,” she said.
Last week, Conze said the application process would not be a “negotiation” and said that addition to the community room was for the benefit of the residents, not for the developer’s profit, so a negotiation would be unsuccessful anyway.
Commissioner Susan Cameron also said she was not on the commission when the project was approved, and called it “huge,” and added that another tree would be taken down to make the addition to the community room.
“The is not the issue. If you’re talking about saving one tree, you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope,” Conze said.
Cunningham and Cameron said adding size to the already existing plans were “tipping the scale further” from the viewpoint of the neighbors and Cameron asked that if the community room was being made larger, couldn’t something else be smaller.
McClutchy said the developers were willing “to spend the money to give people living there a better quality of life.”
“That is the whole purpose of what we do,” he said.
He also added that having tutoring and job search programs were not just beneficial to the development’s residents, they were “beneficial to the whole community.”
“It’s an addition to the interior of the project, and it is hard to see how it doesn’t add value for the residents,” Conze said.
Conze also shot down the idea of holding a public hearing on the community room addition when it was suggested by Cunningham.
“All of these issues were properly vetted, and the commission approved the project,” Conze said.
The commission opted to put off voting on the community room addition until its next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16.
Following the meeting, Conze and Ginsberg said they were reaching out to neighbors to possibly work out a compromise on the chain link fence, which neighbors have said is unsightly and in need of repair. Neighbors also said the “alley” created by the chain link fence and the white fence that borders The Heights could create an area for mischief or garbage pile up.
Because the stone wall and chain link fence appear to be on a shared property line between the housing authority property and private property, it makes resolution complicated.
Conze told The Darien Times Tuesday “we have informally” started to try to address the fence.
“We are trying to open up a few channels and see if there’s a way we can resolve the issue,” he said.