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Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 5 — Allen O’Neill breaks ground

Gov. Dannel Malloy speaking at the groundbreaking of the Allen-O’Neill homes redevelopment. When complete, the project will be called, “The Heights at Darien.” (Darien Times/Kristen Riolo)

In March, the long-awaited redevelopment of the former Allen O’Neill homes in Noroton Heights broke ground, with a ceremony attended by local and state politicians, including Gov. Dan Malloy.

The redevelopment of the current Allen O’Neill homes, which would double the development’s homes in density, received approval for $2.47 million of 9% low income tax credits from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority in 2011. It will double the current 53 single-family home units to 106 units.

Recently, 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 was approved 5 to 1 by the Planning & Zoning Commission.

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 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.

Another possibility for the expanded space was the relocation of the Darien Housing Authority’s office to The Heights from Town Hall.

The commission approved under two conditions, however. First, that the developers provide a revised open space map showing the final plans of the project. Because the addition will increase the overall footprint, slight position adjustments could be needed at other buildings to balance the changes, according to Robert Woodside, compliance officer with the town.

Some neighbors have continued to raises concerns with the project, saying that its size does not fit in with the neighborhood and complain that third floor balconies invade privacy.

Over the summer, a compromise was reached with the Darien Police Department on the start of construction on the project.

The compromise included no machinery turned on before 7 a.m. On Saturdays, only non-machinery work began at 7 a.m., with machinery not starting before 8 a.m.

Also over the summer, former Darien Housing Authority Commissioner and Heights neighbor Jan Pierret was accused by the project’s developers of undermining the project. Pierret’s appointment by the Board of Selectmen was controversial due to Pierret’s previous criticisms of the project. An attorney on behalf of the developers accused Pierret of disseminating misinformation about the project.

Pierret told The Darien Times she was disappointed with the accusation and had hoped to work collaboratively with everyone involved. She said she was only acting on behalf of the project’s neighbors. Pierret was not re-appointed to the Darien Housing Authority when her term expired in the fall, and was replaced by Peter Bigelow.

Part of the project’s historical significance became a concern when the town’s Monuments & Ceremonies Commission told The Darien Times that a historical tree was removed during the construction process earlier this year.

The “Gettysburg Oak,” located behind the historic stone that marked where the old Fitch Home for Veterans once stood, was grown from an acorn gathered at the site of the battlefield at Gettysburg.

When the project’s name change, to “The Heights at Darien,” was initially announced, some also questioned the decision due to the historical significance of “Allen-O’Neill.”

During a meeting in which the developers presented the project’s progress to the Planning & Zoning Commission, developer John McClutchy talked about the name change and how the project’s heritage would be preserved.

McClutchy said the idea behind “The Heights at Darien” is that it looks like any other town residence.

He said when real estate agents pick up buyers at the train station, and they drive through Noroton Heights, he wants the end result to be that those buyers ask to see units in the new development.

In terms of preserving the history, McClutchy said local and state historians have determined that none of the current buildings hold any historical significance. The brick apartment building, the only building with any part of the former veterans’ home remaining, has been renovated to eliminate any remaining historical value.

McClutchy said the current monuments on the property where the Fitch Home for Soldiers once stood will be relocated on the project, and a path will be designed near them using the bricks from that building.

Though neighbors continue to object to some aspects of the new project, earlier this year, Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Fred Conze expressed an interest in talking with the neighbors and finding a compromise on some of their concerns.

Phase I and II of the project are scheduled to be completed by the spring and early summer of this year, including 58 apartments in 14 buildings. Phase III will be completed in spring of 2014.

All existing Allen O’Neill residents, including those on site and those temporarily relocated, will be housed in a new unit at The Heights, according to the developers. That leaves 28 two-bedroom apartments in the first two phases, and 25 one-bedroom, 7 two-bedroom and 6 three-bedroom units in the third phase, available to new residents.

Marketing will begin this month and will be announced at theheightsdarien.com, and will continue for 90 days or until 400 applications have been received, whichever comes first.. The waiting list will then be closed and new tenants will be chosen by a lottery system.

For a complete description of the project’s lottery process, click here.

More info: theheightsdarien.com

editor@darientimes.com

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