Baywater details downtown Darien redevelopment

A rendering of Baywater’s downtown proposal, offering a view looking south on Boston Post Road.

A rendered image of Post Road facing north, featuring the proposed town green

A current view of Post Road, looking North

Another shot of the current Post Road looking North

A projected view of Post Road looking North

An aerial view of the current site

An aerial view of the proposed project

Baywater Properties has big plans in place for downtown Darien, and the developer has begun seeking the necessary approvals to make its proposal for redevelopment a reality.

The project focuses on the area between the Bank of America building on Post Road and the Post Office on Corbin Drive, Baywater founder David Genovese said during an overview of the project before a packed auditorium at Darien Library April 6. Baywater plans to completely redevelop the space, replacing the existing structures with mixed-use buildings for retail and office space as well as condominiums. In order to provide parking, Baywater also intends to construct a two-level underground parking deck. A pair of new streets and a service road near Old Kings Highway South would be created to help alleviate traffic, and provide access to underground parking.

If approved, the downtown redevelopment project would feature 95,000 square feet of office space, approximately 74,000 and some 66 apartments. A village green would also be created along Post Road in the area to provide a space for public functions. Buildings facing Post Road would be restricted to just two or three stories, to maintain consistency with the current buildings. Buildings located along Corbin Drive and the newly planned streets would range from three to five stories. The largest of the planned structures, a six-story apartment building, would sit on a new street parallel to Boston Post Road.
Architect Gary Brewer said the larger buildings would not be visible to pedestrians on Post Road due to their positioning. Additionally, the larger buildings could be seen those driving along I-95.
Genovese said that he and his partner Penny Glassmeyer, of PG Properties, have worked since 2005 to acquire nearly all of the necessary land in the area. The owner of the Bank of America building has agreed to become a partner in the project once the necessary approvals are granted.
Baywater’s application is expected to be presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission next month, with a public hearing scheduled for May 17. Baywater will be seeking necessary zoning changes to allow the site plan to move forward. But before the formal process begins, Genovese took the opportunity to address questions and concerns from the public during the library presentation.

Retaining retailers and courting an anchor

Both customers and business owners questioned the fate of the existing businesses in the Post Road and Corbin Drive area. Genovese said Baywater has already offered to accommodate local mainstays, and is planning to help their owners find interim space during the construction period. He also said that returning businesses would pay a similar amount in rent after relocating. In order to maintain those rents part of the cost would be subsidized using revenue generated by the sale of condos downtown.

Retailers would occupy the first floor of most of the project’s buildings on Post Road. When asked if the new buildings would welcome big box realtors, Genovese explained that the property will continue to be focused locally focused, and that Baywater would continue to seek tenants that fit the needs of Darien and its shoppers.

“Our underwriting is conservative and our strategy is simple: make it work for locally owned stores,” Genovese said.

While the amount of retail space is expected to increase from 49,000 to 74,000 square feet, about 20,000 square feet will belong to an anchor store, leaving the remaining amount of space largely unchanged. Genovese revealed that the anchor store would likely be L.L. Bean, though negotiations are still ongoing.  He said the project’s main competition in the bid is a proposed mall in Norwalk, but Darien’s unique situation has helped sway the realtor.

“Darien was a market they were very interested in and they were trying to get involved in lower Fairfield County for many, many years,” Genovese said. “So they have agreed to work with us, we’re negotiating now.”

Relocating the post office

One source of concern is the Darien Post Office, located at the end of Corbin Drive. Genovese said Baywater has asked what the Postal Service would want in a new building, but the response has been slow. Ed Friend, a 30-year veteran of the Darien Post Office and a DHS graduate, said the Postal Service may attempt to relocate the town’s letter carriers to the Camp Avenue facility in Stamford if there is not enough space for letter service in the new building.

Both Friend and Genovese mentioned the closure of the New Canaan Post Office, which closed during redevelopment in 2014 and is still waiting on the construction of its new permanent facility. Residents there have suffered through issues with their delivery service and the post office’s temporary location.

“It was really tough on the guys and I think it affects the service when you’re in a big office,” Friend said.

He added, “if there’s any way we can keep the carriers in town it would be beneficial, I have 30-years and I have six guys above me in seniority so a lot of us have invested a lot of time in this town.”

According to Friend, a space of 8,000 to 9,000 square feet would be needed to maintain mail service in town.

Adding apartments to downtown

The project’s condominiums would range 1,500 to 1,800 square feet in size, with one to three bedrooms. Units would be sold rather than rented, and are intended to serve Darien’s “empty nester” population. Genovese explained that the smaller unit sizes would deter families, while providing a more manageable housing option for those looking to downsize from a large house.

“We talk to the realtors in Darien about why people are leaving, and we hear over and over again that they’re leaving because there’s no housing they find acceptable,” Genovese said.

Outside of providing a sought after housing option in town, Genovese said providing residential space downtown would help boost shopping downtown, and that retailers expressed a desire to see more people living nearby.

“We want to get more people living downtown, there is an enormous need for this kind of housing in Darien,” Genovese said.

In order to satisfy Darien’s affordable housing needs, Baywater has proposed a living facility for adults with special needs at a separate site on East Lane. Genovese said he recognized a dire need for such housing in the state, as there are some 2,000 people on the waiting list for special needs housing. He said the facility has proven to be one of the harder parts of the project to negotiate, due to the need for specific state approvals.

If the East Lane project cannot move forward, Baywater would be obligated to provide affordable housing elsewhere, or pay into the town’s affordable housing trust fund. However, Genovese said the Planning & Zoning Commission has made it clear that they want housing units rather than additional funding.
Parking & Traffic Changes

Baywater has chosen to pursue an underground parking lot and plans to provide more than 500 spaces. The town recommended that Baywater not consider any of the existing above ground parking in their parking accommodations. Genovese acknowledged that the cost of the parking lot would be significant, with the price being estimated at $50,000 to $80,000 per space.

The new streets being proposed in the site plan are based off of findings in the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) Post Road Corridor Study and the Connecticut Main Street Center 2006 Study for Downtown Darien. Recently, Genovese came across an off-street parking plan submitted to the Planning & Zoning Commission in 1951 by longtime consultant Frederick Clark that also recommends the new streets in the same locations.

“That kind of let us know we were on the right track,” Genovese said.

When asked if the project would wreak havoc on parking downtown, Genovese brought up the construction of Whole Foods. The Planning & Zoning Commission required the grocery chain to make adjustments to the intersection of Post Road and Ledge Road, greatly improving the flow of traffic in the area. He said that Baywater would make the necessary adjustments to improve traffic conditions as requested.

“We want to make sure we park it adequately and we’re not counting on things. We want to make sure that fundamentally, Darien downtown works better when we’re done then it does today,” Genovese said.

Moving Forward

On May 17, The Planning & Zoning Commission will hear a text amendment proposed by Baywater to allow the necessary zoning changes downtown. Genovese recommended that residents express their concerns, positive or negative, to the commission in person or via letter.

“Downtown buildings are not really our buildings, they’re really the people’s buildings,” Genovese said. “And we can be the catalysts for those building, but if people don’t support them, it won’t work.

Genovese said he is committed to getting town approvals as quickly as possible, and if all goes according to plan the project could be ready to break ground in late 2017 or early 2018. The construction process is expected to take about 18 months, meaning the site would be completed in late 2019 or early 2020, ignoring potential delays.

A full video of the Baywater presentation is available on the Darien Library’s YouTube channel, and more information about the project, including past presentations, is available at http://yourdowntowndarien.com/

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  • JGetty

    As a resident who lives on Old Kings Hwy S, I am terrified at the impact all this will have on my street.

    Already when there is traffic on 95 and Post Road people “cut through” Old Kings Hwy S and adding all these condos, retail and office space along with a 500 car garage is only going to make things so much worse.

    And adding a service road that connects directly to Old Kings Hwy S? Yikes, people who live in those condos and people going to shop will just cut through my street just because it’s easier.

    There are no sidewalks on that street and although it is a very popular street for bikers and joggers, it’s still dangerous as-is. There are a lot of families on that street that feel the same way I do about this project.

    With this and for all intents and purposes what is a fast food place opening where Chuck’s was I feel like Mr. Genovese is personally trying to make my property value dive right into the toilet and make life a nightmare for me and my family.

    I started shaking when I read this today. I may seriously have to think about selling and moving if this is going to happen.

    • David Genovese

      Mr. Getty, I assure you that we are not trying to negatively impact your property values. In fact, we believe that with these improvements property values within walking distance of downtown Darien will grow at a potentially faster rate than the market as a whole. I would be happy to meet with you at your convenience to discuss your concerns. Please contact me via the website for our project, and I will reach out to you to schedule a meeting. The website is http://www.yourdowntowndarien.com and you can email me via the “Contact Us” section.

      David Genovese

      • JGetty

        Thanks for the reply Mr. Genovese. Of course I *really* don’t think you’re personally trying to impact me, business not personal and all that, but wow, to live where I do and have all this happening around me is very scary. I moved here to avoid all this kind of urbanization. Maybe I will take you up on that meeting. I’m actually ok with most of it, my main concern is how much more traffic it’s going to generate for Old Kings Hwy S which can get busy when there’s traffic on Post Rd and 95 N. Adding a service road that connects to it will undoubtedly significantly add to that traffic.

  • Nute Gunray

    “Downtown buildings are not really our buildings, they’re really the people’s buildings.” Can you enlighten us as to what you really mean by that? By “the people,” do you mean Darien residents – or everyone?

    Also, I’m sure this has been brought up, but if the structure is six stories, would that require a new ladder truck for the fire department? If so, how much would that cost taxpayers? And where would it be kept?

    • David Genovese

      Nute, the point I was trying to make at the Darien Library is that given that the citizens of Darien are so interested in what happens downtown, from the architecture of the buildings to the tenants which occupy them, it feels often to us as if we are really caretakers of these buildings. These buildings are different in that they can define the town, and that impacts many, which is why I think that the interest level is so strong. it is different doing this kind of work for us, compared to developing and managing typical suburban office buildings that are not located in the downtown. I may not be explaining the idea well, and if I’m not, I am sorry. And yes, I mean Darien residents. Who else would you think we were referring to?

      We have discussed the issue of fire protection and life safety with several fire chiefs, and we are assured that there would be no need for additional equipment, so no additional cost to the taxpayers. We believe that the existing tax revenue generated by these properties, equal to about $283,000 today, could increase toward $3.5 million per year, a similar increase to what has been experienced in several other downtown developments (more than 10x increase) with little to no corresponding increase in demand for town services such as education.

      If you have any other questions, or wish to meet with me to discuss, contact me via the website that we set up, and send in a note via the Contact Us section. The website is http://www.yourdowntowndarien.com. I’m happy to meet anyone that is interested in the project to answer any questions you may have.

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