A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday for the Allen O’Neill redevelopment project just a day after former residents gathered in reunion to say good-bye to their childhood home.
Sunday, nearly 100 former neighbors shared memories at the VFW across the street, which served as the chapel for the Fitch Home for Veterans, previously located on the Allen-O’Neill site.
The redevelopment, which would double the developments’ 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 groundbreaking celebration was attended by speakers Gov. Dannel Malloy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, State Sen. Bob Duff, Congressman Jim Himes, Department of Economic & Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority President Eric Chapman, and officials from The Richman Group and Citibank.
Development partners Arthur T. Anderson of Imagineers and John McClutchy of JHM Group also spoke, as well as current Darien Housing Authority Chairman Cyndy Ashburne, former chairman Jenny Schwartz, and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.
The groundbreaking ceremony also included the new name of the project, “The Heights at Darien.”
The Allen-O’Neill moderate income veteran housing development was completed in 1953. It was named for Darien’s two young military men who died at Pearl Harbor, Eric Allen and Ensign William T. O’Neill.
McClutchy told The Darien Times in an emailed statement that the name “The Heights at Darien” was “chosen after much consideration and consultation with our management and marketing team.”
He said the Fitch Home for Soldiers plaque and monument will be relocated on site as approved by Planning & Zoning and identified on the site plan, which is on file in the Town Planning Office.
Some neighbors continue to have problems with the project.
One complaint is that construction is beginning near to 6 a.m. However, though the town has a noise ordinance, based on the state laws, construction noise is exempt from that ordinance, according Sgt. Jeremiah Marron, public information officer for the Darien Police Department.
Why is construction exempt?
Marron said he could only guess that “construction” is such a broad term, that it would be “very difficult to restrict a homeowner from making an improvement to his house at, say, 9 p.m. and then permit roadway construction at the same time.”
“I guess it keeps getting back to the fact that ‘construction’ can be defined at several different levels and to start restricting some actions and not others can and will cause problems,” he said.
“I think it gets down to being ‘reasonable and neighborly’ in most circumstances,” Marron said, adding that he only remembers having the department respond to noise ordinance complaints a handful of times in the 17 years he’s been on it.
Other complaints include the size of some of the units and that they include balconies which some neighbors cite as an invasion of privacy.
Neighbor Gianna Santoro said she understands the need for affordable housing but says the project is not built to the same scale as the rest of the neighborhood. She also said the neighbors have begged for the balconies not to be included that overlook the backyards, but they remain on the plans.
Another neighbor who asked not to be named said he feels the town and the state have “totally sold out the neighbors.”
“Every concern we’ve raised has been brushed aside with hubris. Construction starts at 6 in the morning, waking neighborhood children. It’s very unfair,” he said.
The Darien Housing Authority is an independent commission that reports to the state. The town is considering forming a town-based organization that might administer funding that comes in from inclusionary zoning payments. Inclusionary zoning asks local developers to include affordable housing in their projects or make a payment in lieu of that housing for the town to use to add to its affordable stock.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she and Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Fred Conze have discussed the idea.
In terms of preserving the site’s history, “The Heights” project will include tributes to the Allen-O’Neill period and the Fitch Home for Soldiers in its future community room.