Public hearing for downtown zoning changes proposed by Baywater Properties closed on Tuesday night and the Planning & Zoning Commission will soon begin deliberations on whether or not to allow underground parking and buildings of up to six stories in the downtown area.
Baywater is planning a mixed-use apartment, business and retail development that would extend from the Bank of America building at Post Road to the corner of Old Kings Highway South and Corbin Drive. The proposed campus would include a number of three story buildings with a maximum height of 55 feet, with heights for the office residential buildings going up to six-stories and 85 feet.
As proposed, the project would require a change to the downtown zone to allow buildings exceeding Darien’s maximum building height of three-stories and 45 feet. The developer has scaled back original plans with taller buildings, retaining the three-story limit along the Post Road. The taller buildings would be along Corbin Drive, obscuring them from pedestrians walking along the Post Road.
Both town officials and the public have acknowledged that the downtown area needs zone changes to allow for redevelopment, but the decision is one that will impact Darien for years to come. During Baywater’s June 21 hearing, there was some public critique that the downtown zoning regulations had not been properly adjusted in decades. P&Z Chairman Susan Cameron, who was not present at that meeting, responded on Tuesday.
She pointed to recent developments in the downtown area that had been granted zoning changes as a part of their applications. While expressing the desire to establish a downtown overlay zone, she explained that the commission does adjust the zoning as needed.
“We are always changing our zoning regulations, they are a dynamic document, they are not static at all,” she said.
The June hearing saw a number of Darien residents comment on the zoning application, primarily expressing support. Tuesday’s meeting was relatively quiet in comparison, though many still turned out to hear the discussion.
At the request of Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg, Baywater provided several examples of comparable developments both in Fairfield County and beyond. Though Baywater Principal David Genovese said their project would have more accommodating architecture, he pointed to six and seven-story buildings near West Putnam Avenue in Greenwich as examples of large structures that were not severely impactful. Fairfield and New Canaan are also working towards similar mixed-used developments featuring five and four story buildings, respectively.
As the hearing closed, Genovese provided the commission with 15 reasons why the zoning changes for the project should be approved. He said the impact of the 66 proposed apartments in Darien would “significantly change the vitality” of the town, providing older residents and empty-nesters who may have been looking to move out of town with a more affordable alternative. Also, he said the changes to the downtown traffic flow and parking system would help make alleviate congestion and make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
“This is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, this is a once-in-a-century opportunity for the Town of Darien, give the many property owners we have had to work with in assembling the site over the last 11 years,” Genovese said.
While some of the details, such as a parking management plan, will need to be developed along with the overall site plan, the Planning & Zoning Commission will need to decide whether or not Darien is ready for a development of this scale.