Baywater Properties presented their revised application for downtown zoning changes during the first 2017 meeting of Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission. The application proposes adjustments to a number of regulations in the area of Post Road and Corbin Drive, including maximum building heights and parking regulations.
The zoning changes are a necessary component of Baywater’s planned redevelopment project, which would bring mixed-use residential, retail and office buildings to an 11-acre portion of downtown Darien. While this was technically the first public hearing for the revised application, it is the sixth time the commission has heard Baywater’s proposal, as commission chair John Sini mentioned on Tuesday. The commission has expressed a desire to design the zone changes in a way that could be applied to other areas of town outside of Baywater’s site area if needed.
“We’re very aware of the community support for redevelopment in this area of town,” Sini said. “Please remember this hearing isn’t about a project, but about finding the right balance in regulations that would maintain the scale and proper character of Darien’s suburban downtown while allowing for its redevelopment.
Baywater opted to withdraw the original application during the commission’s deliberations in October of last year. The commission scrutinized the proposed building heights, which reached up to six stores and 75 feet before the application was pulled. Concerned the redevelopment project may be restrained by the commission’s ruling, Baywater opted to rework the application with more information and lower overall building heights.
The commission has spoken informally with Baywater in the time since to make the process more amiable. Commissioner James Rand, who replaced Richard DiDonna while deliberations were still ongoing, has been fully briefed on the project as well and is participating in the current round of hearings. All public comment from the prior hearings has been included as a part of the record for the revised application, along with the countless emails the commission received from the public.
Sini asked that the public and the applicant refrain from engaging in email or social media campaigns after the public hearings have closed for the revised application. Last year commissioners received a barrage of messages, including some to their personal email addresses, after hearings had closed.
As revised, Baywater’s project would add 64 apartments to downtown Darien, along with approximately 97,000 square feet of retail space, and a 112,000 square feet of office space. The apartments will be limited to one or two bedrooms and are designed for adults without children.
Based on the revised application, buildings in the development area would range from three to five stories, going up to a maximum height of 71 feet. Though the project’s tallest building was lowered, it will retain its overall density by adding a fourth floor to two other buildings in the site area.
According to Baywater’s project designers the taller buildings would not be visible to pedestrians on the Post Road, but would give Darien a new skyline for driver’s passing on I-95. Three-story buildings would line the Post Road, with retail space filling the base level of those buildings. The taller buildings would be placed along Corbin Road, increasing in height as they get closer to I-95. A proposed town green on the Post Road would now be enclosed by a larger central “meeting house” and two four-story sister buildings.
Several apartment and office buildings would also be located on Market Lane, a new cross street running parallel to Post Road. The creation of Market Lane is designed to facilitate pedestrian traffic and lessen congestion on the Post Road. Baywater’s proposal also includes an underground parking deck to help alleviate the existing issues downtown.
Based on the tentative data in the revised application, Baywater expects to provide about 750 parking spots to meet the demand of the new development. Apartment tenants and office workers would be allotted guaranteed spots on the lowest level of the parking area, while retail shoppers would be prioritized on the first floor for easy access.
Bill Jensen of Darien Toy Box offered his support of the project for its approach to parking and pedestrian access. Having owned his store on the Post Road for nine years, Jensen decried the current traffic situation as a safety hazard. Driver’s parking in front of the store often struggle to back out onto the busy street, which already sees heavy traffic due to I-95 exit 11.
Speaking on his own behalf, Board of Finance chairman Jon Zagrodzky described the move organization Project for Public Spaces, Zagrodzky said the inclusion of a town green would help towards mixed-use development as the wave of the future. Having worked with the non-profit create the sort of public meeting area that is congruent with modern urban development.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who sat in on the meeting as an ex-officio member of the commission, said the redevelopment project was vital to the town’s commercial tax base, as Darien faces the loss of fiscal support from the state. Former selectman and Board of Education member Charlotte Suhler said that the redevelopment of downtown was viewed as a key to Darien’s future during her time in office.
“What you’re seeing is the epitome of good development and style,” Suhler said on Tuesday.
Public hearing for the downtown zoning changes are still ongoing, be sure to check back with the times for the latest.