With several housing projects in various stages of development, Darien is poised to provide a variety of living options to a variety of demographics. In light of the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent announcement that it has ended its investigation into Darien’s affordable housing practices, The Darien Times sat down with Jeremy Ginsberg, the town’s planning and zoning director, to talk about new developments in town and how Darien is planning its affordable housing future.
In 2010, Darien was awarded a moratorium from compliance with state statute 8-30g, which allows developers to overstep local zoning laws in towns such as Darien that do not have 10% of its housing classified as affordable. A developer may get around zoning laws if a proposal includes the required percentage of affordable housing.
If the town doesn’t add enough affordable housing between now and October 2014, it will be required to conform to 8-30g again. The state courts could also overturn the moratorium in the interim.
The largest affordable housing project in town is the Allen O’Neill redevelopment, which was recently changed to The Heights at Darien, eliminating the site’s historic connection to soldiers who died at Pearl Harbor. The redevelopment would double the developments’ homes in density, from 53 homes to 106, and it received approval for $2.47 million of 9% low income tax credits from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority last year.
The moratorium is dependent on a point system that examines income and age deed restrictions. It’s unclear how many points the town would gain from The Heights, Ginsberg said, although all homes would likely be considered affordable.
“It’s useless to count the points right now,” he said. “Right now, we’re focused on long-term planning because there’s nothing we can do between now and 2014… What we want to do is start looking for opportunities that present themselves in the interim.”
The Procaccini property on Hoyt Street, which includes 62 market-rate homes, was approved by the town before it established its inclusionary zoning regulations. This rule requires developers to build at least 12% of a housing project as affordable, or the developer can pay a fee in lieu of building the affordable homes.
Darien developer David Genovese’s property at 745 Boston Post Road was the first town project approved under inclusionary zoning. This project would include approximately 6,000 square feet of office space and eight apartments.
Genovese and the Planning & Zoning Commission decided that in this case a fee was more appropriate than adding affordable housing. Each fee is dependent upon the number of units and other factors. Genovese is expected to pay $362,000 to the town, Ginsberg said.
The Board of Selectmen is working on establishing a group that would examine opportunities to use that money for housing purposes, Ginsberg said. Had the inclusionary zoning law been on the books before Procaccini was proposed, the developer would have had to include 12% affordable housing among its 62 units or pay about $2.3 million to the town, according to current regulations.
The Procaccini property is targeted toward older buyers, Ginsberg said, although anyone with means can live there.
The 8-unit project at 333 West Avenue, originally proposed for 12 units, is also nearing completion, Ginsberg said. A few are on the market already and Ginsberg estimated the remaining homes would be completed by sometime next year. These are all market-rate homes.
Several market-rate apartments were recently completed above Backstreet Restaurant on Center Street, and Maplewood, a 60-unit assisted living facility on the Post Road at Brookside Road, should be finished by early 2013.
The Heights is still in phase one of construction, and the last brick building should come down in the next few months, Ginsberg said. Some apartments could be available by the end of this year.
A recent $20.5 million purchase of a single family home at 12 Shennamere Road raised eyebrows last week, as the property is appraised at $11.6 million. The company that bought the property, Contentamiento LLC, has no readily available contact information. Buyers often establish limited liability companies for better legal protection and investment security when they buy homes.
Ginsberg said he has not seen nor heard of any plans for that property, but he expects to see something on his desk eventually. Establishing a balance between the need for more affordable housing and maintaining the character of the town while not overcrowding an already developed landscape is a difficult task for P&Z, Ginsberg said.
“Darien is pretty much built out,” he said. “There’s not a lot of vacant properties for us to build affordable housing. Then we look at reuse and redevelopment.”
This requires parcels be the right size and in the right location, but also be likely to be redeveloped. “You can rezone a property but if it’s not likely to be redeveloped, it may not happen in the near term,” Ginsberg said.
P&Z officials have informally discussed some potential locations for affordable housing, but there are currently no new projects in the works.
Several new Darien eateries are also on the horizon for people to enjoy. Bodega Taco is scheduled to open soon at 980 Post Road, between the Goose Restaurant and Upper Crust Bakery & Café. Noroton Heights’ Phil’s Grill owner Phil Santomassi recently hung up his apron for good, making way for Jimmy’s Southside restaurant, owned by longtime restaurateur Jimmy Love.
One of the more controversial housing projects involves the proposed renovation of a single family home at 123 Five Mile River Road into two houses. Neighbors of the property formed a group called the Five Mile River Road Preservation Group to combat this proposed construction, which is scheduled for review by the Environmental Protection Commission on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
“In the 1700s, this property and the one adjacent served as a commercial center for oyster harvesters and schooners,” stated a letter disseminated by the preservation group. “Today, the natural rocky shoreline and marsh grasses along the coast are home to heron, gulls, and a variety of other wildlife. The proposed development will irreparably destroy this special scenic vista and the coast’s natural environment.”
Have concerns or ideas about housing in Darien? Tell us about it. Email David DesRoches at email@example.com or call 203-656-4230