P&Z approves community expansion for The Heights

Despite opposition from some neighbors, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted to allow additional space for a community room at The Heights development, formerly known as Allen-O’Neill homes.

The 5-1 vote allows the size of the community room to increase to accommodate extra space for a computer room, according to development partners Arthur Anderson and John McClutchy. The computer room is part of recommendations made by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority after review of the project. McClutchy said it was an oversight on his part that the community room was not made this large from the beginning.

The commission approved under two conditions, however. First, that the developers provide a revised open space map showing the final plans of the project. Because the addition will increase the overall footprint, slight position adjustments could be needed at other buildings to balance the changes, according to Robert Woodside, compliance officer with the town.

Commissioners also mandated that three trees be planted for every one taken down, and that details of these planting plans be coordinated with Jeremy Ginsberg, P&Z director.

Commissioner Susan Cameron was the lone vote against the proposal. She was not on the commission when The Heights project was initially approved, and had earlier commented that the additional space was “huge.”

The plan will also include a space for community washer and dryers. Each unit will have hook-ups for washers and dryers, but residents will have to either buy or rent them for the individual unit.

Concerned neighbors used this special permit filed by the developers as a bargaining tool to try and receive compromises on other aspects of the plan. They have expressed concern with a chain link fence along the property and about balconies which they feel will invade their privacy.

Fred Conze, Planning & Zoning Commission chairman, said those concerns had nothing to do with the current application and said all of those aspects were handled during the public hearing phase before the ultimate approval.

Neighbor Allison Stolar suggested via email that the commission make removing the balconies a “condition” for its approval of the community room addition.

“If they are asking for something that is not part of the original approved plan you should have the right to request other things as a condition for approval,” she said.

Conze said the application process would not be a “negotiation” and said that additions to the community room was for the benefit of the residents, not for the developers’ profit, so a negotiation would be unsuccessful anyway.

Conze and Ginsberg have been attempting to reach a compromise with neighbors on the fence, which neighbors have said is unsightly and in need of repair, and that it could create an area for mischief or garbage to pile up because of the “alley” created by the chain fence and an adjacent white fence.

Because the stone wall and chain link fence appear to be on a shared property line between housing authority property and private property, it makes resolution complicated.

Conze previously told The Darien Times that “we have informally” started to try to address the fence.

“We are trying to open up a few channels and see if there’s a way we can resolve the issue,” he said.

The redevelopment would double the housing density at Allen O’Neill, and received approval for $2.47 million of 9% low income tax credits from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority last year. The plan will double the current 53 single-family home units to 106 units.

McClutchy told the commission that the computer room would accommodate programs he puts in place in all of his similar projects around the country; programs such as school tutoring, job hunting, interview and resume help for residents.

Another possibility for the expanded space was the relocation of the Darien Housing Authority’s office to The Heights from Town Hall.

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