Corbin Project hearing closes: Planning & Zoning begins deliberations

A rendering of the Corbin Project facing Post Road and Corbin Drive.

Progress continues for the Corbin Project, a mixed-use redevelopment of downtown Darien proposed by Baywater Properties. The Corbin Project has a 7.17-acre site area spanning from Corbin Drive to the Bank of America building on Post Road.

Baywater’s plans for the area include 117 new one- and two-bedroom apartments and an increase in retail office and office space. Existing office space would grow from 45,961 to 81,200 square feet while retail space would increase from 52,579 to 81,730 square feet. Another 16,910 square feet of restaurant space would be added to the ground level of the project.

The Planning & Zoning Commission closed public hearings for the redevelopment on Sept. 4, but some of the project’s moving parts are still outstanding. The sewer commission will still need to approve revisions to the site plan and Baywater has a second application for a development on East Lane to satisfy the Corbin Project’s affordable housing requirements.

If completed as designed, Corbin Drive would become the “Main Street” of downtown Darien. Running perpendicular to the often-crowded Post Road, the redesigned Corbin would have a larger emphasis on walkability to make navigating the downtown area more efficient for shoppers and the new residents.

Peer reviews conducted by the town as a part of the planning and zoning process recommended a number of traffic control measures in the area including stop signs and one- way streets. Dozens of small changes were made to satisfy town officials and the state traffic authority will also be responsible for reviewing the plan due to its placement on Post Road.

An overview of the Corbin Project site plan provided by Beinfield Architecture

Though some portions of the large project are still up in the air, the Planning & Zoning Commission felt confident enough to move into the deliberation process.

“I think we saw enough, we saw the plan, we saw the connection. I’m not concerned, there’s another layer after us and I feel really comfortable.” Commissioner Jennifer Leahy said.

Baywater Principal David Genovese said the project team has been working to match the requests of the town’s commissions, but the long approval process has strained some relationships with businesses downtown.

“We’re juggling all these neighboring adjacent property owners that we’re trying to keep together, it’s like trying to get 10 frogs in a bucket,” Genovese said. “Not only the property owners but Bank of America, the gas station; it’s really complicated and we’ve lost so much credibility.”

After spending nearly a decade acquiring property for the project, Baywater proposed a very different version of the Corbin Project to the commission in 2016. As concerns with the project’s density and financial viability arose, Baywater opted to completely redesign the site plan with the help of Beinfield Architecture.

“It’s not your fault, we redesigned the project, we went back to the drawing board, which I think we would all agree was a good decision,” Genovese told the commission. “We’ve come up with this project through this incredible journey we’ve been on.”

Baywater has promised to relocate the existing tenants of the Corbin Project’s site area during construction, and the project as a whole aims to sustain local business. However, time is a factor, as retail shops in Darien will soon find themselves competing with a new mall in Norwalk, the SoNo Collection.

The dozens of new apartments proposed for the downtown area are designed to appeal to adults without children who may be looking to downsize from a larger house. Realtors and town officials alike have expressed concern with retired residents choosing to move away from Fairfield County due to a lack of appropriate and available housing. Two approved projects in Noroton Heights, proposed by Palmer’s Market and Federal Reality, also chose to pursue mixed-use development for this reason.

If the approval process is completed this year, the Corbin Project could break ground in spring 2019, but as Genovese acknowledged, there are still a number of factors that could impact the project’s timeline. The Planning & Zoning Commission’s next meeting is Sept. 25, and both the Corbin Project and East Lane development will likely be on the agenda.