Possible new business faces some criticism

A public hearing on a proposed massage and facial business for Darien’s Post Road will be held by Planning & Zoning on Tuesday, June 18, but one downtown Darien developer feels the business is wrong for the site.

The business, Massage Envy, is being proposed by Ken Kleban of Kleban Properties for 1015 Boston Post Road, next to Grieb’s Pharmacy.

“It’s going to be a beautiful building designed by an architecture firm in Greenwich. This construction is going to be first class. That’s the way we do everything,” Kleban told The Darien Times this week.

“We have property in Fairfield and elsewhere, and we will make sure Darien is very proud of it,” he said.

Massage Envy is a national franchise of massage and facial businesses that offers membership for regular customers to receive its treatments. The proposed location on the Post Road would include 12 service rooms and would take up part of the first and second floor of the proposed buildings.

The original proposal for the building on the site was for all retail on the first floor and residential on the second floor. When Kleban initially proposed Massage Envy for the location, both the town’s zoning officer, David Keating, and the Planning & Zoning Commission noted that it was not a retail business in accordance with the initial permit.

Kleban then sued P&Z, the Zoning Board of Appeals and Keating for its decision. Local real estate developer David Genovese then filed a “motion to intervene” in the suits. A motion to intervene can be filed by a person who is not party to a lawsuit, seeking permission to be part of it. The intervener is required by law to have an interest in the subject matter of the original suit.

Genovese also wrote a letter to the Planning & Zoning Commission about the proposed business, pointing out his company Baywater Properties owns several retail properties in the vicinity of 1015 Post Road.

Genovese pointed out that when he and fellow Darien developer Penny Glassmeyer, who he sometimes partners with on projects, look for tenants to fill a vacancy, they “worked hard to find the right tenant.”

“By ‘right’, I mean a tenant which compliments the existing retailers in Darien, and in the vicinity of the specific store,” he said.

Genovese gave the example of The Little Gym on Corbin Drive being right around the corner from the Darien Toy Box on the Post Road. Genovese added that he provided a list of interested retail tenants to Kleban.

“In the immediate vicinity of 1015 Boston Post Road, we have First County Bank, Darien Rowayton Bank, and Calvary Baptist Church, none of which presents a storefront which engages the passerby,” Genovese wrote.

“Darien’s retailers need more retailers to thrive. They need critical mass to attract shoppers,” he said.

Another concern Genovese mentioned was parking  — saying the current parking plan offers 12 parking spots for both 1015 Post Road and 13 Grove Street. The initial proposal and parking study was submitted in 2008, and Genovese pointed out that much of downtown has changed, including adding Espresso NEAT and Go Figure Studios, which generate more parking demand.

The combined projects will have six apartments, five one-bedrooms and one two-bedroom, and 5,000 square feet of retail space, Genovese said.

Genovese said from his experience, each apartment will need one parking spot each with the two-bedroom needing two, and four parking spaces for the retail space. In addition to the 12 massage/therapy rooms, the plan includes nine seats in the quiet area and three in the waiting room, Genovese said. Genovese expressed concern that there would not be enough parking spaces for the business employees, customers and residents.

Debi Hibben, one of the owners of Grieb’s Pharmacy, said she was “disappointed that Massage Envy is the proposed tenant.”

“We need a quality retail store to encourage shoppers’ foot traffic, and my other concern is parking. Where are the salon employees and customers supposed to park? And I think it is going to turn into a nightmare,” she said.

Kleban, whose company has developed property in Connecticut, Florida, Vermont and Alabama according to his website, told The Darien Times while he couldn’t comment on litigation, talks with the town were moving forward.

The public hearing on Tuesday, June 18, is to change the site plans from the previously approved all retail on the first floor and all residential on the second, to partial personal services on the first and second floor and partial retail on the first floor and partial residential on the second.

Kleban said he has had “numerous meetings” with the town regarding the project.

“We and the town are on the same page,” he said.

Kleban said Massage Envy has been a model tenant in another building and said the “young ladies who run this franchise have owned the ones in Stamford, Westport, Fairfield and now Darien.”

“They are a great retailer and are going to provide a great addition to Darien. First class all the way, and we’re proud to have them as tenants,” Kleban said.

He pointed out his company recently bought the Brooks Brothers building in Darien’s downtown, so “we want to see the town center grow and prosper.”

As far as Genovese’s objections, Kleban said he thinks the intentions are good, but “I don’t think his objections are warranted.”

“We’ve addressed any objections the town has. This is positive for his building as well as the rest of downtown Darien,” Kleban said.

“The town and us would like to move forward.  We’d like to see a vibrant retailer and beautiful residences upstairs,” he said.

In his letter, Genovese told P&Z that to approve Massage Envy would be a “mistake on several fronts, and one that we will all regret for years to come.”

The Darien developer said he hoped Kleban would reach out to him for assistance in finding a tenant that Genovese felt would be a better fit. Calls to town counsel Wayne Fox were not returned as of press time.

The special meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission will be on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Town Hall. As of Wednesday, 1015 Post Road was the first thing on the agenda.

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  • John

    Wait a minute ! Genovese’s tenents park, drink, drive and are far more numerous and that’s ok. Talk about hypocrisy and greed. He wants a self made developer to ask a trust funder for advice.

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