After Darien residents sue, Parklands developer proposes bigger complex under ‘affordable housing’ law

DARIEN — After six neighbors filed a lawsuit in a last-ditch attempt to rescind approval of the controversial Parklands project, its property owner and developer said he will instead pursue building a larger complex, with 88 housing units in place of the original 60 units while invoking a contentious affordable housing law.

The lawsuit, filed April 25 against the Darien Planning and Zoning Commission, names Bob Gillon, the developer who owns the 3 Parklands office building, as the co-defendant.

In response to the lawsuit, Gillon said Wednesday he is financially compelled to replace the office building, which saw a mass exodus of tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gillon said he is filing a new 8-30g application with the town. This new plans call for a five-story complex with up to 90 units, which would replace the planned three-story complex with 60 units.

“This is an obsolete office building. So residential will be built here,” he said. “Either what was approved, which is, I think, nice — or a five-story, 88-unit, 8-30g building.”

Under the state’s housing laws, a municipality can deny an 8-30g application only if there are significant health or safety concerns. Gillon said he was confident that would not be an issue in the Parklands case, based on expert studies already submitted during the original application process.

“I don’t want to wait,” Gillon said referring to the lawsuit. “It could be as late as May of next year before a judge makes a decision. I don’t want to start over with a new plan then.”

An 8-30g application has long been on the table for the site, he said. When he started brainstorming the redevelopment project in October 2020, Gillon said he initially envisioned an 8-30g project.

But because the proposed building would need to be much larger in order to make financial sense, Gillon said he had pushed that aside in favor of a smaller 60-unit complex that was more visually appealing and included only seven affordable units.

“You don’t have bays, you don’t have gables — it’s a box,” Gillon said of the plans to turn to the larger 8-30g building.

Neighbors are suing broadly using the same arguments that they took against the project in hearings before the Planning & Zoning Commission earlier this year. Among other reasons, they say the project should be stopped because it would intensify traffic on an already congested Old King’s Highway North, fail to protect a surrounding nature preserve and devalue their own properties.

They are also contending that the commission’s vote was not legal. The project passed 3-2 in February after a turbulent meeting that left many surprised and confused.

The Stamford-based attorney for the neighbors, John Harness, declined to comment during the beginning stages of the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, residents ask for a temporary restraining order to stop Gillon from moving forward with the project. Construction at 3 Parklands was slated to begin as early as this summer.

“This is not a threat, but I’ve got to do something,” Gillon said. “I have a financial reason to be doing something. I can’t let the neighbors tell me I can’t build because they just don’t want it — when it adheres to all of the regulations.”