Darien officials tell day care developer to try again after proposal prompts concerns over traffic

DARIEN — Developers for a new 152-student daycare center proposed for the Noroton Heights Shopping Center were told to come back with an updated traffic plan after Planning and Zoning members expressed concern that the development would add to congested roads in the area.

The proposed facility, a franchise of early childhood education provider The Goddard School, would be at 346 Heights Road at the cornermost spot of the Noroton Height shopping mall at the intersection of Hollow Tree Ridge Road and Heights Road.

There would be 30 staff members in addition to the children, according to information presented at a Nov. 16 Planning and Zoning meeting.

Robert Maslan, a developer working with the project, said the school has locations in Westport, Wilton, Danbury, Brookfield, Monroe and Fairfield. The proposed Darien school would be operated by Kristen Bodenstein, the owner of the Westport location.

The area is a child care desert, according to the Center for American Progress, and residents have expressed a need for more programs for Darien’s sizeable population of younger children.

But commission member Cara Gately voiced concerns that the project would add more cars to an already congested area. The Noroton Heights shopping center is directly across the street from the Noroton Heights train station.

Developers are proposing a rolling drop-off schedule for parents, which they said could help lessen traffic. But Gately said adding more cars in any case could be detrimental for pedestrians.

“We need to really think about and be mindful of walkability, and pedestrian safety, given the amount of pedestrians and people walk in this area,” Gately said.

The school facility is one part of a broader redevelopment plan that aims to remodel the entire Noroton Heights Shopping Center. The project would add 65 residential units within the center to the upper stories of the development, with the ground-level consisting of restaurants and retail stores.

That larger development project stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving construction unfinished in the shopping center. In February, former First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she anticipates the Noroton Heights development and other projects in town to be completed by 2023.

The project will be taken up again at a Jan. 4 meeting of the commission.