Darien’s housing growth looking sustainable
Darien got a very good bill of health at the Aug. 19 Board of Selectmen meeting.
At the meeting, Jeremy Ginsberg, director of the Planning & Zoning Department, and Craig Flaherty, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Sustainability, gave a detailed presentation on sustainability.
The town is involved with an organization called Sustainable CT, according to Flaherty.
“One of the goals was to file an application to become recognized as a sustainable community, and that requires us to complete action items in at least nine different categories,” Flaherty said. “We are coming up on the application deadline on August 30. It looks like we’re going to make our goal.”
That goal is being registered as a Bronze Level Sustainable Community under the Sustainable CT program.
“One of the categories that we needed to complete was healthy, efficient, and diverse housing,” Flaherty said. “One section we saw that we could get some points required some work to design and implement a housing needs assessment.”
Ginsberg has put together that plan. To do so, he reviewed and analyzed a 2018 document for the Partnership for Strong Communities called a Housing Data Profile.
Darien “is different in may ways than what’s going on in the rest of the state,” he said. “Darien is a growing, thriving community, and you can’t say that about too many communities in the state.”
Darien’s population is growing, Ginsberg said. “It’s thriving with lots of construction going on. There’s new housing units coming online,” he said.
When compared with neighboring communities such as Stamford and Norwalk, Darien has the highest population density, which is how many people there are per dwelling unit.
Ginsberg attributes this to having public water and sewer systems.
Public water and sewer “allows people to live closer together because you don’t need room for your septic system,” he said.
For many, many years, Darien has had higher density zoning, but also Darien’s dwelling units generally are larger, according to Ginsberg.
Five-plus bedroom houses are being constructed, and generally, the schools “are very good,” he added.
“There’s big houses available. People are moving into the houses with children. And it all interrelates that we see more children in Darien,” he said. “Thus, a younger population and more people per dwelling unit.”
The Partnership for Strong Communities said most communities in Connecticut are losing population.
Darien is projected to lose its young population, and the 65-plus population is expected to increase by eleven percent, Ginsberg said.
However, despite this projection, Ginsberg said that he thinks the number of schoolchildren will “hold steady or slightly increase.”
The nature of Darien is slowly changing and has changed, according to Ginsberg.
“It was only in 1985-ish that the first condominiums came to town,” he said. “Those condominiums have been very successful in allowing people who often would buy a larger home to downsize and stay in town.”
Since that time, there have been large apartment units built in town as well, he said.
“We’ve seen a lot of different housing diversity coming through town in the past 30 plus years,’ he said.
The different types of housing that have been built in town in recent years range from garden homes to very very small units — about 400 square feet, to studios and one-bedrooms, according to Ginsberg.
“There’s much more choice for people than there used to be,” he said.
According to Ginsberg, there will be a lot more different types of housing in town including mixed use construction, affordable housing, market rate housing, and special needs housing.
In addition, there is a high demand for rental housing and owner-occupied housing in town.
There are new developments coming into town: Noroton Heights Shopping Center and the Federal Realty Project, which is called the Commons at Noroton Heights — and the Corbin District downtown.
All of these are likely to get started within 90 days with some demolition.
Darien is “one of the few communities, one of only 17, to show an increase in the grand list since 2008,” he added.
No more available land
What differentiates Darien from many communities, according to Ginsberg, is there’s no more available land.
“Everything is redevelopment. You’re developing a property that already has something on it, which means likely, it’s going to be more expensive,” Ginsberg said.
Almost 70 percent of Darien’s housing stock is at least 50 years old, “which would suggest that our housing stock is kind of ripe for renovation and redevelopment,” First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said. “For families coming in, it’s an advantageous time for people to be buying homes in and around our community.”
“A real buzz”
Darien is one of few communities where there’s “a real buzz about what’s happening here,” Stevenson said. “People are pretty excited about moving here.”
“It’s going to be great,” Ginsberg said. “I think it’s going to be a huge win for all of us.”
According to Ginsberg, this excitement is not going on in every community.
From 2008 through 2016, out of 169 communities in Connecticut, 150 experienced negative growth in real property values.
“If we’re not the leader, we’re pretty close to the top in terms of how we’re doing from a grand list standpoint,” Ginsberg said.
“Achieving SustainableCT certification is a recognition of the work that the Town of Darien has done, and is doing, to become a more sustainable community,” Stevenson told The Darien Times.
She added that it is “a recognition that we consider the environmental impact of our activities, plan for a changing future, build community by supporting cultural programming, promote health and wellness, support a vibrant local economy, and endeavor to apply those actions equitably. It is one of several reasons Darien is a successful, sought after community to live, raise a family, or start a business.”
“We recognize that families and businesses are discerning when they are choosing a community in which to put down roots,” Stevenson said. “Along with the many reasons to choose Darien - easy commute, beautiful parks and beaches, great schools, low taxes - the town’s commitment to sustainability adds another attractive element to why Darien is an exceptional community.”