Developers in Darien push a multifamily housing plan, but residents say it wouldn’t fit in

DARIEN — Residents who live near Selleck’s Woods are fighting to stop a proposed multifamily development in the area, saying the project’s developers have not adequately addressed their concerns.

The plan from Parklands Darien LLC, the owner of 3 Parklands Drive, calls for converting the existing office building that borders two nature preserves into a 60-unit residential property.

Dozens of residents are raising concerns, said Sandra Conway, who has lived with her husband, Tommy, on bordering Fairmead Road for the past decade.

“Residents are realizing this is going to affect our nature preserve,” Sandra Conway said. “It’s going to be detrimental in traffic into our roads.”

The developers — and advocates for affordable housing — say the project would fill a need for smaller, affordable units and satisfy the town’s desire to diversify its housing portfolio.

But residents cite many reasons that the project, which many agree is necessary, should not be built at this location. During several public hearings before the Planning & Zoning Commission, residents sought significant modifications to the project, such as shaving the building’s height and reducing the number of units.

“We know what it’s like to be a renter, and we look forward to having people come and rent and be a part of the community — but not right here,” Tommy Conway said.

Dense development

The Conways’ house on Fairmead sits directly east of The Residences at Selleck’s Woods senior care facility and to the office building at 3 Parklands. From their backyard, the senior care facility is clearly visible, which they said they realized only when construction began a few years ago.

Developers have cited the project’s continuity with the town’s 2016 Plan of Conservation and Development, which guides Darien’s approach to development in the next decade.

The Conways and others say they recognize that there must more than just single-family homes to meet a “broad array of housing needs,” but they say the POCD also states that there should be a reduction in density farther from downtown Darien and the Noroton Heights business district.

“It’s about protecting your open space. It’s about doing the highest density closest to downtown and lower density the farther you get out,” Sandra Conway said.

The residents also raised concerns about the project’s possible impact on nearby open land. The 28-acre Selleck’s Woods is owned by the town and is adjacent to the 22-acre Dunlap Woods, owned by the Darien Land Trust.

Sandra Conway said she is concerned that the drainage from construction could flow directly into Dunlap Lake, among other possible environmental implications.

The Planning & Zoning Commission has not required environmental impact studies for the past few decades, Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg said in an email.

Traffic concerns

Also, residents say they are not satisfied with the developer’s answers about traffic, including pedestrian safety.

There are no sidewalks on Old Kings Highway, the main roadway in and out of the senior care facility and 3 Parklands Drive. Traffic backs up on the two-lane road, and children do not have a safe area to wait for school buses, residents have said in public hearings.

The conservation and development plan also repeatedly mentions preserving the character of Darien, which is largely residential and with mostly single-family housing.

According to Craig Flaherty, an engineer for Redniss & Mead who has been representing the project at public hearings, the development would include six studio units, 29 one-bedroom units, and 25 two-bedroom units. Seven of the units would be affordable.

In order to proceed, the project owner must gain permission to apply for the project to receive a new type of zoning overlay designation, the Designed Office Multi-Family Residential Overlay Zone.

The overlay district is a new one for Darien, created in June after an application earlier this year by Parklands Darien LLC. The Planning & Zoning Commission approved the application in June.

The overlay, if applied, would essentially give developers the ability to build a taller building, residents say. The Conways say it is possible to build higher-density housing without it making it an eyesore.

The building, three stories tall, will sit on a property that is already at a higher elevation than Fairmead Road.

“Why do we need to go up? Why create an excuse to go even bigger than what’s already allowed,” Tommy Conway said. He said residents have suggested building fewer units and keeping more at ground level, which would be more in line with the single-family housing in the area.

“We welcome responsible building and something with character,” he said.

Advocates say that Darien has a very real lack of affordable housing, even with existing multi-residential units. It would benefit from an influx of younger, more diverse residents who could move into such high-density areas, said Melissa Kaplan-Macey, the Connecticut director of Regional Plan Association, an urban policy group that examines regional planning across the tristate area.

“You have a situation where people who serve the community — mowing lawns, at the grocery store, babysitting — there’s no housing opportunities for people at those income levels,” Kaplan-Macey said. “There is this broader voice, which is that we need more housing affordability in our towns. It’s a real need, and it really serves all of us when we have communities where there’s housing opportunity for everyone.”

The next public hearing on the project will be held virtually on Nov. 30 during a regular meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission. It begins at 7:30 p.m.