Downtown Darien redevelopment plans return

Photo of Justin Papp
A rendering of the proposed Market Hall by Baywater Associates, presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday.
A rendering of the proposed Market Hall by Baywater Associates, presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday.Contributed photo

DARIEN — In an entreaty for forward-thinking on downtown redevelopment, Jon Zagrodsky asked the town to take a look into the past.

Rather than focus on established issues like height of buildings and density, Zagrodsky — speaking in a private capacity and not on behalf of the Board of Finance, of which he is chairman, at the first public hearing, Tuesday, on Baywater Associates’ Corbin Drive redevelopment project since the original application was withdrawn in Oct. 2016 — sought to provide historical context with an anecdote on the origins of the Eiffel Tower.

Zagrodsky said that when it was first proposed, the Parisian landmark stirred great controversy and spurred organized efforts working against its construction. He read from an 1887 declaration made by the “Artists against the Eiffel Tower,” in which the artists imagined the structure a “giddy, ridiculous tower, dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Louvre or the Arc de Triomphe.”

History, of course, did not agree.

And while Zagrodsky acknowledged the radical nature of aspects of the Baywater proposal — height of buildings, a large underground parking structure — he expressed his belief it would ultimately benefit Darien.

“This is a unique opportunity to bring a terrific development to this town. One that pushes, but in my judgment does not cross, the boundary of what’s reasonable. And it’s something that is certainly not a “giddy, ridiculous tower, dominating Darien like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk the Sugar Bowl, the Sport Shop and the Goose.”

Zagrodsky’s comments came after David Genovese and his team at Baywater presented their amended application to the Planning and Zoning Commission requesting a “Corbin Subarea” within the Central Business District that would allow larger, mixed-use developments. Genovese told the commission he has worked diligently to amend his plan since pulling the original in October in order to address the concerns expressed by the commission, namely building height.

“We’re trying to develop a property that will fundamentally transform Downtown Darien in an appropriate way and succeed in making Darien an even better place to live, work and play,” Genovese said.

Features include lower level retail and office space with apartments above and an emphasis on pedestrian friendliness and walkability, including the construction of a Town Green within the proposed subarea.

In the revised application, an originally proposed sixth floor has been removed from the residential building that would sit at the rear of the property abutting I-95. Instead, Genovese proposed a five-story structure at a height reduced from his original ask of 95 feet.

“During the deliberations, you expressed as individuals, from what we recall, comfort in the maximum building height ranging from 65 to 75 feet,” Genovese said to the commission. “The tallest portion of the tallest building that we will propose tonight for the text amendment is now 69 feet.”

Other buildings in the development were also diminished in size in accordance with a fundamental idea to maintain three stores along Post Road and three and four stories along Corbin Drive, according to Genovese.

Genovese said he was able to take down some building heights by shifting the density from the larger proposed six-story building to the “Meeting House” building, which was originally proposed at three stories, but is at four stories and 55 feet in the new application. The total area of the project, at least preliminarily, went up about 1,200 square feet, according to Genovese

Also included in the new design is a 50-foot clock tower on the corner of Post Road and Corbin Drive that would serve as a “signature feature” of the development.

Genovese showed the commission a willingness to potentially amend the plan further, saying, “We can be more restrictive if you need us to be in the context of the idea that we’ll lay out for you tonight.”

Following the presentation, Bill Jensen, owner of the Darien Toy Box, which sites within the footprint of the proposed development, and Mark Rosenbloom, chairman of the Darien Chamber of Commerce board of directors, were among the members of the public who voiced their support for the project.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who sat with the commission as an ex-officio member, thanked Genovese for his willingness to address the commission’s concerns and go back to the drawing board.

“It looks like a good result tonight, so thank you,” Stevenson said.

The Public Hearing will continue at the Jan. 31 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission.; @justinjpapp1