Proposed 7-Eleven in Darien gets pushback from neighbors

A rendering of the proposed new 7-Eleven convenience, restaurant and gas station on the Post Road.

A rendering of the proposed new 7-Eleven convenience, restaurant and gas station on the Post Road.

DARIEN — A proposed 24-hour 7-Eleven store and gas station is being criticized by neighbors and other Darien residents who say it is an unwelcome addition.

Among concerns for the new business, which would replace Duchess at 306 Boston Post Road, are traffic, crime due to the 24-hour service, a concern over a chain versus a smaller business, the size of the business, and others.

In the application, which was filed at the end of September, it was noted the property is approximately 1.04 acres and is zoned a service business. The property is located on Boston Post Road, directly abutting the Interstate 95 Exit 13 southbound entrance ramp.

P&Z discussed the application earlier this month and will discuss it again on Nov. 24.

Duchess restaurant will be closed and demolished as part of the proposal, but the property will have the same owners, with 7-Eleven leasing it. A small area of inland wetlands is located off-site along the highway entrance ramp; it will not be affected by the development plan.

The Environmental Protection Commission approved 7-Eleven‘s plan in August.

The plan would include a modern gas station, with convenience retail and accessory restaurant in a location “highly suitable for this type of use,” according to the application. It would include six pump islands with fueling on both sides for a total of 12 self-service diesel and gas pumps. It would also include a 4,000-square-foot building that would include typical convenience retail offerings as well as a quick-service restaurant with modest seating open 24 hours a day. The proposal includes 25 parking spaces.

A wall sign of 22.5 square feet featuring the 7-Eleven logo will face Boston Post Road. A pole sign that includes signage for 7-Eleven, the food operator “Raise the Roost,” and the fuel price sign as required by Connecticut law will be located on the proposed pole sign along the property frontage.

Amendments are proposed to Darien’s current zoning regulations to accomodate these plans.

“The provisions of the regulations reflect an older view of motor vehicle services uses, harkening back to a single entity providing gas, repair, and body work for many types of vehicles,” the application states.

The last substantive revision to the regulations was undertaken over 30 years ago, according to the application.

The applicant notes that gas stations have “evolved” since then, with respect to the addition of convenience stores, and also notes that there haven’t been any new gas stations built in Darien in 25 years.

The amendments would allow gas stations to be self-service and eliminates the mandatory garage and storage area if the facility will only operate as a gas sation. It would also reflect a parking requirement for the building uses rather than car repair and storage.

Amendments would also allow accessory uses of retail and quick-service restaurant by special permit.

“Due to existing landscaping, street visibility and the quick decision-making associated with this type of convenience use, 7-Eleven has simultaneously filed for a variance regarding the location and size of the pole sign permitted,” the application said.

Darien Police Chief Donald Anderson said the police department’s administration “has had numerous conversations with residents who have concerns about this proposal.”

Anderson said these concerns “are received and completely understood.” Some of the questions that the Darien Police were asked were do the police have concerns about the following:

— traffic increase in the area

— an increase in traffic collisions in the area

— pedestrian and crosswalk safety in the area

— any potential loitering or criminal activity in a 24 hour a day convenience store/gas station on US 1 and directly adjacent to I-95

Anderson said “the straightforward and reasonable answer here is ‘yes’ to all of the above. The Police Department is always looking to keep the Town of Darien as safe as possible in both traffic management and overarching public safety matters.”

He added that is why the police are following the application very closely and with due diligence.

The Darien Police Commission will further discuss the application at its meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 4 p.m.

Neighbor Rolf Obin sent a letter to the commission pointing out that the Duchess restaurant currently attracts more long-term visitors as a “sit-down, take-out restaurant versus more transient clientele. He argued that six gas station islands will bring more unneeded traffic into town.

“With 24-7 service, and close proximity to the I-95 exit, the vehicles coming off the highway poses safety and security concerns to the town of Darien,” he said.

Obin also said a Darien police officer “lost his life” at the Duchess location.

In 1981, officer Kenny Bateman was shot and killed while investigating a commercial burglar alarm activation early in the morning at a local fast food restaurant. It is the only unsolved murder of a Connecticut police officer on record. Bateman, a seven-year veteran of the Darien Police Department, was 34 at the time of his death.

Obin added that changing town regulations benefits only 7-Eleven.

“In the interest of Darien, I see no reason to approve this site as a gas station; it will bring no added value nor enhance the quality of life in the town of Darien and may in fact have the opposite affect,” he said.

Nick Fletcher, owner of the neighboring office buildings at 320-330 Post Road, said he has invested “millions of dollars and thousands of hours to transform my property into a first-class office campus that has attracted sophisticated high credit tenants who are willing to pay premium rents.”

Fletcher said he does not oppose development of the site, but how it’s being developed — the project would be moved closer to his offices, and relocate its trash containers “directly outside the windows of my office tenants.”

He added that, as a business owner and Darien resident, “I cannot ignore what a 7-Eleven represents and how it impacts the narrative when you enter the town.”

Luisa Spear also wrote a letter to P&Z.

“Post Road is a congested two-lane street. How will the town handle the additional traffic that these six pumps (12 filling stations) with all its freebies will bring?” Spear said.

Spear claimed 7-Eleven has an “aggressive marketing app” and navigation programs will send I-95 traffic to Darien.

“How will town officials justify hurting the long-time establishments that serve us in town and that are mandated to go dark after certain hours,” Spear said.

The 7-Eleven proposal will again be discussed at the Tuesday, Nov 24 P&Z meeting broadcast live at 8 p.m. on Darien TV79. Residents can also log in and watch or comment.