Public hearing for The Commons at Noroton Heights expected to close Tuesday
Next week will likely be the last opportunity for Darien residents to provide public comment on The Commons at Noroton Heights, a planned development at the current location of the Stop & Shop and Walgreen’s Shopping Center. Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission is expected to close the hearing and begin deliberations during their July 11 meeting.
Public hearings on The Commons opened last month and the commission has conducted its review of the site plan over the course of their last three meetings. Developer Federal Realty plans to construct a mixed-use development with 122 one- and two-bedroom apartments; the available commercial space would be increased by about 30% to a total of 121,338 square feet.
Based on the site plan there would be one commercial building and two mixed-use residential buildings with retail on the bottom floor and apartments on the upper levels. The development would have a height restriction of three-stories and 45 feet based on zoning amendments already approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Discussions during the public hearings so far have focused on the Federal’s efforts to mitigate the impact of such a large development in the Noroton Heights neighborhood. Noroton Avenue and Heights Road already suffer from heavy traffic during peak commute hours due to the Noroton Heights train station and proximity to I-95.The commission has heard testimony from traffic experts and town peer reviewers on how to best restructure the area’s traffic patterns. Strategies included new turning lanes and adjusted timings for stop lights.
Federal Realty also presented a detailed drainage plan for the site area, which is known to flood during large storms. The developer will install several culverts around the property along with an underground tank capable of holding more than 170,000 cubic feet of water. An engineer for the project said the new drainage system in the site area should reduce incidents of flooding by about 45 percent, though major five and 10-year storms would still cause some backup.
Town peer reviewers made some technical recommendations on the design of the drainage plan, which is the one of the few outstanding items keeping the hearing open. During a June 27 meeting the town’s engineer said Federal’s representatives have already responded to their recommendations and made the appropriate changes.
Public comments during the hearings have primarily been concerned with the local flooding. Residents have asked the town to compel developers in the area to address the issue. During public hearings Department of Public Works Director Ed Gentile said developers for both The Commons project and the neighboring Noroton Heights Shopping Center have gone beyond the requirements for flood mitigation and have been cooperating with the town throughout the process. The town is also pursuing a separate project to install a culvert near the Noroton Heights train station to further divert flood waters.
The Commons redevelopment would also introduce a number of new walking paths and green space in the area to make the shopping destination more welcoming to neighbors. A new park lined with birch trees would serve as a pedestrian entrance on Noroton Avenue while a public plaza space would face the entrance at Heights Road.
The Planning & Zoning Commission has already approved a mixed-use redevelopment of the Noroton Heights Shopping Center containing Palmer’s Market that includes 57 apartments. The Corbin project, another major redevelopment planned for downtown Darien is also proposing mixed-use buildings with about 60 apartments in total.
By providing solely one- and two-bedroom apartments in these projects, developers are targeting young adults and “empty nesters,” working or retired adults without children. Town officials have previously discussed the need for more diverse housing stock within Darien, as aging residents often to look to neighboring communities like Rowayton and New Canaan when they want to downsize their homes. Federal Realty representative Patrick McMahon said both the building are designed in a manner to attract working adults rather than full families, foregoing amenities like a pool or full gym, and even bathtubs in the apartments.
“We’ve met with Dr. Brenner and Michael [Harman], it goes without saying your school system here is phenomenal and there will be people attracted to it,” McMahon said. “Certainly we will have what we think will be a handful of people because of it, but we don’t think it’s going to be significant.”
Public hearing for The Commons at Noroton Heights will continue at the Planning & Zoning Commission's July 11th meeting. Questions and public comment on the application can be sent in advance to Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.