Some tenants in Darien shopping center object to project timeline
One by one, over the past year, the businesses in the Noroton Heights Shopping Center are relocating or closing down as demolition readies this fall.
The redevelopment of Noroton Heights includes razing the existing buildings west of Palmer’s Market and building two three-story buildings with 59 residential units and first-floor retail, complete with a public plaza. It was originally approved in May 2017 by Planning & Zoning.
Some businesses appear to be moving out seamlessly and without issue, while others — not so much.
James Love, manager of Jimmy’s Southside Tavern, is not very pleased about moving out so quickly. In fact, he said he’s not planning on leaving for another year.
On Aug. 12, Jimmy’s posted a notification on its Facebook page that said, “Just wanted to shout out and let you know that we are not intending of going anywhere September 1. We have a 12 year lease and intend on doing business so please come and enjoy our great neighborhood spot!”
As of Aug. 22, the post had 13 shares and 20 comments from members of the community, which all sounded very positive upon hearing this news.
In a conversation with The Darien Times, Love said Jimmy’s “is living up to the terms of its lease.”
According to Love, the original plan he had with the shopping center is that the project would be done in “three phases.”
“We would pick a space to build a restaurant. When we are ready to move into that space, we would vacate our space willingly, and then our space would be ready for demolition,” Love said. “Now we are being told they would like us to leave by the end of the month. That’s not why we invested all our money years ago — to pack up and walk away.”
“We had picked the space a year and a half ago, everything seemed to be on par,” he said.
However, he said, “they changed their mind and are taking everyone down.”
He said that when Greg Palmer, owner of the Noroton Heights Development, “was quoted on some Internet site the weekend of July 4 that said we are closing everyone down. I got calls from my staff asking if we are losing our job.”
In addition, he said there are a lot of neighbors who “are not happy.”
“We are trying to let our customers know that we are there. People are calling every other day,” he said.
Love added that he is “all for the project being done as originally planned. We are just running our business the way we agreed from the start in 2010.”
“We just want to keep our clients informed that we aren’t plowed out. We aren’t locking the doors September 1,” he added.
At the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on July 30, Palmer informed the commission that the project would no longer be done in phases and the buildings would be demolished all at once. The Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved the plan change after Palmer and town P&Z Director Jeremy Ginsberg said a pre-meeting with various involved town departments had signed off on the new plan.
Following the meeting, a letter was sent to Palmer from P&Z confirming the change.
“We understand that it is now the intention of Noroton Heights Shopping Center Inc. to complete the redevelopment of the subject property in a single phase, rather than in the multiple phases originally approved,” the letter from Senior Planner Fred Doneit said.
It noted that the request was unanimously approved by the commission, and the cc’s on the letter included First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Darien Police Capt. Donald Anderson, Darien Health Department Director David Knauf, attorney Robert Maslan, Town Assessor Anthony Homicki, Fire Marshal Bob Buch, and Public Works Director Ed Gentile.
Palmer, owner of Palmer’s Market and Noroton Heights Shopping Center, told The Darien Times the shopping center is closing down and all stores in it need to move out by the end of the month.
“We’ve been negotiating with [the stores]. They are working with us. They have known this has been coming for two years, we got approvals two years ago,” Palmer said.
“We are working to get started with the project this fall,” he added.
There were also issues with Darien Doughnut moving out. This business is not relocating and is closing down for good by the end of the month.
In November of 2018, a lawsuit was filed between Darien Doughnut and Noroton Heights Shopping Center, in regard to a claim that the donut shop has broken its lease by selling products that are competing with Palmer’s Market.
There was also a counterclaim by Darien Doughnut, stating that Noroton Heights Shopping Center “turned to false accusations and harassment, in an effort to force [Darien Doughnut] from the premises so it could commence the demolition of the existing buildings and break ground on its redevelopment project.”
Though Palmer told The Darien Times the lawsuit had been settled, the last document listed in the court filings was an early September conference call and Bill Tamme, owner of Darien Doughnut, would not comment on the lawsuit’s status.
The attorneys of both parties could not be reached for comment.
“Finding a great location”
Other businesses on Heights Road said they are now focusing their energy on finding a new location with which to serve the community.
Kerri Jaffe, who oversees marketing and sales at Glen Wine & Spirits — which is also located on Heights Road — sent a letter to all their customers saying that despite rumors to the contrary, Glen Wine & Spirits is “actively seeking a new location right here in Noroton Heights.”
“You can expect us to continue operations at our current location through early fall and to keep all of you informed as we finalize our new location,” Jaffe wrote in regard to the 40-year-old business.
“We’ve been in Darien and Noroton Heights for 40 years and we are looking at multiple locations within the same neighborhoods,” she told The Darien Times. “Our goal is to stay in the neighborhood where we have been.”
Jaffe added that “in any situation like this, a local business needs as much time as possible in order to find a new, viable location. We are focused on finding a great location where we can continue to serve the Fairfield community as we have since 1979, and to elevate both our products and services for our guests.”
Joe Warren, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, is looking at the space next to Jake’s Diner on Ledge Road to relocate his business. He doesn’t plan on moving back to his former location once the renovations are complete.
“It’s a little smaller. My store is 600 square feet. The smallest space in the new development is 1,200 square feet,” he said, adding that he doesn’t need all the extra space.
Embody Fitness Gourmet Manager James Christian said he will be relocating to a new place in town. He has been on Heights Road for five years.
Christian said he feels very “positive” about the situation.
“It’s a good start to a new beginning, a fresh new start,” he said. A temporary location for Embody was also discussed at the July 30 P&Z meeting — possibly a trailer.
The Noroton Heights Post Office posted a notice in their window Thursday that as of Sept. 6, it will be relocated temporarily from 368 Heights Road to 264 Heights Road. Hours of operation for the temporary location will be Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m. and 12 to 4:30 p.m. Retail servcies and P.O. Box Service will remain available. Darien still has a second post office on Corbin Drive that runs regular hours.
“We apologize for the inconvenience that this may cause and we appreciate your understanding as we re-locate to a new location,” Postmaster Lisa Dixon wrote.
Barrett Bookstore, a long-time Noroton Heights retailer, relocated to the Corbin building in the spring and had an official ribbon cutting in April.
Barrett will remain at that location upon completion of the Corbin District, another large-scale redevelopment for Darien — this one planned by David Genovese and Baywater Properties downtown.
“We’ve negotiated a lease that provides for us to relocate them into the new project, as a focal point tenant,” Genovese said.
“A local bookstore ranks at the top of our list for what makes a downtown interesting and unique,” he said.
Another tenant that left the Heights permanently is, ironically, Heights Pizza. It took over the former Planet Pizza location on the Post Road not far from Darien train station.
Palmer told P&Z that the project should begin breaking ground in October.
Additional reporting by Susan Shultz.