Land use in planning and zoning reform was discussed at length at the July 15 Operations Planning Committee meeting.

“There is a push by a number of groups to move forward a sweeping land use in planning and zoning reform agenda,” Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said.

The groups include the Senate Democratic Caucus, the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, and Desegregate Connecticut.

Desegregate Connecticut is a consortium of individuals and organizations statewide that wish to address desegregation and racial and economic inequity by changing land use and zoning laws, “which is thought to be from the beginning of zoning how segregation occurred,” Stevenson said.

Topics that will be addressed include eliminating single family zoning, reducing parking requirements for multi-family housing, and modernizing traffic and sewer standards.

“They want cities and towns to consider having developments be allowed to construct their own on-site sewage management systems,” she said.

Consideration for changing the way properties are taxed will also be discussed.

“It is changing the balance where you tax land heavier than you tax the constructed unit on a piece of land,” Stevenson said.

Town officials will give feedback and constructive input on how this agenda could work for small towns like Darien.

“I think we all agree that having a more diverse community is a healthier community,” Stevenson said. However, she said it might not be a good idea to have sweeping land use changes to the exclusion of addressing “the deplorable public education system in our urban centers. I hope that the state also takes up a way to ensure that people from Hartford and Bridgeport might be able to move to towns like Darien and Ridgefield, but also how can Hartford and Bridgeport make meaningful improvements in the delivery of their public education to the students that still live there and still want to live there.”

New bike loop

A new Darien/New Canaan bicycle loop was also a topic of interest at the meeting.

This loop can connect notable places in Darien such as its commercial districts and train stations.

WestCOG (Western Connecticut Council of Governments) is finalizing its framework for the loop, according to Stevenson.

“We will put a community committee together to look at it,” she said.

The town will be working with New Canaan on a standard sign for it.

COVID-19 update

In regard to COVID-19, the total number of cases in Darien is about 220. In the last two weeks, more htan 50 percent of the new cases are in young people in their 20s.

Highland Farms

Highland Farms is now open.

“Our landscape consultant is meeting with adjacent neighbors to receive input as we had promised to do, so that we can look to putting some landscaping in,” Stevenson said.

The town is also hoping to put in a meadow of native species for the pollinator pathway.

“It’s about a half mile walking loop and it’s the first ADA compliant walking loop in the town of Darien,” Stevenson said.

The town is looking into funding for the landscaping.

Reserve accounts

Over the summer, the Board of Finance is working with the Board of Selectmen on all reserve accounts. These reserve accounts are set up to pay for many items in town, according to Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky.

Additionally, he said, “If the project is particularly large, you can accrue money into those reserves so that when it comes time to spend the money, the money is already there. It has been taxed.”

Questions town is working on include:

 What sorts of things should we have reserves for?

 How do we manage the reserve accounts once they’re put in place?

 How do we clean out or adjust those reserves as the project evolves?

The Board of Finance will work with the Selectmen to “define the scope that we’re looking at, and then come up with a policy or procedure to provide better governance of all those reserve accounts,” Zagrodzky said.

Affordable housing

The Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved a resolution for a building called 1897 Post Road — the Darien International Tiles building.

The developer will build five apartments and two retail stores, which will be 20 percent affordable.

“It will be another great thing for our town,” Chairman Steve Olvany said.

It’s about a 10,000-square-foot building that will match the height of the Noroton Fire Department building.

It was the mercantile center of Darien for hundreds of years, according to Terrie Wood

Over the last 20 years, Darien has put in 31.4 percent affordable housing in the town, according to Olvany.

“Our requirement as a town is 12 percent of new construction has to be affordable,” he said. “The state requirement is 10 percent.”

The town is beginning work on its Affordable Housing Plan. It’s due in July of 2022.

New construction, movement

The Planning & Zoning Commission also approved 34 Old Kings Highway to be a 5,000-square-foot, two-story office building with a 1,300-square-foot rooftop outdoor terrace.

“We’re getting a permanent easement through the property for parking that’s being given to the town,” Olvany said. “In exchange for that, we’re allowing them to do the rooftop terrace.”

The Commission also approved a new location for Glen Liquors. Glen Liquors was one of the last locations in Darien that was in Noroton Heights that had not found a new location.

“They found a home in the Old Kennedy’s Barbershop Club, which is between the Darien Sport Shop and Webster Bank,” Olvany said.

Construction work has stopped at Palmer’s, due to COVID-19.

Olvany told The Darien Times that in some cases, construction lenders can withhold funds of construction monies if there is a pandemic or COVID situation.

At this time, there is no expected date as to when construction will resume.

However, he added there is still movement on the site.

“They brought in cultex units into the Palmer’s site,” he said. Cultex units are large concrete structures. The units hold millions of gallons of water.

“They had tractor trailers coming in and dropping off them into the parking lot,” he added.

Stevenson is asking parents to encourage children to not walk on Heights Road between Hollow Tree and Noroton Avenue, due to the construction in that area.

Special session, telehealth coverage

State Rep. Terrie Wood gave an update on Connecticut voting, saying there will be a tentative special session July 22. Absentee ballots and potentially mail-in voting will be discussed at that time.

Discussions include expanding the statutory language on why someone can vote absentee. There is also police accountability legislation as well as a discussion on telehealth coverage.

“Right now we have telehealth coverage to the end of August.,” Wood said. “We are looking to extend that to the end of December, possibly into early spring.”

Watch the Operations Planning Committee meeting on Darien TV/79.

sfox@darientimes.com