Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission has approved The Commons at Noroton Heights, a mixed-use development that will bring 122 new apartments and a retail makeover to the portion of Noroton Heights containing Stop & Shop & Walgreens. Proposed by Federal Realty, the project is the second major redevelopment to be approved for Noroton Heights this year; Palmer’s Market is leading a redesign of the shopping center on the other end of Heights Road.

Both developers are looking to transform the Noroton Heights shopping district into a village-style community that is welcoming to pedestrians. The Commons would introduce two three-story buildings with retail and restaurant space occupying the lower level and residential space on the second and third floors, as well as two single story retail structures. An underground parking deck would also be added to provide additional spaces for residents.

There is also an emphasis shared community spaces, with a new park planned along Noroton Avenue and several areas for outside seating and public gatherings. The entrance at Heights Road would also include a public plaza and promenade leading to the heart of the development. The Commons will host about 30,000 more feet of retail and restaurant space than the existing shopping area.

Redevelopment of Noroton Heights is one of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s priorities, as listed in the Town Plan of Conservation & Development. While vetting both the The Commons and Palmer’s Market applications the commission has worked to lessen the impact on the surrounding neighborhood by reducing the initially proposed density and requesting quality of life improvements to the area’s infrastructure.

In a statement to the Darien Times, Commission Chairman John Sini said, “In conjunction with the recently approved Palmer's property redevelopment, Federal Reality's project will not only positively transform the Noroton Heights Business District, but deliver long desired flood mitigation infrastructure and traffic flow improvements to the area. “

Because Noroton Heights is located in a flood zone the commission asked the developers to go above and beyond the standard expectations to improve water drainage. Federal Realty has committed to installing multiple underground culverts to store water during major storms, and expects flooding incidents to go down by about 45 percent. Traffic studies conducted as a part of the project will also lead adjustments of the lanes and traffic light timings in order to facilitate the increase in traffic. Town peer reviewers cosigned Federal’s plans for parking, flood mitigation and traffic.

Through public hearings for the Noroton Heights projects there was a shared sentiment that the existing shopping district had grown outdated with few walkable routes around the district and difficult traffic conditions during peak hours. Developers have cooperated with the commission to help restructure the area in a way to prepare for the influx of new residents and protect the existing neighbors.

The new Noroton Heights apartments will be limited to just one or two bedrooms and are intended for “empty nesters,” adults without children who are looking to downsize from a large home. Increasing housing diversity in town has been another priority for officials as they look to prevent senior residents from leaving the community due to a lack of options.

While some residents took issue with the scale of the proposed developments during early public hearings, many of the necessary zoning requirements had already been put into place by the Federal site’s previous owner, Thomas Golden. Both redevelopment projects build on the recommendations of the “Golden Plan,” which was developed in 2007 to provide a future outlook on the Noroton Heights shopping district.

With two major developments on the way and the platforms at the Noroton Heights train station currently being replaced, the business district has begun a transformation that will impact the neighborhood for decades to come.