Darien officials agree to settle lawsuit over controversial Parklands housing development plan

DARIEN — A contentious legal battle is coming to a close after residents, the developer and town officials all approved a compromise to reduce the size and number of apartments in the plan for the controversial Parklands housing complex. 

In April, six residents filed a lawsuit against the town Planning & Zoning Commission and Parklands LLC owner Robert Gillon after the controversial approval of a plan to redevelop the mostly vacant office building at 3 Parklands Drive into a 60-unit apartment building. 

After weeks of deliberations, the P&Z Commission voted 4-0, with one abstention, to authorize the settlement in the lawsuit at Tuesday night’s meeting. 

The agreement was approved by the residents who filed the lawsuit and Gillon before the meeting. 

“I think we both agree it’s a fair and equitable resolution, and the result of fair, serious attention by all parties involved,” said William Hennessy, Gillon’s attorney.

Under the settlement, the number of apartment units will be reduced from 60 total to 57, and the number of affordable units will be reduced from seven to six. 

Also, the height of the roof will be lowered by as much as 13 feet with the removal of gabled and mansard roof elements. 

The agreement also includes enhanced landscaping as a buffer between the complex and its surrounding neighbors. 

“I believe the settlement is fair and reasonable for all sides, and we look forward to having a brand new building in a year or so,” Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Ginsberg said.

“We’re happy to have it resolved,” Vice Chairman George Reilly said.

The fight over the development began almost exactly a year ago, after residents first raised concerns in public hearings over the proposed apartments. 

Despite the complaints, the commission narrowly approved the redevelopment plan. The dramatic vote was met with threats and some profanity as angry residents overwhelmed the Zoom meeting. 

In the lawsuit, which was filed a few months after the approval, residents claimed the development would not comply with town zoning ordinances and would devalue their neighboring properties.

Included in the lawsuit were claims that the development would damage the Dunlap and Selleck Woods, a nature preserve adjacent to the site.

The lawsuit also alleged that one or more of the commission members had a conflict of interest, though no names were included. 

In retaliation, Gillon submitted a new proposal to build a 90-unit complex, larger than the approved development, under 8-30g, a state law that allows a municipality to deny a building the affordable housing quota only if there are significant health and safety issues.

Gillon said he had originally planned to build an 8-30g building but downscaled it to the 60-unit structure he considered a more aesthetically appealing option.