What do Darien retail tenants want? To be near medical and dental offices, says real estate firm

Alexander Soule / Hearst Connecticut Media Group

DARIEN — Citing a changing market, the real estate firm Federal Realty is petitioning the town’s Planning and Zoning commission to allow medical and dental offices to take up prime real estate at a burgeoning new downtown development.

The Darien Commons, a mixed-use reimagination of downtown Darien, includes around 63,000 square feet of retail space and has already begun leasing to retail tenants, like Walgreens and Equinox. The Commons are currently in the Noroton Heights Business Zone, which places certain regulations on what kind of tenants are allowed to occupy the storefronts.

But given a vastly different real estate market, developers with Federal Realty asked commissioners during a meeting last week to change a section of Darien’s zoning regulations to allow certain tenants — like medical spas and dental offices — to occupy spaces on the first floor.

They are also asking for the option to update the regulations to allow for “co-working spaces” in the future. Co-working spaces allow workers from different companies to work together in a common space.

Federal Realty’s rationale, senior vice president Patrick McMahon told the commission, is that traditional retailers are now eyeing the benefits of being in close proximity to medical offices.

McMahon said Federal Realty approached the commission because of its leases with certain tenants, including a women’s apparel store. The store’s owner wants to be located adjacent to a medical spa or a dentist’s office before executing their lease, McMahon said.

“Their customer is the same customer that’s walking into that medical spa. ... That spa or that dentist office is creating a reason to be on the street, on the sidewalk,” McMahon said. “The retail world has evolved considerably and for us, it truly is about creating a self-sustaining healthy retail ecosystem.”

Federal Realty has three prospective tenants that would benefit from the zoning change — a medical spa, a dental office, and a doctor’s office, McMahon said.

Darien Commons first gained approval from the zoning commission in 2016, with the option to consider some retail leasing on the first floor of buildings. While some retailers and tenants have been moved in, the project will likely be completed in 2023.

Commission members did not immediately vote on the prospect of amending the regulations. Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg said the commission would likely take up a final decision July 12.

Mike Murray, a lawyer representing the project, said the change will not impact the neighborhood negatively, pointing out that these specific types of tenants are already in place in upper-floor stores.

“We’re very mindful of the fact that when this was approved, the intent was to create a community feel, a village feel, with lots of pedestrian access and whatnot,” Murray said. “This proposal doesn’t take away from that.”