Zoning board: ‘Social media frenzy’ cause of concern
DARIEN — A high volume of emails and Facebook posts about the proposed downtown redevelopment led Planning and Zoning Chairwoman Susan Cameron to condemn the “social media frenzy” spurred by the project.
The much-debated proposed amendments to Darien Zoning Regulations to the Central Business District by Baywater Partners were, according to Cameron, the subject of an influx of inappropriate emails sent to the personal accounts of commissioners in the past two weeks.
Cameron began deliberation on Baywater’s Corbin Drive proposal at the Tuesday meeting of Planning and Zoning by addressing the emails, as well as an incident in which her personal address was posted to Facebook. Because some messages were sent to her personal email account, Cameron said she stands a chance of being forced to disclose the entire account, in keeping with the Freedom of Information Act.
“We request public input on projects,” Cameron said. “However, over the last 10 days, after the close of the public hearing, we were besieged with emails — inappropriate emails, petitions, Facebook posts, including my personal email address.”
Cameron’s personal email account was not the only one shared on social media. The personal email addresses of all of the commissioners were posted on Facebook.
Furthermore, Cameron said, she was surprised by the misinformation present in so many of the emails she received, which she added would not be considered at this time for the record because of the way in which they were received.
“A lot of you who wrote emails don’t seem to understand what we’re talking about here. What we’re deliberating is not a project. It is not specific to a developer. It should not be specific to a developer. It’s a zone change,” Cameron explained.
Adding to Cameron’s point, Commissioner John Sini said the misunderstanding in regard to the nature of Planning and Zoning’s decision on the amendments may, in fact, extend to the developer.
“I’m not even sure the applicant truly understands what this is all about,” Sini said, in reference to a list circulated in recent months by David Genovese, founder of Baywater Properties, of the top 15 reasons the commission should approve “the project.” Sini stressed that any renderings shown at this point were strictly conceptual and that they are far from official site plans.
Cameron went so far as to ask each of the commissioners if they felt it appropriate to proceed in the Baywater discussion, despite the inappropriate emails, to which the commission replied in the affirmative.
Though the commission stressed its decision is not specific to any one developer, the amendments would allow Genovese and his business partner, Penny Glassmeyer, to return to Planning and Zoning and present site plans under the new regulations for their proposed redevelopment of the 11.2-acre parcel of land in the Central Business District bound by Interstate 95, the Post Road and Corbin Drive.
Among the changes proposed by Baywater are an allowance for larger, mixed-use development at heights up to six stories and 85 feet, provided the buildings are set back a designated distance from the road, for parking spaces slightly smaller than those required elsewhere in Darien, and requirements for public plaza space.
Citing car lengths that she researched independently, Cameron said she worried that spots 9-by-18 feet would be hazardous, especially in subsurface, enclosed parking structures like the developer has mentioned. In the rest of town, 9-by-20 is the standard size.
Commissioner Stephen Olvany argued, however, that because of the increased cost of creating structured parking, it is common practice to make spaces smaller in order to fit more cars.
The commission also scaled back Genovese’s request for a six-story building at 85 feet, saying the height per story proposed by the developer was not necessary. Instead, the commission agreed they would recommend five or six stories at no more than 65 feet.
“Nobody I’ve talked to has cared about six stories; what they’ve cared about is the height,” Olvany said, on the possibility of still allowing six stories.
Planning and Zoning has until Sept. 27 to decide on the zoning changes.
“One of the emails to my personal email address said something to the effect that she knew both sides of the story. I don’t think there are two sides to the story. I think we’re one community and we’re trying to enable the most fair, just regulation change to bring this forward,” Sini said.