Sale of Darien's Noroton Heights Shopping Center paves way for long-anticipated redevelopment

DARIEN — After years of delays, the former Noroton Heights Shopping Center is finally getting a long overdue makeover. 

Darien-based real estate development and investment company V20 Group purchased four acres of the former shopping center from its owners, the Palmer family, to finally begin redevelopment on the empty shopping center after years of delays. The deal was finalized on March 1.

With a prime location across from the Noroton Heights train station, the upcoming development — renamed Noroton Crossing — will become a mixed-use community geared toward local commuters, featuring apartment housing, restaurants and retail and a private preschool. 

“It’s been a pursuit that’s lasted some time, but we’re very excited about it,” said V20 Group partner Joe Vaccaro.

Vaccaro said V20 Group has been part of the redevelopment since mid-2020, originally as partners with the Palmer family, guiding some of the revised plans through the planning and zoning process in 2021 and early 2022. 

First approved in 2017, the redevelopment was originally intended for completion in summer 2021, but pandemic-related delays, including losing its original construction lender, halted any progress on the site. The family eventually decided to sell the property.

Most recently, V20 Group’s acquisition was delayed for several months by a wrongful eviction lawsuit between the Palmers’ company and a former shopping center tenant, Jimmy’s Southside Tavern.

The Palmer family is no longer involved in the redevelopment, but will maintain ownership of the remaining property, including Palmer's Market. 

“As a cornerstone business in town for more than 100 years, it’s exciting to be part of the revitalization of this neighborhood,” Cindy Palmer said in a press release. “With the completion of the Darien Commons just around the corner and the Vaccaro project breaking ground in the next few weeks, we think the neighborhood is going to bring incredible new life to the Darien community.”

The ground floor of Noroton Crossing will feature two full service restaurants, two fast casual restaurants, two retail spaces and a branch of the Goddard School franchise, an early childhood education provider.

The second and third stories will house 65 apartments including 30 one-bedroom units, 31 two-bedroom units and four three-bedroom units.

The apartments will lean more on the luxury side, Vaccaro said, similar to those in the upcoming Corbin District. The addition of three-bedroom units is also something that set the development apart, since he said “there’s not many, if any,” units of that scale in town. 

Of the 65 units, 10 will be designated as affordable housing  — five one-bedroom and five two-bedroom units, roughly 15 percent of the building.

“They’re the same finishes, same everything else,” Vaccaro said of the affordable units. “We chose to give it a little bit higher percentages towards the affordable just to help out the town.”

Construction is tentatively slated to begin in spring this year and take less than two years. Retail is expected to move in by early 2024 and apartment residents around late 2024 through early 2025. Demolition equipment is already onsite and could begin within the week, pending permit approval.

Since announcing the upcoming work, Vaccaro said he had received a lot of “thank yous” from residents in town, many of whom he said were relieved that the “eyesore” of a stalled development would soon be gone.

In the past, residents even filed complaints with the town's blight review board, though the board could only respond to residential complaints, not commercial.

“It would have been better if the former owner had just knocked it down,” Vaccaro said. “It really caused a lot of angst for a lot of the citizens in town. From our perspective, we're happy that we can cure that angst and fix it and turn it into what we think is going to be a really beautiful development."

With the two construction projects in Noroton Heights, the revitalization downtown and the Parklands redevelopment approved, Vaccaro said Darien is transforming into a unique place to live relative to neighboring towns and cities.

“Darien has always had this prohibition on development,” he said. “Now that you start looking around and you see what’s going on, it’s actually a very, very exciting place to live.”