Darien’s Noroton Heights neighborhood is expected to see a major facelift in the coming years with multiple upcoming redevelopment projects and an ongoing platform replacement at the Metro North station. With the help of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, town officials have commissioned a study of the area, doing their part to understand what changes in infrastructure and policy could benefit the neighborhood.

A joint group of consultants from the NV5 Global, Inc. team held an information session on the goals of the Noroton Heights Area Study on May 18 and welcomed feedback from the public regarding transportation in the area. The stated goal of the study is to support “transit-oriented development” and economic growth near Noroton Heights.

Earlier this month, Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission approved plans to redevelop the Noroton Heights Shopping Center into mixed-use complex around Palmer’s Market with more than 40 new apartments. The commission is also reviewing plans for a larger mixed-use development proposed by Federal Realty, the property neighboring the Noroton Heights Shopping Center. That development is expected to add some 70 apartments to the area as well.

Based on findings from the NV5 Team, there is an ongoing demand for new apartment stock near public transportation in the region, particularly for smaller units. As proposed, the apartments in the Noroton Heights developments will be marketed towards adults without children who are looking to downsize from a larger single-family home.

There is also an observed demand for convenience and specialty retail shops, such as book stores, tailors or pharmacies. Similarly, non-chain restaurants were seen as a high value addition to the development area. Consultants advised against box retail stores and new office space, though there is a growing interest in renting medical office space as off-site treatment and specialty care become more common.

Along with the market analysis of Noroton Heights, the NV5 Team also made recommendations on how the traffic patterns and pedestrian walkways could be improved. Several traffic experts have already examined the area as a part the Noroton Heights Shopping Center redevelopment application and changes are expected to be made to the timings of the traffic lights along Noroton Avenue, Heights Road and West Avenue. NV5 also suggested that changes to the turning lanes could help facilitate the flow of cars at peak commuter times.

Almost 1,000 people are currently on the waitlist for an annual commuter parking permit, with a total of 808 issued to the public. Metro North lists the number of weekday boardings at the Noroton Heights station at about 1,500, with about two-thirds of those occurring during peak morning transit hours. Of 220 commuters who responded to a public survey for the Noroton Heights Area Study, 51% used the daily pay stations while 14% said they parked off-site. A rough estimate from NV5 found that 75% of the commuters parking offsite arrived before the train station lots were full.

While observing the traffic and parking conditions in the area, members of the NV5 Team determined that dozens of people were parking in the parking lot of the Noroton Heights Shopping Center before commuting on the train. The parking lot rarely approached capacity while these cars were parked, but the large number of commuters parking offsite led the consultants to recommend a joint parking plan with the town leasing as many as 100 spaces from Palmer’s Market to help mitigate local parking.

Maintaining the focus on transit strategies, NV5 suggested that the town do more to support the 344 bus route that runs through Noroton Heights. The bus currently has several stops in the area but lacks a prominent bus stop or shelter for riders to wait. Gregory Del Rio, NV5’s Director of Transportation, said that providing a dignified location for commuters could encourage more use of the bus.

Following the information session the consultants spilt community members into groups to provide constructive feedback on what they would like to see in Noroton Heights. The groups included selectmen, police officers, Representative Town Meeting members and daily commuters who were able to exchange idea and share their recommendations with the team behind the study.

The NV5 team will continue their study of the Noroton Heights area and will be launching a website containing their initial findings. They are expected to return with their strategy recommendations and final report in the coming months.

kwebb@darientimes.com