Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission will be holding a public hearing on Thursday, April 11, regarding a proposed zoning map amendment. This amendment would be to place the Municipal Use (MU) overlay zone on 13 properties in town, which would allow for the potential for greater flexibility in future development regarding any possible additions or re-development.
The hearing will take place at 8 p.m. in room 113 of the Mather Center café extension, at 2 Renshaw Road. All residents are welcome to attend.
The MU zone would allow for the possibility of alternate development requirements to the setbacks and building heights of 13 municipally-used buildings including Town Hall; the Department of Public Works garage; and the three town fire departments — Noroton, Noroton Heights and Darien; as well as the seven properties owned by the town and controlled by the Board of Education, which are Darien High School, Middlesex Middle School and the five elementary schools; and the Board of Education office building at 35 Leroy Avenue.
According to Senior Planner Fred Doneit, to date, the Municipal Use zone has already been applied to three properties in town: the Darien Library, the Police Station, and Old Town Hall Homes. “This proposal is simply to place additional municipally owned and/or municipally-used properties in the Municipal Use zone, which gives them potential flexibility in the future” Doneit said. Most of the municipally-used properties in town are in a residential zone. Residential zoning in Darien allows 2 1/2 stories in height and 30 feet maximum, which may not work well for the unique nature of some of these buildings, and their unique uses, which are quite different than a typical single-family house. The municipal use zone gives the town the opportunity to potentially add to the buildings’ height or their number of stories.
Part of the reason for allowing additional height is the “unique nature of schools, town facilities and fire department buildings,” which could benefit from this additional height, according to Jeremy Ginsberg, Planning & Zoning Director. Ginsberg that in the past, Darien High School and Middlesex Middle School have both received building height variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Also, schools are permitted “as-of-right” in residential zones, “which means a Special Permit isn’t needed to add on to those buildings,” Doneit said. “The use of the Municipal Use overlay on a property would require an extra standard of review, as a Special Permit would be needed to invoke to the use of that design flexibility. It’s considered by the Planning & Zoning Commission to be a long range planning tool for which the town has the option, but not the obligation, to use.”
“In the future, the town will have to consider whether it wishes to develop using the current zoning regulations or the municipal overlay zone regulations,” Ginsberg said. “They would have two choices, whether to develop the property in compliance in accordance with the underlying zone of the property, or whether to invoke some of the setback and/or building height flexibility allowed by the MU Zone. With that flexibility would come the need for a Special Permit by the Planning & Zoning Commission.”
Ginsberg added that the April 11 Public Hearing “will allow us to present the information to the public and describe how the municipal use zone could work.”
The full text of the proposed zoning regulation amendments and zoning map amendments are on file and available in the Town Clerk’s office and the Planning and Zoning office for inspection, and online at darienct.gov/pzc.