An application for a redesigned Noroton Heights Shopping Center was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday night. Led by Palmer’s Market, the new development would transform the existing strip shopping center into a mixed-use development with retail shopping, office space and apartments.

The proposed development will include a net increase of:

  • 1,541 square feet of retail space
  • 2,576 square feet of restaurant space
  • 57 new residential units. (There are currently two residential units on site

One of the project’s goals is to give the Noroton Heights area a new sense of place by redeveloping the area in the style of a village. This would include new public plaza spaces and a complete restructuring of the shopping center’s traffic flow. Representatives for the shopping center have said the new village would have a pedestrian focus and seeks to capitalize on the proximity of the Noroton Heights train station.

“It was extremely important to us to create something that would be well received by those living in the Noroton Heights neighborhood, and would be looked upon as a net positive for Darien,” James Palmer said during previous public hearings.

Palmer said the application is the culmination of five years of work and the development team approached the project with the idea of modernizing the shopping center. The application’s 3.96 acre site area stretches roughly from Palmer’s Market to Glenn Liquors. Noroton Heights’ existing buildings reflect their 1950s origins and Palmer described the site as anti-pedestrian. With street facing parking and several large parking lots Palmer said the shopping center was designed for cars rather than walking shoppers.

In order to redevelop the site, the building housing Jimmy’s Southside Tavern, Greenlight Driving School, Barrett Bookstore and more would be demolished. Two mixed-used buildings with first floor retail and upper floor apartments would be developed in its place. A total of 59 one and two bedroom apartments have been proposed for the project, along with 24,481 square feet of retail space and 8,646 square feet of restaurant space.

In an effort to transform the area, the site plan includes a number of pedestrian walkways linking the different buildings and a public plaza meant for gatherings and events. Major changes would be made to the shopping center’s access points, completely removing the perpendicular street parking in favor of wider streets along the exterior of the development.

Noroton Heights has long been a target for redevelopment, with town officials identifying the neighborhood as a focus in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development. The smaller apartments provided by the mixed-use developments also provide new housing stock for Darien residents without children. Officials had expressed concerns that aging Darien residents were often choosing to move to nearby towns due to a lack of housing options.

As a part of the application the Shopping Center has submitted new parking and sewage studies conducted at the site area. Representatives for the project said additional parking details are forthcoming, but a supply of 402 spaces has been proposed, with more than 30 to be provided underground for apartment tenants.

Noroton Heights has suffered from regular flooding and is already a focus area for the Darien’s Department of Public Works. DPW Director Ed Gentile said he has met with developers from both Palmer’s and Federal Realty to discuss drainage relief.

During a previous  Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, Gentile said the town has already received a state grant towards work in the parking lot of the Noroton Heights Railroad station, near The Depot and Post 53, the town’s volunteer EMS responders. Gentile believes that public-private partnership in the area could make an even bigger impact on the flooding issues.

In conjunction with the area’s redevelopment, the Town of Darien will be hosting a public information meeting on Thursday, May 11 at 7 p.m. in the Mather Center adjacent to Town Hall  to discuss the Noroton Heights Station Area Study. The purpose of this study is to identify and address transportation needs in the station area relative to safety, traffic operations, accessibility, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and parking.

The public meeting will be held to provide interested citizens an opportunity to learn about the study purpose, initial study findings, and share their insights and concerns with the project team.

Attendees should RSVP by noon on May 8 to Jeremy Ginsberg at JGinsberg@darienct.gov.

On Wednesday morning, Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini called the approval an “important step in commencing with the comprehensive development of the Noroton Heights business district.”

“We expect to begin reviewing Federal Realty’s site plan in early June,” he said.