Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission has begun its review of the Corbin Project, a mixed-use redevelopment of downtown Darien proposed by local developer Baywater Properties. The project aims to transform downtown Darien into a pedestrian-friendly community with a vibrant blend of restaurants, shopping destinations and social spaces.
In early 2017 the commission approved zoning regulations intended for a prior version of the Corbin Project that called for buildings as tall as five-stories and an underground parking deck. Baywater has completely revamped their design in the time since, with Beinfield Architecture working to craft a new site plan that is less dense and more in the line with the existing buildings downtown.
The Corbin Project area spans from the current Bank of America Building on Post Road to the intersection of Corbin Drive and Old Kings Highway South. Baywater Principal David Genovese and partner developer Penny Glassmeyer have spent have more than a decade acquiring properties downtown with the goal of revitalizing Darien’s central business district.
The total site area is 7.17 acres; existing office space downtown would grow from 45,961 to 81,200 square feet while retail space would increase from 52,579 to 81,730 square feet. Baywater has proposed 30 one-bedroom apartments and 87 two-bedroom apartments for the development, targeted at aging adults without children. The Corbin Project also features 27,933 square feet of public plaza space and 16,910 square feet of restaurant space.
On Tuesday, Beinfield described his goals in the Corbin Project’s design; preserving the aesthetics of a coastal New England town and restoring the village feel of the downtown shopping area. No building in the updated site plan exceeds four-stories and the first floor of the development will be occupied by retail and restaurant space. A new town green five times the size of the Grove Street Plaza would be situated in the center of the project area, to help cultivate a sense of community.
“The organic growth of downtown Darien has been constrained by two major transportation projects,” Beinfield said on Tuesday. “In the 1850s the railway bisected the town, severing the connected fabric of the village, and in the 1950s, the construction of the throughway became another barrier to the development of the downtown. These interventions limited Darien’s potential to develop a vital downtown shopping district.”
Beyond introducing dozens of new apartments and increasing retail and office space, the project will restructure traffic and parking downtown to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment. Corbin Drive would serve as “Main Street” for the new downtown providing access to new village square and marketplace areas, along with restructured parking. New walking paths between the Centre Street parking lot and Corbin Drive would further increase walkability downtown.
Beinfield explained that residents living downtown would be able to shop, socialize and commute into New York City without needing a car. On Tuesday, Genovese said Baywater wants to encourage shoppers to explore downtown on foot.
He said, “Our biggest hope is getting rid of all of that back-out parking and creating a truly pedestrian environment where you feel safe walking down the road, number one, and number two, there are more engaging things to walk by: cool restaurants, more people on the street. It will be more pleasant to walk so people will walk more.”
While pedestrians are a focus for the Corbin Project, providing ample parking remains a major responsibility. The project offers 805 parking spaces, 187 which will be available on-street level while 618 will be spread across parking structures in the zone. Darien’s zoning regulations call for the project to have more spaces based on the density but the development team has used peak-demand metrics to determine an ideal number of spaces. Because of the density of the project, the site plan is subject to more scrutiny from traffic and parking consultants, including those at the state level.
Parking was one of the main factors in the Corbin Project’s redesign, as Baywater considers the future of retail shopping and transportation. Genovese is confident that the use of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft will continue to increase in the coming years and the advent of commercial driverless cars doesn’t seem too far away. Still, the Corbin Project will provide the necessary parking for residents and commuters with the goal of finding a proper balance in available spaces between office workers and retail shoppers.
With the Corbin Project getting a lengthy introduction in front of the Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday, public hearings were extended to the commission’s next meeting on July 31. To learn more about the project and see more images from the site plan, visit YourDowntownDarien.com.