Preliminary plans for major re-development of downtown Darien were unveiled before a special joint meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Architectural Review Board Tuesday night. Helmed by Baywater Properties founder David Genovese, the project aims to transform the area of Corbin Drive and Boston Post Road into a new mixed-use development with a town green for social gatherings.
This project is one of passion for Genovese, business partner Penny Glassmeyer and their affiliates, who have been working to acquire the necessary property in the downtown area since 2007. Part of that property, Genovese explained, was sold to him by the late Stephen Zangrillo, founder of the Darien Sport Shop, and Dr. Edward Felder with the purpose of revitalizing Darien’s downtown.
“When I started working on this project it has occurred to me daily what a privilege and honor it is to be able to work on such an important project,” Genovese said. “One that could have such a meaningful impact on my hometown, the lives of my family and friends, my children’s friends.”
Genovese described the project as possibly one of the most complex to come before the Planning & Zoning Commission, considering it’s scale. Gary Brewer of Robert Stern Architects is responsible for the project’s redesign with a resume that includes the Spangler Campus Center at Harvard University and the Perkins Visitor Center at Wave Hill in Bronx, N.Y.
“We will move as quickly as you will allow us to, we own almost all of the land now, we have the ability to raise the financing and we believe we have good ideas and support from some of the best minds in the real estate business,” Genovese said.
Brewer said that roughly 76 housing units would be included in the development, with 8 or 9 being designated as affordable housing to increase the town’s stock. The site plan includes the creation of new roads that would alter the flow of traffic along Post Road, and nearly all of the structures and empty lots from the Bank of America building at 1120 Post Road to the Corbin Building at 10 Corbin Drive would be replaced with new buildings.
That would include the Post Road storefronts included in that strip, such as Olivette, Wiggles & Giggles and the Darien Toy Box. In their place, the buildings facing Post Road would vary between two and three stories with retail and restaurant space on the first level and office or residential space above. The pull-out parking in along the Post Road would be done away completely to help alleviate the traffic and safety concerns caused by drivers backing out of the spaces.
A new village green would face out towards Post Road as well, bordered by additional retail developments. Genovese said that this space could be used for gatherings, Summer Nights concerts or could possibly be turned into an ice rink during the cold weather months. A Market Building, designed in the image of a classic New England Town Hall would sit in the rear of the green, to add to the aesthetic. Two sister buildings would enclose the sides of the green and provide additional retail or restaurant space along the edges.
The building that currently houses Bank of America would become three floor retail/office building leading into downtown. Bordering that retail/office space would be a new street, “Mill Road,” which would connect Post Road to Old Kings Highway via a service road. Another new route, “Market Lane,” would run parallel to Post Road between Mill Road and Corbin Drive. The creation of the new roads to facilitate downtown traffic was recommended in the past by the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) in its Route 1 Corridor Study and by the Connecticut Main Street Center in its 2006 action plan.
Market Lane would be home to most of the development’s largest buildings, which reach up to five stories, six if you count the livable roof area. The development team chose to place the larger apartment buildings along the new street in order to “hide” them from the pedestrian view on Post Road.
Nestled behind the smaller storefront properties, the apartment buildings would be modeled after Tudor-style hotels to give them a vintage look in line with the development team’s vision of a post-war downtown area. Brewer explained that the plan was for the Market Lane buildings to be visible to passing drivers on I-95, creating a potential draw to the downtown shopping area.
Town historian and Architectural Review Board member Marian Castell took issue with the historic influences reflected in designs, claiming that while they were appropriate for New England, they did not reflect the history of Darien specifically. She said that she had previously forwarded the development team information regarding Darien’s architectural history, which Brewer said that he had received and would consider.
Corbin Drive would see major changes, with the Corbin Building (home to the Darien Times) being re-developed into an apartment building. The adjacent parking lot would be opened up to make way for Market Lane with a second apartment building facing Corbin Drive on the other side. Corbin would also house one of the development’s most ambitious structures, a five-story office building with an accompanying garage.
Plans for the post office are not yet set, but Genovese said that it would be welcome within the development’s retail space.
“We have the right to terminate that lease and they have the right to terminate that lease,” he told the Times. “We’d be happy to include them with a retail facility. When we have a clearer sense of the future we can have a real conversation.”
A site plan and walkthrough of the project will soon be made available online at www.liveworkplayindarien.com, and a video recording of the meeting will be made available on Darien TV79’s web archive.