Darien P&Z hears affordable housing proposal
Published 9:23 am, Saturday, June 9, 2012
Bruce Hill, chairman of the senior housing initiative in Darien, presented a design proposal for affordable housing at 30 Edgerton St. to the Planning and Zoning Commission in a packed room in Town Hall Tuesday night.
This was the latest development brought about by the shuffle project, which includes moving the Board of Education to 35 Leroy Ave., renovating the town hall annex to create a senior center/community center, and eventually tearing down the existing senior center to build affordable housing. The commission also approved special permits for proposals to construct additions and alterations where the Mather Community Center/Senior Center will replace the town hall annex and the BOE will occupy the former library building.
Hill, representing a group of volunteers he said feel the Edgerton Street site is appropriate for this project, told the commission the designs are conceptual, preliminary and his group is looking for feedback.
"The proposal is for 20 units of 100 percent affordable housing for seniors," Hill said. "These would be single-family units, although they would be duplex in design. And there would be 20 of them configured around a central parking lot on the existing senior center site."
Dan Conlon, the architect working with the Darien senior housing initiative, said the individual units are one story, approximately 1,100 sq. feet, with two bedrooms and one bathroom.
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"They are capable of being fully handicap accessible," Conlon said.
He added the design has 38 parking spaces, eight being handicap. While there are no garages or covered parking spaces in the design, each unit has a parking space nearby. A system of pedestrian footpaths are designed throughout the green space. There are also facilities for trash and a bus stop.
Conlon said some of his goals in creating the preliminary design were to scale it to the surrounding neighborhoods, maintain significant amounts of green space, employ low-impact development principals, make it energy efficient and economical to maintain.
"What this allowed us to do was keep a residential scale to the building, preserve larger open spaces ... . It also has the added benefit of reducing construction costs, reducing energy consumption of each building," Conlon said. "They're a little easier to build, a little easier to maintain."
"The last thing you want this to look like is an affordable unit," P&Z Chairman Frederick Conze said.
Conze said the proposed design has too many roof lines, setting the design apart from neighboring house designs.
"I would suggest you try to make whatever you design this unit to look as close to the type of architecture of the other neighborhoods surrounding this project as you possibly can," he said. "I don't think this comes quite close enough."
While the commission raised concerns regarding the financing of the proposed project, Hill clarified the role of the affordable housing commission, as well as what they are asking of Darien, during the meeting.
"We're having this be 100 percent affordable, it's intended to be privately funded," Hill said. "What we're asking the town to contribute would be a long-term grounds for the property. Beyond that, it would be our responsibility to seek funding for construction to set up the ongoing maintenance for the site, as well as a responsibility of a demolition of the existing senior center."
Hill said the process started with two meetings with neighbors of 30 Edgerton St. in January and May. In the May meeting, the design plans were presented to the residents, he said.
Residents living near the site sent a letter to the P&Z members raising concerns against the proposed affordable housing construction. In the letter, population density and traffic safety, missing sidewalks, inadequate parking for an adjacent athletic field and residents, and the site's proximity to Middlesex Middle School were listed among their concerns.
"The Residents feel strongly that it is critical for our voice to be heard in order to ensure a thoughtful approach and a safe environment for our families -- especially for our small children," the letter said.
It also proposed an alternative use for the field that some residents believe would be a better use of the property.
"The Residents, in cooperation with leadership members of the Darien sports leagues, feel strongly that the best use of the land at 30 Edgerton Street is an athletic field," the letter said. "Darien already has a shortage of athletic fields for Little League and other sporting events. The addition of a second athletic field at the site would fit nicely with the existing field, and allow the existing field to be functional for the residents of Darien."
The letter included 62 signatures. Fifteen residences were listed as "Not Available."
Conze referenced the letter while discussing the proposed design.
"I think you have to be very careful and really take cognizance of the letter [we] received from the neighbors as to what's the use of the site today versus what impact it will have on them," he said.
Conze listed traffic and drainage as some of the issues.
"It all has to be relative to the current neighborhoods surrounding this property for them to enjoy what you're asking them to accept," he said.
Hill said the housing commission took a lot of feedback from local residents at their initial meetings. He recognized before the commission there are many steps ahead.
"This is not a done deal," he said. "There are no green lights for us. There will be a lot of opportunities for the public to weigh in on this. I'm sure the plans will change over time."
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