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New England charm draws new residents to Darien

Published 12:08 pm, Friday, July 11, 2014
  • Holly, Madison, Chris and Maddie Mitchell moved to Darien less than a year ago from New York City. They are among hundreds that have added to a population bump in town. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / Darien News Contributed
    Holly, Madison, Chris and Maddie Mitchell moved to Darien less than a year ago from New York City. They are among hundreds that have added to a population bump in town. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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A steady increase
Darien's population estimates, according to the U.S. Census Bureau:
2010: 20,769
2011: 20,951
2012: 21,100
2013: 21,330
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Kelly Clifford and her husband had their eyes locked on Darien when they made the move from New York City three years ago.

"We really focused a lot on Darien," said Clifford, who is the co-vice chairwoman of the YWCA's Newcomer's Club. "Just to keep an open mind, we looked a little in New Canaan and Wilton, but our primary focus was this town. We do have friends who have already lived in Darien and had such nice things to say."

Clifford lived in Darien as a child and remembers attending Tokeneke Elementary School.

Clifford joins the hundreds of people who moved to Darien since 2010. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Darien increased its population by 598 people, or 2.7 percent, from 2010 to 2013.

Like Clifford, many new Darienites are former New York City dwellers, including Holly Mitchell, who moved to Darien in August after living in Manhattan for 15 years.

Mitchell, her husband and their two children moved from New York City after several months of her husband reverse commuting to Greenwich.

"We literally just decided overnight to make the move," said Mitchell, who is expecting the couple's third child. She and her husband decided to rent and were looking at houses in Greenwich and Darien.

"In the end, we found the best house in Darien," Mitchell said.

While Mitchell said she and her husband don't terribly miss the city, there was an adjustment in moving from Manhattan, such as purchasing cars for the both of them.

But the timing of their move helped in their adjustment to their new town.

"The kids immediately started school and you meet so many people through that school environment," Mitchell said. "You're all in the same boat. Yes, we're still new, but we don't feel that new."

The population growth in Darien is in line with the rest of Fairfield County towns and cities, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, even as the population rate in other parts of the state has shrunk during the same period.

"(Darien) sort of has a charm and character of a small New England town and a very friendly reputation," said Ned Saunders, executive director of operations of Halstead Property Connecticut LLC. "It's a very desirable place to live."

Fairfield County's population grew by more than 2.5 percent between 2010 and 2013, or by about 23,000 people, the census data shows.

The reasons for the drive to live in Darien may seem obvious to those who call the Gold Coast town their home: The highly ranked public schools -- the No. 1 high school in Connecticut according to a 2013 U.S. News World and Report; beach front; easy access to New York City; and a bustling downtown full of shops and restaurants.

"The beaches were an added plus," said Clifford, who has a 3-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. "My husband and I really enjoy spending time at the beach. Also, there's a lot to do and lot going on and lot of organizations to get involved with."

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she's not surprised that the town has seen an increase in population. She credits some of the increase to the redevelopment of single family homes.

Small homes are becoming larger homes with bigger families, Stevenson said, and "empty nesters" are selling their homes to families with school-age children.

According to census data from 2013, 37 percent of Darien's population is under the age of 18, the highest in Connecticut. With an average family size of 3.54 people, Darien has the largest families in the state, according to census figures. While the state of Connecticut as a whole sits in the center of the pack for family sizes when compared to other states, at No. 24, Darien's family size is almost on par with the state of Utah, which, with an average family size of 3.55, has larger families than any other state in the nation.

"We live in a town that is generally well-managed and we care about our residents and their quality of living in terms of services and programs that are provided not only by the municipality itself but other ancillary organizations and not-for-profit organizations and the not-for-profit sports groups," Stevenson said. "We have created over the decades a very family-centric community."

Clifford said after three years, Darien is starting to feel like home.

"We don't feel new at all," Clifford said. "We have such a good feeling about being here in the community."

Jeff Kelly, managing broker of Kelly Associates Real Estate Inc., said before the revitalization of downtown Darien along the Post Road, "Darien used to be a net exporter of diners and shoppers."

Mitchell said the town offers her family amenities that make living in Darien comfortable, even if she does get a "little jealous" of other towns.

"There's times when I go to Greenwich or Westport and wished Darien had more of a downtown life," Mitchell said. "It can feel like you blinked and you're already through (downtown Darien). But at the same time, it's not like we're living in the boonies."

"What I hear from people (is that Darien) seems to strike a balance with Greenwich, which has become more metropolitan, and Westport, which is just a little bit too far and a little but too country," Kelly said.

Kelly also noted the convenience of transportation is a factor in bringing people to Darien.

"Right through the middle of Darien is Route 1, I-95 and Metro-North," Kelly said. "It is a negative for some people, but it's also a very much a positive in terms of getting where you need to get."

"Darien is a cool place to live. People want to live here."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews