Downtown plan dead as zoning amendment application pulled
Updated 12:51 am, Monday, October 10, 2016
DARIEN — A plan to rework a large part of downtown is dead for the moment after an application to amend zoning regulations was pulled.
The application for amendments to zoning regulations in the downtown business district submitted by David Genovese and Penny Glassmeyer of Baywater Corbin Partners was officially withdrawn on Sept. 29 after months of deliberation and hearings on the proposed amendments.
“It was apparent that the Planning and Zoning Commission were moving in the direction of modifying the amendment in a way that would not be feasible for us,” Genovese said on Monday.
The proposed changes to zoning regulations to allow for mixed-use residential and commercial buildings included increased height, amended parking in the area and increased density downtown between Corbin Drive, Post Road and Exit 11 of Interstate 95. The concept of the project, which Genovese circulated widely using social media and his yourdowntowndarien.com website, included buildings as tall as six stories and 85 feet, 66 residential units, ground floor commercial space and an emphasis on pedestrian-friendliness and green spaces.
But for Planning and Zoning member John Sini, and others, the biggest issue with the proposed changes was the scale of the project and the precedent it could set.
“It was pretty clear that the scale of what was proposed is not in line with what we have today,” Sini said.
In particular, Sini said the commission was perplexed by floor to ceiling heights proposed by Baywater. “Essentially he (Genovese) proposed a 40-foot two story building and 55-foot three story. Current regulations don’t allow for more than 35-feet for three story buildings. So not only is he going for more floors, but height per floor is markedly higher than what was previously allowed,” Sini said.
Questions were raised in public hearings about the need for such large ceiling heights, but Sini said a sufficient answer was never provided. “I hope David comes back with more information on that,” he added.
Genovese, however, contends that larger-than-normal ceiling heights are necessary to complete the project up to town, future tenant, and his own, standards.
“I think what Planning and Zoning is not grasping is that every building is different. The anchor needs to have an 18-foot ceiling, but other buildings don’t need that.”
Genovese said for other commercial spaces, the retail brokerage community in which he consulted recommended ceiling heights of 14 feet, though he speculated that the height could be knocked down to 12 feet in some cases.
He also added that, because he prefers to use steel in construction, which would allow him to soundproof the luxury apartments he proposes, and because his intent was to hide all heating and mechanical equipment from view, there would need to be more space possibly than the commission is used to between ceiling and floor.
In the days since the application was withdrawn, Genovese has posted frequently, both on his personal Facebook and on his Your Downtown Darien page, about the specifics of the proposed project he had been working on. Many of Genovese comments, and the comments of the public, have been met with explanations and statements defending the commission’s concern posted by Sini.
In addition, Sini feels that by continuing to post publicly about the Baywater project, Genovese has somewhat missed the point of the process of amending regulations.
“What’s really confused the public is that everybody is for a “project.” But we’re not currently reviewing a site plan. We’re reviewing regulations. Genovese did a great job of selling the public on a project, but there’s not a project before us. We have to adapt regulations that work for the town,” Sini said.
Sini added that, though the application to amend current regulations has been withdrawn, according to state statute the commission has the authority to revise the regulations on their own. Throughout public hearings the commission acknowledged that changes to allow for growth downtown were needed, and while in some instances the commission has taken it upon themselves to revise regulations, Sini said he’d prefer to work with an applicant.
“We want to work with somebody who wants to change the regulations,” Sini said.
Genovese also expressed a willingness to further work with Planning and Zoning, though he isn’t certain he’ll resubmit. He also shouldered some of the responsibility for what he saw as misinformation spread regarding the project.
“We take responsibility for the fact that it is a complicated project and we probably tried to oversimplify it and didn’t give the commission the information they needed to understand it completely. It’s a big, multivariable problem we’re trying to solve. It’s not the commission’s fault, we’re not blaming them, it just is what it is,” Genovese said.
He added that, with the application withdrawn, he has three options: resubmit an amended proposal immediately, wait for the dust to settle before acting, or sell the land.