Tweaking of development plan nears finish
Adding multi-level parking structures downtown and prioritizing strategies to preserve scenic views along the shoreline are among guidelines in a draft version of possible initiatives to enhance town life in the next decade.
In a section dealing with development issues, the plan follows on an earlier study recommendation to suggest increasing maximum building heights in the central business district zone from 28 to 35 feet. Loosening the restriction to allow a third floor could be especially beneficial in allowing housing, the plan said.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she was impressed with the comprehensive rundown of infrastructure and development landscape of the 200-page document, which she said is important given pending proposals for redevelopment projects in Noroton Heights and downtown.
In reference to the perennial planning theme of “preserving the town’s small-town New England character,” Stevenson said it should be a “guide post and not a stumbling block,” to beneficial progress that attracts investment.
“Good well-managed change is healthy and I think we’re seeing some ways in which our community is really asking us for that …,” Stevenson said. “I want to make sure we don’t hide behind historical words. We should use them to inform the kinds of changes we want to see coming.”
Dozens of approaches and options to improve traffic circulation, expand utilities for electricity and gas and upgrade town facilities are part of the second draft version of a state-mandated update of the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development discussed by the selectmen Monday.
The Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss the overall plan at a public meeting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, in Room 113, of the Mather Center, 2 Renshaw Road.
“If we think through conservation, development and infrastructure and what things we should continue do and focus in on the proper strategies,” said Glenn Chalders, of the town’s consultant Planimetrics. “… Circumstances might change . . . so that’s why this should be an advisory and flexible document we refer to but are not bound by.”
The plan is supposed to be updated every 10 years by towns and cities to remain eligible for discretionary grant funding. Darien last updated their plan in 2006, and a final draft of the updated plan is slated to be finished this fall.
“What kind of community do we want to be in the future and it takes an opportunity now to sit down and think through all the things related to the physical development of Darien and find consensus on that and the types of strategies to look at and work on in the next 10 years,” said Glenn Chalders of the consultant Planimetrics, which compiled the plan.
Conservation issues identified in the plan include balancing preserving trees with required maintenance to minimize power outages, and possible new land use or community regulations on lighting to avoid negative impacts on the town’s character.
A section of the plan that deals with commercial, residential and other development calls for improving traffic circulation downtown with projects such as widening Leroy Avenue downtown and a tunnel to connect Old Kings Highway North and South and address a lack of mid-block crosswalks for safety and mobility reasons.
“I like the fact there is so much in it about walkability, sidewalks, and exercise,” Republican Selectman Susan Marks said. “Hopefully 10 years from now a lot of that will take place.”
Multi-story parking structures could enhance access to the downtown and could be shielded from public view with active street front use, according to the plan.
Stevenson said an interrelated impact of how the town handles development will encourage or discourage how successful the town is in diversifying the tax base to mitigate the need for residential property taxes.
Only 7.9 percent of the town’s property tax base comes from commercial property, limiting the town’s flexibility to maintain essential services with reasonable tax increases, Stevenson said.
“Along with that comes an expansion of our employment base,” Stevenson said to Chalders. “We should encourage job growth because that means our commercial tax base is growing and it is also a lesser strain on our services and infrastructure like schools and housing.”
The second draft of the town’s 2016 Plan of Conservation and Development is to be discussed at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. in room 113 of the Mather Center, 2 Renshaw Road. All are welcome to attend and or email public comments on the draft to firstname.lastname@example.org.