Allen O'Neill Homes will begin a nearly two-year construction project—starting in March, developers hope—that should replace almost every building in the moderate-income housing development.
In January, the Darien Housing Authority and a relocation services company will contact residents and offer to help them with relocating for months as 53 homes are knocked down and replaced with 106 new units, developers said in a presentation Wednesday to the Board of Selectmen.
"This is a very traumatic experience for each of them," said John H. McClutchy Jr., president of Stamford-based JHM Group, which is partnering with Arthur T. Anderson and the Darien Housing Authority to rebuild and run the housing complex. "It's a difficult process for them, and our job is to make that as easy as we can."
The housing project, more than half a century old and located at the site of the former Fitch Home for veterans, is in need of replacement, according to Darien Housing Authority officials.
"This is a very high-profile project for us," First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said at the meeting.
The public/private partnership controlling the project would use some state and federal funds, together with some assistance from Darien's town government, to offer subsidized housing to people with low and moderate incomes who couldn't otherwise afford to live in town.
The reconstruction schedule calls for design and engineering preparation, together with a town building permit, a property closing and transfer of the property and some residents relocated by March, when shovels are due to first hit the ground.
The first group of residents—living in 21 homes—will move from the project by March and are due to return 12 months later into new homes. A second group of four households will move five months later and also return in the 12th month of the project.
The third and final group will remain in their homes and also move into new homes in the project at the 12-month mark. The costs of relocating will be borne by the project.
"In Month 13, everybody will be in a new apartment, except for four or five one-bedroom households," Anderson said in an interview Thursday. "We'll put them into two-bedroom units and they'll move back to one-bedroom units when we're done."
Project representatives have met with residents in community meetings a year ago and in November, Arthur T. Anderson told the board. Meetings in January will be with individual households in order to help with their relocation planning.
Extensive soil replacement will be an important part of the project, Anderson said, since soil around buried heating-oil tanks will need to be removed from the site. A sewer-line connection will also be installed to a sewer main on West Avenue. Large retaining tanks will be installed underground for storm overflow, he said.
Two houses on West Avenue will remain after the project is complete, but all the other buildings, including an apartment building that was originally the laundry for the Fitch Home, will be replaced. According to Anderson, the building has no historic value. All the new buildings will be two-stories high, with high roofs.
New features of the reconstructed site will be a community center with mail boxes, a large "living" room that residents might use for parties, a computer room with computers and an exercise room that will include an exercise bike and a treadmill. The community building should be complete 16 months after the project begins, Anderson said. That would be July of 2013 if the project remains on schedule.
Utility lines—electricity, water and sewage—will all be underground. The developers explored getting gas heat, but the project is too far from a gas line for that.
Instead, electricity heat pumps will be utilized and as many energy-efficient features as practical will be used to help residents keep down their utility bills.
The new Allen O'Neill Homes will have a mix of one- two- and three-bedroom apartments, with some "flats" having rooms all on one floor and others constructed as two-floor townhouses. Altogether, there will be 24 buildings, with varying numbers of housing units in each.
McClutchy, whose company has built 55,000 housing units across the country over the years, told the board, "You cannot tell our affordable developments from market-rate projects, and that's the key to sustainability."