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Groundbreaking for Affordable Housing Project

High officials took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for 'The Heights' affordable housing development, replacing the Allen-O'Neill homes: Gov. Dannel Malloy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Jim Himes, and two Malloy cabinet officials.

At the former Allen-O'Neill public housing development on Noroton Avenue on Monday, state and federal elected officials joined town leaders to usher in the next project for the tract—The Heights at Darien.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and state Sen. Bob Duff each praised the project as an opportunity to help non-affluent Darien residents stay in town, near family and friends.

"Our state, having underinvested in affordable housing for some time, is now in a position where we're playing catchup," Malloy said.

The project, which has been helped by both the town government and the state, shows that "affordable housing can be done with tremendous public support," Malloy said.

The 106-unit project will be double the number of affordable houses and apartments of Allen-O'Neill, and have amenities like a community room and more modern buildings constructed to be more energy-efficient.

"People deserve the opportunity to remain in the communities in which they were born or have lived in for some time—understanding that financial conditions can change for some individuals," Malloy said.

Blumenthal said the project "shows that we're refusing to abandon the ideals and the vision that make this country great [...] The visions and ideals that say we should be diverse communities. We should let people who have lived all their lives in Darien to come back or stay there and be with their childen and grandchildren."

Himes praised town officials from both parties for working together to replace and expand affordable housing on the site and noted how the project has been a collaboration of many different entities—boh public and private and local, state and national governments.

"This project shows what can happen when we put aside our differences and work together to get things done," he said. He and other officials noted the presence of former First Selectwoman Evonne Klein, a Democrat in office when town officials first started planning for the project, and the incumbent First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, a Republican supporting the project as it approaches construction.

The project, built and run by JHM Group of Stamford, is under the supervision of the Darien Housing Authority, which will continue to own the land, previously the site of the Fitch Home for disabled veterans and orphans, originally built in 1864 and the nation's first home for disabled veterans.

Bill Mills, CEO of Citibank's North America division, also spoke briefly at the event, praising the project as a positive benefit to the community. He got a laugh from the audience when he cracked, "This is really the way bankers like to be speaking before elected officials," referring to recent testimony before Congress.

Cyndy Ashburne, chairman of the Darien Housing Authority, praised a number of officials and others involved in the project, including Arthur Anderson, a consultant, and John H. McClutchy Jr., a Darien resident who is president of Stamford -based JHM Group.

"You have been honorable partners with the utmost integrity," Ashburne told them both. "We are extremely fortunate to have you as our partner. It has truly been a pleasure getting to know you."

Anderson, in turn, praised Jenny Schwartz, former chairman of the Housing Authority: "It takes a village to rebuild a village," Arthur Anderson, one of the developers, said. Yet he added, "but for Jenny Schwartz, this wouldn't have happened."

McClutchy told the crowd of about 50 people that he had just seen a Google mapping truck drive by with its satellite dish, snapping pictures of the neighborhood.

"So this clearly is on the map today," he said.

John Smith July 17, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Great project, as they started work again this morning at 6:00 making a tremendous amount of noise, waking up my children! Extremely inconsiderate neighbors! Town government, both past and present, should be ashamed.
Tom July 17, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Evonne Klein and Jenny Schwartz, in particular, should be ashamed of themselves, as with complete hubris they totally ignored the concerns of the neighbors and sacrificed their well being to protect "better neighborhoods" from the specter of 8-30g. None of the officials mentioned in the piece above live anywhere near AON.
Chris July 17, 2012 at 01:14 PM
The redevelopment was long overdue, but it would be nice if somebody made an effort to remember the 150 year connection that the site has with our area's veterans.
Darien Resident July 17, 2012 at 02:10 PM
I don't believe they can guarantee the following: "The visions and ideals that say we should be diverse communities. We should let people who have lived all their lives in Darien to come back or stay there and be with their children and grandchildren." I don't believe they can provide preferential treatment to these individuals over others for this project. It sounds great but it it's not a true statement.
David Gurliacci (Editor) July 17, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I've been told that the community room, for the residents, will have photographs showing what the site was like as the soldiers' and orphans' home, and perhaps at other points in its history. A tree from Gettysburg, planted two or three decades ago on the site, was mistakenly ripped out, but they'll replace that with another one. For some reason they've decided to remove and not replace the plaque in one of the pictures attached to this article. That plaque was placed in 1984.
Tom July 17, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I'd like to see an apartment complex go up next door to Mr. Conze's home and see if he likes it. You'd hear howls of protest then that it, "doesn't conform to the neighborhood." How about a tax abatement for the neighbors as makegood?
Chris Noe July 17, 2012 at 10:16 PM
BUILDING TOMORROWS GHETTOS TODAY These buildings are huge. I tried to get the ceilings lowered to 7 foot 6 inches insteasd of 8 feet. It fell on deaf ears. The 6 inch reduction on both floors will lower the building height a 1 foot. This will make a substantial difference in these oversize buildings.
mR mAKOSWKI July 18, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Luda Cruz, try not to lose too much sleep over it, OK pal?
QWERTY July 18, 2012 at 07:44 PM
So I worked, sacrificed and saved the past decade of my life in order to purchase a home in Fairfield county, a home which is an hour away from my employer who is located deeper into Fairfield county.....while more "diverse" people get to live in Darien, a town pretty central to all of Fairfield country, at a significantly reduced rate? That's America for you.
Rich July 18, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Same reason why college tuitions are going through the roof. Hey politician's, its not the interest rate that is killing everyone!!! Its the 12% hikes every year..... They keep raising the tuition so they can give money to kids who can't afford to go to private university's/colleges. That gets picked up by the middle class who end up having to get their kids to take out loans to pay for school. How does someone put 3 kids through private universities at $200k plus per kid? Its insane.
John Boulton July 19, 2012 at 02:33 AM
The reality here is pretty simple. Fred Conze and the P&Z Commission are prepared to let anything go at Allen O'Neill. Heavy construction is allowed to start in a residential neighborhood at 6am. Part of why Mr. Conze has it out for the DHS stadium lights is because the Royle School dumpster was emptied at 6am next to his house for years (note: it was stopped under my BOE watch, to no credit from him). One would think that would make him a champion of all neighbors, but to date that assumption would be mistaken. One would also think John McClutchy would have the wisdom to give workers a break in extreme weather without penalizing neighbors via an early start, but clearly profit and construction schedules trump common sense among those feeding from the public trough. And this is progress?
Siwanoy July 19, 2012 at 04:07 PM
were your children able to sleep past 6am today? I noticed there was no construction noise, all I could here was I-95 and a one bird who seemed to be making quite a fuss over something

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