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.