The Darien Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday approved 5-to-1 a proposal from the Darien YMCA to build a new youth gymnastics facility, enlarge its parking lot, and reconstruct part of the building that houses Holly Pond School.
The approval—granted after several months of public hearings and debate—comes over the protests of many neighbors and just two years after a similar proposal was rejected in 2008.
"The decision is granted with stipulations and modifications," said Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg said at Tuesday's meeting.
Ginsberg noted a number of key changes from the 2008 application, such as the withdrawal of a request for a lap pool.
Still, the new youth gymnasium and expanded parking lot would add about 10,000 sqare feet to the facility. Because of this, residents near the 2420 Post Road site have expressed concerns over the potential for additional traffic.
"It was noted by the YMCA that they're not trying to increase numbers but to provide a different type of programming," Ginsberg said, adding that the YMCA would abide by the commission's request that special events impacting traffic and parking, such as gymnastics meets, be approved annually.
Commission member Eric Voight said the proposal represents an "efficient use" of the site, and that to create a new facility elsewhere would require tremendous expense and resources
Voight added that the YMCA is doing its best to cooperate by pulling back on building encroachment on the westward side and boosting its stormwater drainage system.
Commission chair Fred Conze, who noted that he was a former Darien YMCA board member in the late 1980s, said that "the Y" is always revisiting ways to modify its programs to stay relevant.
"[The YMCA] has served the community well," Conze said. "And if the YMCA deems it necessary to commit the capital to rebuild, then that's their role."
Vice Chair Joe Spain was the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.
DJFL Practice Lights Approved
The board also approved a proposal to allow the Darien Junior Football League to operate three diesel-run temporary lights at Holahan Field and six electric lights at the Darien High School stadium field for fall practices.
Though the seasonal permits for both sets of lights were unanimously approved, commission members noted that neighboring residents were concerned about the noise that diesel-powered lights, which would run 5:30 to 7 p.m. from Oct. 11 to Nov. 19, would emit.
Commission members seemed to like Voight's suggestion that the lights approval come with wording that the applicant "should use their best effort" to install sound barriors or use a different power source to reduce noise.
Debate Continues on Noroton Heights Rezoning
The Commission also discussed the propsed rezoning of Noroton Heights commercial district, a site encompassing 18-plus acres and subject properties.
Developer Tom Golden wants to rezone the area for "mixed use" to allow for the building of three-story structures alongside commercial properties.
Commission members echoed concerns raised by neighbors over the summer, including the potential for increased traffic, the impact on storm drainage, and a lack of information about the developer's eventual plans for the site.
The rezoning process does not require Golden to submit specific construction plans, but the developer has released a series of conceptual renderings that hint at the type of facilities he may seek to build.
"I'm worried that the increased development will be more development than what's right for the area," said commission member Susan Cameron. "I shop there a lot, and I'm just concerned you're going to add a lot more traffic to those areas."
Toward the end of the meeting, Ginsberg notified the commission that the Board of Education had developed a plan to install solar panels on the roofs of Darien High School and Ox Ridge School but that neighbors may still have concerns about their appearance.
The plan, crafted by Darien Public Schools Director of Finance Richard Huot, was approved by the Architectural Review Board at its July 20 meeting and OK'd by the Board of Education last week. Still, Ginsberg told the commission that the installation is not a sure thing.
"The school board is still not sure it's going to go ahead with it," he said.
Ginsberg added in an interview Wednesday that the project does not require any further permits or approvals, and that the district can proceed with the installation when it chooses to.