Monday's annual State of the Town Representative Town Meeting heard Planning & Zoning Commission Vice Chairman Joseph Spain address three key areas regarding land-use: notable decisions, new developments and long-range plans.
"As always, the key for our four local land use boards is maintaining the small-town residential character of Darien, while balancing it with the necessary and desired growth and the needs of the community."
The past year saw P&Z take a number of significant actions, including the approval of Darien Housing Authority's plan to redevelop Allen O'Neill. Not all residents are fants of the decision to allow for the replacement of the existing 53 homes that sit in the 11-acre parcel with 107 units, but most feel that some sort of redevelopment is long overdue. Moreover, the DHA project will afford the town protection from state mandate 8-30g.
A second notable balancing act was played out during hearings regarding the utilization of lights at Holohan Field and the Darien High School stadium field. Where opponents say that the lights are too intrusive, proponents say they are necessary for safety. P&Z's compromise is for fewer, shorter, AC-powered portable lights, which light the fields for a limited number of practices.
Also of note: P&Z introduced new scale and density regulations as the result of a rezoning application for the eight-unit development at 333 West Avenue, and the commission expressed interest in the redevelopment of the Heights Road zoning district into a more pedestrian-friendly layout and design.
"This annual State of the Town meeting gives us at the Planning & Zoning Commission the opportunity to look back and report upon our accomplishments over the past year, and what we can look forward to."
January of last year saw the opening of the new, award-winning Darien Library Library. Since then, EspressoNEAT and Park Animal Hospital have opened their doors for business.
The New Year will see a number of new additions to Darien business community, including Whole Foods, Planet Pizza, Chipotle, and—with P&Z's most recent approval—a restaurant and wine bar.
LONG RANGE PLANNING:
"In 2009, the Commission used the downturn of the economy as an opportunity for some long-range planning."
To mitigate flooding, P&Z adopted stringent stormwater management regulations, putting the onus on property owners and developers to properly address stormwater quality and quantity issues.
In the spring, the Commission modified the zoning regulations to allow blade signs (which hang perpendicular to a building's façade) within certain zoning districts.
Inclusionary Zoning Regulations, adopted in January, took effect in May. The regulations allow for a mix of market-rate and affordable housing, requiring every new multifamily development to designate a number of units below-market-rate.
And in June, P&Z prepared a Commercial Design Guidelines document to provide assistance to those wishing to redevelop or enhance their commercial properties.
"Overall, we are optimistic that as the economy recovers, the successful redevelopment of our downtown will continue."
In our last report, we heard from Board of Education Chairman Kimberly Westcott. Still to come from State of the Town: Board of Finance Chairman Murry Stegelmann, and First Selectman David Campbell.