“What cities across CT do they need? – can Darien’s plan be duplicated?

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While preparing for his final semesters at Norwalk Community College, Andre Denunzio took moonlighting work last September as a cashier at the Whole Foods Market in neighboring Darien.

The 22-year-old will soon be relocating to Darien itself, one of America’s richest cities – and which has given other Connecticut towns a potential plan on how to proceed with the downtown redevelopment. mixed use with a mix of old and new, and perhaps a greater mix of people from different backgrounds.

If completed as planned by developers David Genovese and Penny Glassmeyer, the Corbin neighborhood will transform downtown Darien, on a much smaller scale but with great intentions of Stamford’s South End Building & Land Technology remake. , where he created the upscale luxury Harbor Point. ride the neighborhood from scratch.

While other cities in Connecticut have seen great developments in their inner-city neighborhoods over the past decades – Bedford Square in Westport, Storrs Center in Mansfield and Blue Back Square in West Hartford to name a few – uns – the Corbin district is notable for its scale, with 11 new buildings and a green town on seven acres in need of major demolition and site preparation for new construction.

In Connecticut, who saw a new call During the COVID-19 pandemic, did New York City tenants move to the suburbs, could the Corbin District model serve as a model for other cities? David Lehman thinks so in his role as the state’s economic and community development commissioner under Governor Ned Lamont, and before that as a real estate and municipal finance expert with investment bank Goldman Sachs.

“Transformational is a word you hear a lot from politicians, and I think it’s an overused word – but here it’s absolutely appropriate,” Lehman said last week at a ceremony in Darien marking the Start of the construction. “When I think about the impact the District of Corbin will have on the Town of Darien, that’s exactly on my mind what cities in Connecticut need to have, in terms of investment and mixed use and residential and commercial. – more dynamism in the city center. “

“Nobody does that”

Genovese himself was previously a real estate investment banker at Credit Suisse. He founded Baywater Properties 20 years ago alongside his father Rocky, who ran Genovese Industries in south Stamford. O&G Industries acquired the company in 1996.

In tribute to the potential of the Corbin District and other Baywater projects in Darien, in 2018 the Connecticut Main Street Center awarded Genovese its annual Founders Award recognizing major achievements in downtown revitalization. It remains the only private sector developer to receive the award in its two-decade history, among a parade of planners and advocates.

Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker, interim CEO of Connecticut Main Street Center, said the Corbin district is “a unique situation” in her own words, given the challenges in getting Darien residents to embrace a denser downtown .

“The Corbin District represents a paradigm shift in community thinking,” Parsons-Whitaker said in an email. “What is most common (and for good reason) is the incremental: the challenge of reviving individual buildings and sites, by redeveloping them little by little. “

For Steve Olvany, chairman of the Darien Planning and Zoning Commission, perhaps the most surprising element of the project is the efforts of Genovese and Glassmeyer to help current tenants by finding them temporary housing while their buildings will be razed in the coming years to replace the Corbin district. a progressive process in its own right.

“These guys are spending so much money moving tenants from the left side of the street to the right side of the street – then bringing them back to that side of the street,” Olvany said. “Nobody does that.”

It took 16 years for Baywater Properties and PG Properties to put the properties together through land purchases or landowner membership in their partnership team for the project, and to gain approval from the planning department. and Darien zoning.

Genovese is quick to credit Glassmeyer, whose Grove Street Plaza built the Grove Street Plaza just off Boston Post Road, across from the Corbin neighborhood footprint. On days when the weather permits, the Grove Street Plaza courtyard attracts people who linger over coffee or lunch.

“Penny was the pioneer in the revitalization of downtown Darien,” said Genovese. “Penny set the bar really high.”

The test of time

More than 1,000 Darien residents and business owners have attended meetings or given their opinions on the project over the years, according to Genovese. He said Baywater had adjusted its plans on several occasions based on feedback from the public and city officials, including adding more street-level parking and hiding a four-story garage inside the building. orbit of an outer ring of apartments and commercial buildings.

Beinfield Architecture produced the designs for the buildings and streetscapes.

“One of New England’s most enduring charms is its collection of small coastal towns that were built hundreds of years ago and continue to resonate – places like Stonington, Mystic, Essex and Nantucket,” said Bruce Beinfield, founding director of his namesake company. based in Norwalk. At Corbin, “architecture is designed to be read as an assembly of small buildings that have been built gradually over time. “

Genovese said the Corbin neighborhood is built to stand the test of time not only in its aesthetics, but in its construction and the mix of businesses.

“Usually the profitability of the business is the priority and the goal, and lately it seems to me that the intention of the developers is more likely to build and sell the properties – build them as quickly as possible with less money. pay attention to the materials used and how they will age, “said Genovese.” With almost every decision we make – from the brick we use to the colors of the siding, to the tenants we target to occupy the buildings , we consider the impact on our community in terms of quality of life and also the relative attractiveness of Darien for people considering moving.

A boost to affordability

A dozen fewer Darien homes sold in the first 10 months of this year compared to the same period in 2020, according to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, but the median home price sold was 15% higher than its equivalent a year earlier, to just over $ 1.6 million.

As in many towns in southwestern Connecticut, affordable housing remains a challenge in Darien, which only had 3.6% of its nearly 7,100 units classified as affordable in 2020 by the state housing ministry. As of 2000, however, nearly a third of new units built in Darien or otherwise on the books qualify as affordable.

The chronology of the Corbin district dates back to Evonne Klein’s tenure as first manager. Klein has become one of Connecticut’s foremost affordable housing experts as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Housing and most recently Acting CEO of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

Corbin District will only slightly increase the percentage of affordable housing in the city. But by reserving rentals nearby for adults with developmental disabilities who receive continued support from the nonprofit Abilis, the Corbin neighborhood could serve as a model to encourage other developers to follow suit.

“Darien is a place where I will be home for the foreseeable future,” said Denunzio, who himself has received help from Abilis over the years. “And I really mean it.”

Dan Haar contributed to this report. Includes previous reports by Brian Gioiele and Susan Schultz.

[email protected]; 203-842-2545; @casoulman


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