A ‘new neighborhood’ could form in downtown Bethel under developer’s plans for apartments and townhouses

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BETHEL — A developer is looking to create a “new neighborhood” on Diamond Avenue that not only attracts and benefits people in and out of town, but helps the city meet its transit-oriented development goals.

“I think it’s going to be phenomenal,” Adriano Echavarria said of his vision for an energy-efficient, aesthetically timeless multi-unit development at 9 and 11 Diamond Ave. Tuesday.

On the 12.6 acres of land on Diamond Avenue, Echavarria proposes to build four four-story residential rental apartment buildings on the northwest, two rows of townhouses and two three-story buildings with retail space lower level at south end, facing Diamond Street.

One of the three-story buildings would include storage space on the second and third floors, while the upper levels of the other would have around 25 residential apartments for rent.

Echavarria said most of the residential units on the site would be for rent, but the townhouses would be for ownership.

“If you just rent everything out, it becomes very transient and can be difficult to manage,” he said. “If you bring in permanent housing, it becomes a much more diverse neighborhood.”

The proposal calls for two rows of eight townhouses with 25-foot frontages, separated by what Echavarria describes as “a public park in a private area.”

Echavarria said he was open to changes, but the current proposal is to have a total of fewer than 200 one- and two-bedroom residential rentals on the site – of which 150 to 170 would be in the four-bedroom apartment buildings. floors.

He also noted that affordable housing is a priority and he plans to exceed the required 20% affordable housing in the Bethel transit-oriented development area, also known as the TOD area.

As well as a mix of commercial and residential development, Echavarria’s proposal calls for lots of green space and emphasizes sustainability and creativity.

“We’re trying to bring the most progressive, greenest affordable housing project ever seen not just in the city of Bethel, but in the entire state of Connecticut,” he said, noting that one one of his goals is to build buildings that are not just timeless. in appearance, but energy efficient.

“Energy efficiency and going green is central to everything from an infrastructure perspective,” Echavarria said.

In addition to offering rooftop green space and solar panels on buildings, Echavarria’s plan calls for a nature walk on 3.5 acres of wetland in the northeast section of 9 Diamond Ave, which runs sits off the main downtown Bethel road, Greenwood Avenue.

There is also a great emphasis on creative expression.

“When I think of Bethel, I think of music and the arts,” said Echavarria, who sees Diamond Avenue becoming a destination or hub for music and the arts, as well as food.

“There would be an art gallery in the middle, ideally located for the art studio workshops that we would create for local artists in Bethel,” he said, adding that his goal would be to offer studio spaces to artists at as low a rental rate as humanly possible.

Echavarria said his proposal is not just about creating a mixed-use community, but a community that achieves the four key pillars of Bethel’s TOD Master Plan — urban design and zoning, economic development, transportation, and building affordable housing.

“We want to bring Diamond Avenue … to the forefront of what TOD is,” he said.

Among the strategic goals of Bethel’s TOD Master Plan is the construction of a pedestrian bridge connecting the east side of Bethel Station to the west side of the tracks – and this, Echavarria said, “is the anchor of the way from which we take these parcels and bring them to the sheepfold.

He is not proposing to build the bridge as part of his proposed development, but to provide the land that the city will use for its construction.

Echavarria said the bridge would help boost foot traffic, and he made sure to provide enough flexibility, utility, and space in his Diamond Avenue plans to incorporate its construction.

“From a technical point of view, it is feasible,” he said.

The bridge would not only benefit residents, Echavarria said, but would help attract out-of-town visitors.

“I imagine kids from WestConn wanting to jump on a train and come to the new neighborhood,” he said. “This will not only serve Bethel residents traveling to Stamford or New York, but people from all cities and make it the destination.”

While Echavarria’s proposal received positive reviews from several curators – some saying it has the potential to be one of Bethel’s “best” developments – one said concerned about its city appearance.

“It has an urban design and Bethel is not urban, so we’re literally talking about turning Bethel into Danbury,” the commissioner said.

Echavarria said he understands the concern but doesn’t see it that way, and noted that Bethel’s TOD master plan calls for urban design and zoning.

“It’s not that the city would be becoming the new Danbury,” he said. “It’s about revitalizing Diamond into a mixed-use community (with) green space, a nature walk, retail, businesses and townhouses.”

Danbury Area Solicitor Neil Marcus agreed with Echavarria, saying the proposal more closely resembles the ongoing development in downtown Ridgefield.

“What Bethel is becoming, quite honestly, is actually the new Ridgefield – not the new Danbury,” he said.

With the concept plans being the first phase of his proposed multi-phase project, Echavarria said his next decision would be to seek a rezoning to turn the Diamond Avenue properties from industrial to residential.

“I want to start phase two right away,” he said. “I would like to (innovate) early next summer, which means we need to have a site plan submitted probably by November or December.”

Echavarria said he wants to work with local leaders and community members to not only bring his proposed “new neighborhood” to Diamond Avenue, but also help Bethel meet its transit-focused development goals.

“TOD is important. The opportunity that Bethel has is incredible, and we can take that to a new level,” he said.


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