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Randy Dinter and Maureen Boylan Corporation counsel failed to shield public

September 6, 2018

The letter “A united defense of corporation counsel” (July 15) essentially touted the integrity of present and former Stamford corporation counsel, while accusing some members of the Board of Representatives of being politically motivated in questioning the city’s counsel as to how Stamford became embroiled in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by Soundkeeper, an independent environmental watchdog agency. It contends that the city, along with Building, Land & Technology, is in violation of the Coastal Area Management Act since the large, successful, regional boatyard on a 14-acre peninsula was razed by BLT in 2011. This lawsuit is particularly vexing when one considers the city’s previous history with the boatyard and the many businesses, hundreds of jobs, and Stamford’s maritime standing in western Long Island Sound underlining its importance.

At one time, Northeast Utilities owned this property along with several other parcels in Stamford’s South End. When the property was no longer needed for a planned generating station, the utility company evolved ideas for development in the South end, much like those that came later. However, the City of Stamford’s need to protect the boatyard coupled with the tenets of the Coastal Area Management Act stood squarely in the way. After studying the problems presented, along with the city, the utility company came to the realization that the best, most appropriate use for the 14-acre peninsula was for the boatyard, marine facilities, and maritime businesses that have been in Stamford Harbor for more than a century.

The large parcel of property, including the 14-acre peninsula, was eventually sold to the Antares Group of Greenwich. Antares entered into negotiations with the city as part of the process of evolving a development plan. Within this plan, in order to protect the boatyard, was a condition which granted the developer extra building rites north of the hurricane barrier. When Antares ran into financial difficulty, BLT stepped into the picture. Operating under essentially the same development plan, BLT destroyed the boatyard while keeping the building rites. Only a “cease and desist” order, put on the former boatyard site by the Zoning Board, reflected that laws and agreements were broken.

The Coastal Area Management Act is a comprehensive law designed to preserve and protect precious coastal resources in ways that reflect uses that provide public access to our state’s waterways. When potential uses are being considered there are questions that must be answered while a determination is being formulated. They are meant to protect water dependent uses on waterfront property from being replaced by non-water dependent uses. From Section 3 of the Connecticut Coastal Area Management Act:

1. “Is the site physically suited for a water dependent use for which there is reasonable demand, or has the site been identified in the plan of development or zoning regulations for water dependent uses?”

2. “Will a non-water-dependent use replace a water-dependent use as part of the proposed development or redevelopment?”

3. “Will a non-water-dependent use inhibit or restrict existing public access?”

“If any of the above three conditions apply, the proposed non-water-dependent use may preclude existing or future water-dependent uses and create unacceptable adverse impacts.”

Attorney James Minor of the city’s corporation counsel has twice petitioned the court to throw the lawsuit out with no success. He has reasoned that because the issue of possible pollution is not relevant to this case, it disqualifies Soundkeeper as a legitimate defender of our state’s CAM laws While the CAM Act has much to say about pollution, it is clearly designed to protect the public’s right to public domain. The question of how and why a developer has been able to openly violate the CAM Act, Stamford’s Harbor Management Plan (based on CAM law), and agreements in the development plan comes with some very significant negative impacts.

It is becoming apparent to many in Stamford, that other developers have noticed the ease with which BLT has been able to accomplish its goals and to manipulate our city’s government. How can the rule of law and that of due-process be applied fairly and evenly going forward? Why is it that an independent watchdog agency had to intervene to protect public interests here in Stamford? How can this administration and its appointed corporation council, all paid for by taxpayers, have allowed this situation to evolve?

The people of Stamford should have answers to these questions. Our city representatives should have, not only the right, but the responsibility to ask them, and to fully understand how the citizen-taxpayers have been so poorly served. Perhaps corporation counsel past or present, would like to answer these questions in this forum. As to political motivation, corporation counsel working in glass offices should not be throwing stones!

Randy Dinter and Maureen Boylan are members of Save Our Boatyard.

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