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Stamford struggles to fill vacant Zoning Board seat

December 23, 2018

STAMFORD — Once among the most desired volunteer spots in the city, it appears a seat on the Zoning Board isn’t so coveted after all.

More than 90 days after the sudden death of longtime board Chairman Thomas Mills, the Republican seat is still unfilled as proposals roll in that could reshape the city. No mayoral nomination for the position has appeared before the Board of Representative’s Appointment Committee, and the local Republican party and Mayor David Martin’s office say filling the spot is a work in progress.

Michael Pollard, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the delay is two-pronged. One, the mayor has to work with the Republican Town Committee on a nominee: “Therein lies the timeline,” he said. Two, “it’s not a huge population of people that have the capacity and the time,” he said.

Meetings can drag until near midnight and can be held several times a month depending on the number of proposals. Then there is the 356-page zoning regulations, and the massive city-wide maps.

But the unspoken issue is likely controversy, something the board has been mired in since a drawn-out spat over whether a developer can raze and replace a South End boatyard with something other than boats.

Since the boatyard debacle and the mayor declining to re-appoint the GOP’s Barry Michelson, an opponent of changing city regulations to permit redevelopment of the yard, the board has often been embroiled in the type of controversial issues that turn neighbors against each other.

Since not getting reappointed to the board, Michelson ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Martin with land-use as his key issue.

But the vote, and Michelson’s poor showing on election night, didn’t put the controversy surrounding the board’s power and decisions to bed.

Instead, it has arguably ramped things up. This year, the board’s decision to allow gyms in office parks — hashed out in a half-dozen lengthy meetings — was unanimously overturned by the 40-member Board of Representatives.

The developer seeking the office-park edit has since filed a lawsuit against the Board of Representatives. The case was transferred in October to state Superior Court in Hartford.

Michelson, who has a planning background and still routinely attends meetings, said the idea of returning to the board has “crossed my mind.”

“I’d be open to it,” he said.

But getting a Martin nomination is likely a long shot.

Pollard declined to comment whether the mayor would consider it, opting instead to say, “we often like to get new views, new ideas.”

Michelson said the GOP will soon hold a candidate’s committee meeting to find people for several positions, but couldn’t provide a timeline. An earlier meeting on the issue was derailed by the November snowstorm that paralyzed the city, he said.

“I certainly would have an interest in returning,” he said. “What can I say, I feel very passionate about this city.”

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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