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Stamford approves more building for South End

January 3, 2019

STAMFORD — The Planning Board had a reflective moment this week as it weighed a proposal to change city plans to facilitate another high rise in the South End, a neighborhood with a housing density now rivaling downtown.

“We have to think about what are we doing to the neighborhood,” board Chairwoman Theresa Dell said. “Are we taking away the neighborhood feel of the South End? Is that what we’re determining for the South End ... a high rise, transient community.”

After a decade of erecting apartment towers in the South End, Building and Land Technology was in front of the board with a change for land outside its Harbor Point development, a $3.5 billion overhaul of abandoned industrial land.

The request, likely the first of a few more to come — BLT has at least one other block of development in the neighborhood — prompted the Planning Board to question the board’s vision for the neighborhood since the decade-long building boom is now bleeding into the old South End.

In short, BLT wants more building with higher housing densities. Neighbors want less. On Tuesday night, the Planning Board struck down the middle, allowing for more density, but reducing the number of units allowed on one site by around a third.

BLT eventually hopes to built some 670 units on the block between Walter Wheeler Drive and Woodland Avenue, split between three buildings — ranging in height from five to 22 stories — and others next door.

To do so, BLT needed the Planning Board to extend the mixed-use category of the city’s Master Plan map to the north, allowing high rises outside of the Harbor Point district, which houses towers and urban-style high rises closer to the water.

BLT will later need a new zone written into the city regulations to make such a building a reality, so this will next go to the Zoning Board, which is already mulling another BLT pitch to allow for a 365,000-square-foot office addition to the Charter Communications headquarters being built near the train station.

The proposal stoked fear in neighbors concerned they were being surrounded by high rises and riled two business owners who shared the block with BLT.

Although there was no public comment, nearly a dozen citizens attended the meeting.

Carmine Tomas, whose family owns two buildings on the block, and Bob Katchko, whose construction company operates from there, listened as the planning board deliberated.

Both followed along, occasionally rolling eyes as the fate of their block was decided. One part of the proposal that particularly drew their ire was the city requesting a density change for a Stamford-owned property on the block.

“We’re small businesses,” Katchko said quietly. “I grew up here ... they just want to steamroll us, they’ll sell each building, clear $100 million and when it all goes to Section 8, to co-op city, they’re long gone. We’re still here. We live here.”

Tomas was also unhappy with the city and a developer revamping his block, and questioned whether any change would cost him more in taxes if it made the land more valuable.

The Planning Board decided to allow more density on the block, but limited BLT to a third of its request.

The board changed the northern half of the block to a high-density housing category instead of urban mixed use.

Ted Ferrarone, BLT’s chief operating officer, said it was too early to say what the change means for the proposed building.

“We’re working through it, we’re trying to be sensitive to everybody’s desires,” he said.

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

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