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City rep., petition, question South End developer’s special taxing district

September 25, 2018

STAMFORD — The sprawling Harbor Point development responsible for a decade of building high-rise apartment towers in the South End has recently come under renewed scrutiny from inside and outside City Hall.

The project and developer Building and Land Technology, which has overseen the $3.5 billion overhaul of the South End’s western waterfront and east side, will be the subject of a Board of Representatives committee meeting Wednesday with members seeking more information about the development’s taxing district. Meanwhile, a petition is circulating in the neighborhood that seeks to contain the developer’s advance into the historic South End.

“Residents who have been in the South End for many years are becoming increasingly concerned about co-existing in an overcrowded community,” the petition reads, in part. “As a result, there are major concerns from a number of South End residents and others who live in the city of Stamford concerning the overwhelming development of high-rises in the South End and other small communities.”

The petition goes on to list seven action items including a prohibition on more high-rise buildings, an end to street-widening and a push to preserve historic structures — many built in the industrial era — which have been bulldozed at an increasing rate.

At issue before the board’s Land Use Committee Wednesday evening is the perceived lax reporting by the Harbor Point Infrastructure Improvement District, created for the development a decade ago. The corporate entity, a tax-increment-financing district (TIF), was established to fund the millions of dollars of infrastructure work needed to turn old brownfields and vacant factories into habitable land.

The city’s oversight of the district and developer BLT is lacking , said city Rep. Megan Cottrell, D-4, who introduced a review of the district’s reporting requirements.

“They’re not transparent at all,” she said. “I wanted to know more about the district ... I got a whole lot of nothing.”

City Economic Development Director Thomas Madden, who has been on the district’s board since 2016, said the perception that the setup is opaque stems from a common misunderstanding: The district, while enabled by state legislation, is not itself a municipal agency. It is not required to post minutes and agendas.

However, it does keep minutes as required by the enabling legislation, and those can be reviewed by the public.

Cottrell, who has spoken with Madden about the issue, said she called and asked around City Hall for quarterly or annual reports on the district and its financials but found little.

She cited the annual meeting minutes posted on the city website as highlighting the district’s opacity.

Each year, a page or two is posted. It lists five directors — all but one from BLT — and goes on to say the original agreement has not been amended since 2007.

Madden said the lack of information is because there was no action taken. Meetings in recent years have lasted five minutes, he said. Minutes of earlier meetings, which are available to the public at BLT offices but not online, have more content.

Cottrell said she worries the city is “asleep at the wheel,” and must better grasp TIF districts and their governance.

It appears BLT is angling for another TIF district for more of the South End, including two blocks it has recently assembled. Enabling legislation was signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy earlier this year.

The Board of Representatives would get a vote on the district’s creation. Cottrell said she wants the board to know what it’s voting on.

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

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