Stamford neighborhood group fights against high rise spread
STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — The South End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone has filed an appeal to the Board of Representatives hoping it will halt a developer’s plans for continued high rise building in the neighborhood.
The appeal filed Friday requests that the representatives reverse an earlier Planning Board decision that paves the way for high-density housing north of Walter Wheeler Drive, considered by many to be Building and Land Technology’s first push into the 177-acre South End Historic District’s residential quarters.
The petition will now involve the representatives in the ongoing conflict between the builder, whose Harbor Point project has greatly changed the South End, and neighbors.
With nearly 40 signatures — although several are duplicates — the petition challenges the Planning Board’s January approval of changes to the city’s main planning document, the Master Plan. BLT sought adjustments to the plan’s map in the South End so the builder could construct higher-density housing north of Walter Wheeler Drive, thus expanding Harbor Point’s reach and allowing for more high rise luxury apartments in the neighborhood.
But neighbors wanted BLT to adhere to what the Master Plan already called for the in the area, mostly low- to medium-density housing, not another high rise.
NRZ Vice President Sue Halpern said neighbors don’t stand against development, just development on a massive scale. She said the group would welcome townhomes, row-houses or brownstones like those in New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore.
BLT has countered that the Walter Wheeler block for decades housed B&S Carting, a trash hauling facility neighbors and the city had long disliked.
The plan for housing on the B&S Carting site simply “fills the hole in the doughnut,” BLT Chief Operating Officer Ted Ferrarone has said. The site sits between the two large Harbor Point development sites in the South End.
Ferrarone, in a statement, said the developer saw the appeal and was “surprised, since we’ve had many discussions with the NRZ and larger Harbor Point community on this project and have made numerous changes to the plans over a period of more than a year.”
After hearings on the proposal, the Planning Board opted for a compromise and cut back on BLT’s original ask. The board allowed the bulk of the block to be changed to a high-density designation, but not the highest.
The compromise essentially cut the density allowance by a third, but neighbors still considered the approval a loss in their effort to slow what they see as BLT’s sprawl.
A legal fight coming?
The petition could prove fraught with legal claims and lead to litigation. Just last year an appeal ensnared several lawyers all volleying different interpretations of the city charter, state law and case law at each other over a half-dozen meetings. That case is now before a judge in state Superior Court in Hartford.
It centers on a fight between residents and an office park owner seeking to build a fitness complex. At its crux is the meaning of “land owner,” which a resident must be for their appeal signature to count, according to the city charter. Developer George Comfort & Sons contended the Board of Representatives accepted an “invalid protest petition” because it counted signatures it should not have.
“Land owner” doesn’t mean condo or co-op owner, according to city attorneys and lawyers for George Comfort. The Board of Representatives is now being defended by outside counsel in that case because it didn’t listen to city lawyers.
For the recent appeal, Halpern said the NRZ believes its list of signatures represents the called for 20 percent of land owners within 500 feet of the contested site, as per the city charter.
But the signature gathering alone highlights the difficulties the NRZ faces in slowing BLT.
First, it’s hard to find an “owner of privately owned land,” as called for in the city charter, in the South End. According to most recent census estimates, some 94 percent of the neighborhood rents. Those renters have a land-owning landlord who could be eligible for an appeal, but that land owner is often difficult to find. Many South End land owners listed on city tax cards are limited liability companies with little information available beyond a principal member listed separately with the Connecticut Secretary of the State.
“There were so many LLCs,” Halpern said. “It’s hard to get the actual owner.”
The petition will be discussed by the Board of Representative’s Land Use Committee on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s fourth-floor Democratic Caucus room.
Although no public hearing is on the agenda, Halpern said the NRZ is planning for a large showing.
“We’re not going to give up,” she said. “I understand what we’re up against, but we’re not going to stop.”
Information from: The Advocate, http://www.stamfordadvocate.com