Double trouble? Charter’s new proposal could pose issues for Stamford commuters
STAMFORD — As one 15-story glass Charter Communications headquarters building goes up, the company this week said it wants another — fast.
The move was somewhat surprising to the Zoning Board, which previously approved general outlines for another building on the so-called Gateway site where Charter’s headquarters is now rising. The board knew Charter would come with plans for a second building, but not this big and not this quickly.
The company is now calling for several changes to the already authorized plan, including one that will likely irk some commuters: Charter wants to swallow up 500 parking spots already pledged to rail commuters for its own use.
According to a memo Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing sent to the Zoning Board, Charter wants a second building that is about 100,000 square feet larger than is allowed under the old deal. Charter also wants the board to consider its pitch and make a decision by March so the building can be built alongside the first, 500,000-square-foot tower.
But when broached for the first time this week, size wasn’t a big issue for board members. It was all parking.
Before Blessing had a chance to finish outlining the city’s potential responses to Charter’s parking clawback plan, board member Rosanne McManus, a rail rider, pounced on the issue.
“I’ll tell you, the commuters in this city would prefer that the current train station parking garage be repaired and open for use,” McManus said, highlighting the mounting problems of finding train station parking as the old garage on Station Place continues to deteriorate.
Chairman David Stein also saw problems with the vanishing spaces.
“This is also a timing issue,” Stein said. “I don’t want to tell the commuters, ‘You’re going to lose your 500 spots and, eventually, maybe, you’ll have some.’”
Driving to the station looking for parking is already a gamble, commuters say. The old portion of the Station Place garage is in such disrepair that only some 200 of 727 spots are available.
The state plans to open a nearly 1,000-spot garage a short walk from the station on South State Street in coming years to replace the 727-spot garage. But knocking out 500 spaces before ground is broken to create nearly 1,000 could prove a risky maneuver.
Further complicating the matter is the question of demand and ease of access. It’s unknown how many spots are needed now and in the future. The Land Use Bureau also doesn’t want to create more congestion by offering more parking and incentivizing people to drive to the station, Blessing said.
“We need to know how many parking spaces are actually required at that train station,” McManus said. “And I don’t think we can trust the state’s numbers.”
Stamford native Jeffrey Maron, vice chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, said he “is not the least bit surprised” by the parking clawback, and it “just points out the folly of the DOT’s traffic plan” for the area.
Maron also questioned whether the gain of 1,000 spots in the state garage could offset the pending loss of 270 spaces in the old garage, and these 500 spots.
Though some see a less car-dependent future, Maron expects more demand on the way largely due to the thousands of new housing units being built in the city.
“We’re only go to have a greater number of people who want to park at the station,” he said.
Blessing said one option is for the Zoning Board to require Charter and developer Building and Land Technology, which is building the headquarters, to put 500 spaces a similar distance from the station.
That might be a fever dream: Gateway is some 500 feet from the station and finding land for parking in a city where speculators with big plans already pounce on small lots would likely prove expensive.
Then there’s construction cost: The state’s new 1,000-spot garage will cost around $100 million. The state already owns that land.
“I want them on site, but if that derails the project then it can’t be,” alternate Zoning member Keith Silver said.
The plan has “important implications for the economic well being of the city,” Blessing wrote in his memo.
Charter already has a multimillion-dollar package of state subsidies for moving to Stamford, and has qualified for a $10 million loan and up to $15 million in tax credits to support the new headquarters, loans to be forgiven should it hit hiring targets.
So that leaves a potential buyout. Stein said the city would have to hire an independent consultant, which it can force BLT to pay for, to value the 500 spots.
Though parking will likely prove the most hotly contested part of the plan, it’s not the only zoning-code edit needed for Charter to get its own next-door HQ2.
Because the land is zoned for a mixed-use building, there are affordable-housing-unit requirements built in — around 15 apartments that would have to be constructed. There, too, the city could take a buyout that Blessing estimates at around $3 million.
Blessing also said the city should consider requiring BLT and Charter to pay for a $250,000 traffic study of the entire South End.
It’s unclear when the Zoning Board will next take up the matter, but Blessing said it could be as soon as early next month.
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