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Reps ban bags, boost fees on building permits, ballfields

February 6, 2019

STAMFORD — Soon, shoppers must bring their own bags to stores.

Builders will pay 50 percent more for permits for large projects.

South End residents will get a another shot at limiting development in their historic neighborhood.

Police officers will patrol the parks on foot this summer.

Golfers and ballfield users will pay more to play on city grounds.

The Board of Representatives decided all that and more in a meeting that went late into Monday night.

They passed an ordinance that adds Stamford to the growing list of U.S. cities to ban the use of carry-out plastic bags.

Starting in early May, residents must bring their own reusable bags to grocery, department, home-improvement, hardware, drug and other retail stores, and to take-out restaurants, food trucks and farmers markets. Retailers may offer recyclable paper bags for up to 10 cents apiece, though they will be free for those who qualify for government food assistance.

The ordinance defines a reusable bag as one made of cloth or other machine-washable fiber, or durable plastic at least 12 mils thick. The thickness requirement was increased at the last minute, but some representatives balked, saying retailers may already have purchased quantities of thinner bags to sell their customers.

“Do these retailers now have to buy new bags?” asked Rep. J.R. McMullen, R-18. “I don’t think we can keep moving the bar for people trying to run a business.”

But board members, saying it’s time to enact the ban that has been under discussion for more than a year, passed the ordinance, 36-3. It does not include bags used to contain fruit, vegetables or bakery goods in grocery stores; small items in hardware stores; newspaper or dry-cleaning bags; and packages of bags purchased to line garbage pails or pick up dog waste.

Zoning in

The two longest discussions of the night concerned zoning matters.

One was about a proposed increase in the cost of building permits for commercial projects. Mayor David Martin proposed fee hikes to raise revenue needed to beef up the ailing Building Department.

Representatives have batted the fees around for months, but left it at $13 per each $1,000 of the estimated cost of residential projects, such as adding a bedroom to a home, and $16.50 for the first $1 million of commercial projects.

They went after large commercial projects, proposing first to raise the fee to $19 once the cost exceeds $1 million. A second proposal was to raise it even more, to $25.

In the end, they went with the second number and representatives Monday voted 27-11 to set the fee at $25 per $1,000 of the estimated cost after the first million.

Several developers however, spoke against it at a recent public hearing.

Rep. Bradley Michelson, R-1, said Monday the jump is too drastic.

“It seems to me some of this is being done to politicize this — the people are good, developers are bad,” Michelson said. “But projects that cost $1 million to $5 million are not being done by super-wealthy people. I read that 100 people a day are leaving Connecticut, and we are the only state that has not yet recovered from the 2008 recession. This seems to me to be a poor message to send when this city has survived the economic crisis” largely because of development.

Michelson proposed raising the fee to $21, but the motion was defeated.

Rep. Nina Sherwood, D-8, who proposed the $25 fee, said it will affect only 7 percent of commercial projects, and it’s time for developers to pay their fair share, given that taxpayers cover the added public safety, road repair and school costs associated with increased development.

The fear that builders will flee the city because of a higher permit fee is unfounded, Sherwood said, citing a conversation she had with the mayor of Danbury, who told her he negotiated a “student impact fee” with a developer who’d proposed a 400-unit apartment complex. The mayor was concerned that the added value to the Grand List would not offset the increased cost to the school system, Sherwood said.

“He negotiated for the developer to pay an additional $550,000 to $850,000 every year through 2039,” Sherwood said of the fee, which could amount to nearly $13 million over 20 years. “I asked him, ’At any point, did that developer say, ‘No way; we’re going to go somewhere else?’’ The mayor confirmed that at no point did that developer say that it was too much to pay.”

Her colleagues voted to enact the $25 fee in 60 days.

Historic fight

Much of the crowd at the meeting included South End residents seeking to appeal a Master Plan amendment that would allow developer Building & Land Technology to put up a high-rise in the neighborhood’s historic district. Residents want to limit BLT’s big buildings to its Harbor Point development.

To appeal, residents must gather signatures from 20 percent of landowners within 500 feet of the site, which is between Woodland Avenue and Walter Wheeler Drive and once was owned by B&S Carting. The high-rise proposal involves two applications.

Representatives voted to verify landowner signatures on the petition opposing one application and, despite a statement from a BLT representative, sent the second petition back to committee for further review.

Parks and fields

At the lengthy Monday meeting, board members also voted 32-5, with one abstention, to accept $16,000 in federal grant money to cover the cost of overtime that will allow Stamford police officers to walk the parks and beaches this spring and summer. The goal is “to address crime and quality-of-life issues,” according to the grant — the department’s response to an outcry from residents after Martin cut the number of park police officers from three to two.

Representatives passed a new annual fee, $50, for a resident permit to play at the E. Gaynor Brennan and Sterling Farms public golf courses. The fee was $35 or $40, depending on time of purchase.

They also signed off on a $150 fee to use a ballfield for a tournament, up from $100. For corporations, they increased the fee from $250 to $300, plus a hike from $100 to $150 for each additional field. They also passed $25 fee increases for lighting fields, plus a new charge of $50 per hour for tournaments that exceed eight hours.

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.

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