The old Glenbrook School offers a primer on why the affordable housing issue is contentious.
Stamford officials made a plan to sell the vacant school-turned-community center to a contractor to convert it into much-needed housing for working people.
Officials had a long list of demands for the developer of the century-old building on Crescent Street:
- create a good number of affordable rental units
- ensure density won’t overwhelm the neighborhood
- provide enough parking for the number of units
- generate revenue for the city
- work within existing zoning regulations
- preserve the historic stone and stucco facade
- offer space for community use
A developer, JHM Group, and a builder, Viking Construction, devised a proposal that checks off the items on the list. Now the proposal created by the pair, who formed a limited liability company called Crescent Housing Partners, is going before the elected boards.
The Planning Board approved the sale of the building Tuesday.
Members liked that Crescent Housing Partners plans to offer units in a range of affordability, from tenants who earn as little as 40 percent of the area median income to those who earn 80 percent.
Members also liked that the partners plan to create 51 units even though zoning regulations allow up to 79 units on Crescent Street, which is congested with condominium complexes, businesses, a railroad crossing, traffic at a busy Glenbrook Road intersection, and more.
Planning Board Chair Theresa Dell thanked the partners for proposing 75 parking slots, a “proper number,” because developers often shortchange car space. Dell said she also appreciates the effort to fill the demand for workforce housing.
“What the city really needs is 51 truly affordable units,” Dell said.
But, on Wednesday, the Board of Finance rejected the sale.
Members of that board questioned the finances of the deal, in which Crescent Housing Partners would pay the city $700,000 for the property. But the market value is $1 million, even $2 million, more, board members said.
“Are we giving it away for so low a price that we’re gipping the city out of valuable revenue?” member Mary Lou Rinaldi said. “We’re leaving a lot of money on the table.”
The deal is not about revenue – it’s about “a policy decision” to create affordable housing, board Chair Richard Freedman said.
Board member Dennis Mahoney, however, said he understands “the public policy goal, but I don’t think it should be mutually exclusive of the economic value.”
The Board of Representatives is slated to consider the sale next month. That consideration includes an opportunity for the public to speak at a hearing.
Mike Battinelli, a lifelong Glenbrook resident and member of the Stamford Neighborhood Coalition, said he will take that opportunity.
The city needs more affordable housing, but neighborhoods have other equally important needs, Battinelli said.
The building at 35 Crescent St. was a school from about 1900 to 1969, when it was nearly destroyed in a fire, he said. The city wanted to knock the building down but the neighborhood rallied and convinced officials to let them transform it into the Glenbrook Community Center, Battinelli said.
“They had a three-on-three basketball league, a teen room with a pool table, teen dances. They made an ice rink out back in the winter and served hot chocolate. You could leave your house and go there and find something to do,” he said. “Kids still need that stuff. Glenbrook has a steadily growing, very diverse population with a lot of kids. People worry about them hanging out in gangs, possibly getting into crime. It would be good to have a community center again.”
The center went dormant after the person who was running programs left, Battinelli said.
“Most of the people on these boards don’t live anywhere near these projects they’re voting on,” he said. “Most of them don’t have a clue what the neighborhoods need.”
Stamford and other municipalities are responding to pressure from Hartford to create more affordable housing, but communities are different and one-size-fits-all solutions don’t work, Battinelli said.
Still, the need for workforce housing remains, Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing said. The city requested proposals to develop another historic municipal building, the former town police headquarters on Haig Avenue, into affordable housing units. But that project did not get a good response, Blessing said.
The city has a list of municipal properties it would like to sell for conversion to affordable housing but many are too small and others are in single-family neighborhoods that are not likely to be rezoned, he said.
“There are not many left that are viable for housing projects,” Blessing said.