STAMFORD – Three weeks after Mayor Caroline Simmons withdrew her proposal to sell a historic city building and convert it to housing units, confusion is stirring around a second proposal to sell another historic city building.
Some residents of the Springdale neighborhood over the weekend found notes tucked into their front doors or under their porch mats notifying them of a Tuesday meeting about the proposed sale of the Depression-era stone building on Haig Avenue, once a police station.
Notes were placed only at some homes, so neighbors made paper copies for their neighbors, or took cellphone photos and texted copies, or called each other to figure out what’s going on with the meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ferguson Library’s Weed Hill Branch, 1143 Hope St.
The note begins with an explanation, but then gets confusing.
It says the sale is part of a regular review of properties the city no longer needs. The 5,568-square-foot building of cut stone, constructed in 1931, sits on 1.63 acres and was appraised last year at nearly $4.7 million, city property records show.
It originally served as a police headquarters, then a civil defense building. Now a storage site for historic city records, it has been vacant for many years.
If the building were to be razed, two single-family homes could be built on the site, according to the note.
If it were to be converted to housing, zoning regulations would allow seven units, the note states.
But the Planning Board has approved sale of the stately stone building only if the number of housing units is limited to four, the historic structure is preserved, and the buyer gets .63 of an acre and the city keeps the remaining 1 acre. A final stipulation: the property cannot be rezoned.
The Board of Finance approved the sale with the same stipulations.
But the Board of Representatives held the sale at its September meeting.
The note that appeared on people’s doorsteps states that if representatives approve the sale of the Haig Avenue building, the mayor will hold a community meeting before issuing a request for proposals from developers who may be interested in the project.
That raises questions about the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting, which appears to be only for people who live close by the Haig Avenue building, and why the administration would not seek community input until after all the boards approve the sale.
Lauren Meyer, special assistant to the mayor, emailed this response:
“The mayor was invited to participate in a discussion regarding the proposed sale of the 0 Haig Avenue building with neighbors and the Board of Representatives members from District 17. This meeting is an opportunity for residents in the immediate vicinity of the property to share their thoughts with the mayor and their Board of Representatives members.”
The invitation came from city Rep. Mary Fedeli, whose constituents asked her to set up a meeting, Meyer said.
The proposed sale of the Haig Avenue building is starting off with some of the discord that plagued the proposal to sell the Glenbrook Community Center on Crescent Street, one neighborhood over.
Simmons withdrew the Glenbrook proposal earlier this month.
Simmons wanted to sell the shuttered community center – a onetime school built in roughly the same era and style as the old police headquarters – to a developer who would turn it into 51 units of affordable housing.
Glenbrook residents balked, saying they need the services that come with a restored community center, not more housing units in their already congested neighborhood, which Census records show is four times more densely populated than Stamford in general.
Simmons said Stamford needs more housing that people in the workforce can afford.
The Glenbrook proposal ended with a protest at a neighborhood meeting and Simmons making a speech during a Chicago conference on racial equity in which she said members of the community were using “abhorrent” and “despicable” language in their opposition to the project.
Simmons then walked the comment back, saying it was about rhetoric she’d heard in state and national debates on affordable housing.
The mayor, a Democrat, then ramped it up again, saying members of the Board of Representatives, including Democratic Majority Leader Nina Sherwood, mentioned “background checks” in discussing potential tenants during a meeting that Simmons said she did not attend.
Sherwood said Monday the mayor’s charge is nonsensical.
“The notion of doing a background check on someone who potentially will live in affordable housing was a foreign concept to me until I watched the mayor’s video from Chicago,” Sherwood said.
The fallout from the Glenbrook proposal is continuing.
Sherwood and five other city representatives have a resolution on the board’s Nov. 7 agenda that, if passed, will ask the administration to “look at every single option” in deciding what to do with the Glenbrook Community Center, Sherwood said.
“It’s a sense of the board that we want that building reopened as a community center, whether the city retains it, sells it, builds housing in the back of it – as long as it is used as a community center with a day care,” Sherwood said.
If Simmons wants to avoid the kind of controversy that came with the Glenbrook proposal, she needs to get people behind the Haig Avenue proposal by involving more of the neighborhood in the planning, said Barry Michelson, a member of the Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition.
Residents “tend to be reasonable … they just don’t like to be dictated to,” Michelson said. “The mayor may not be comprehending the interest people take in their neighborhoods. People understand the historic nature of the Haig Avenue building. She should get the community support first, instead of getting the board approvals first. She’s doing it backwards.”
Mike Battinelli, a founder of the Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition, said something similar.
“The Haig Avenue situation sounds like what they did with the Glenbrook Community Center – they approved the sale before the people in the community understood what was going on. Then it became a fight to stop the sale,” Battinelli said. “People know they can’t just say, ‘We don’t want you to sell this.’ We have to have a purpose for the building. If the mayor really wants to be transparent, why not have the community-wide talk now and ask, ‘What do we want to do with this public, historic property on Haig Avenue?”
City Rep. Bobby Pavia, who represents the Haig Avenue area, said he wants to hear more Tuesday about what the administration envisions for the old police building.
“It’s my hope that if this is affordable housing, we set it up so it goes to Stamford municipal employees,” Pavia said. “I hope more people show up at this meeting Tuesday because it’s good to have a conversation about what to do with this historic landmark.”