Public Meeting Rescheduled For Haig Avenue Housing Plan in Stamford

The city of Stamford wants to sell the former police headquarters on Haig Avenue.

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STAMFORD – Mayor Caroline Simmons has rescheduled a public meeting that last month grew too large for the room.

The meeting – to discuss the possible sale of a historic city building to a developer to create housing – will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at a larger venue, Springdale Elementary School on Hope Street.

The first time, Simmons’ staff, along with city Rep. Mary Fedeli, invited a handful of Springdale residents who live near the stately stone structure on Haig Avenue, built during the Great Depression.

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But those residents told their neighbors about the meeting. Then the Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition emailed the people on its 1,800-member contact list. So many residents showed up at the public library branch in Springdale that they had to be turned away. The size of the crowd violated the fire code.

Simmons promised to reschedule the meeting at a place with more space.

It had better be pretty big, said Barry Michelson, a leader of the Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition. It could be that quite a large number of people will show up on Thursday, Michelson said.

Residents may see the meeting as an opportunity to discuss with Simmons more than her proposal for the 5,568-square-foot former police headquarters, built in 1931. 

“For years people have gone to zoning meetings and felt like they are disrespected, not heard, not considered,” said Michelson, an urban planner who served two terms on the Zoning Board. “Decisions are being made about their homes, and they feel like they are being kept in the dark.”

Builders bring projects before the Planning Board and get a good amount of time to make a case for their applications, Michelson said. Most residents, however, aren’t even aware that a project has been initiated, he said.

The project then goes to the Zoning Board. People seem to be more aware that the Zoning Board holds public hearings, Michelson said, but if they attend they get just three minutes to speak. By then, the project usually is well along in the approval process, he said.

“People should be involved at the beginning of the process, not at the end,” Michelson said. 

It’s an irritation among residents, he said. 

“They feel like no one looks out for them,” he said.

The Stamford Neighborhoods Coalition, a collective of neighborhood associations, formed six years ago because residents concerned about overbuilding, increasing traffic and congestion, and a proliferation of illegal apartments and illegal parking problems felt their concerns were being ignored by planning and zoning officials who appear to cater to developers.

People unfairly characterize coalition members as being opposed to development, said Michelson, who ran unsuccessfully for Stamford mayor in 2017. Members oppose development without proper planning – growth for growth’s sake, he said.

“Your biggest investment is your home. You make a lot of decisions when you buy a home,” Michelson said. “You look for a certain lifestyle – an apartment, a condo, a single-family – at a price you can afford. You look to zoning regulations to protect that.” 

Frustration surfaced in September, when Simmons addressed a meeting of the Glenbrook Neighborhood Association packed with residents concerned about her plans for the city-owned Glenbrook Community Center on Crescent Street.

Simmons wanted to sell the community center to developer JHM Group to build 51 affordable-housing units. Residents rallied for reopening the center, which closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of adding more housing in their Glenbrook neighborhood, which Census figures show is four times more dense than Stamford overall. 

“You have to let the public speak and include the public before you make these plans,” Glenbrook resident Joe Avalos told Simmons during that meeting.

Simmons later withdrew her proposal.

Michelson said Springdale residents have similar things to say about the proposed sale of the Haig Avenue building.

“If the mayor is coming to listen, good. But if she’s going to come with her entourage and tell people what it’s going to be, like she did in Glenbrook, that’s not the way to approach this,” Michelson said. “It will just make people more angry.”

Simmons’ plan for the old police headquarters is to sell it to a developer to build four housing units with the proviso that the historic facade be preserved. Under the plan, the city would sell .63 of an acre to the developer, keep the remaining 1 acre, and prohibit the property from being rezoned. 

Residents who showed up for the original meeting at the Springdale library said they had doubts about the “rezoned” part.

Their concern is that converting the old police headquarters to multifamily use will allow other conversions that will alter their single-family neighborhood. Simmons’ office has said the zoning changes needed to allow multifamily housing in the onetime police headquarters would apply only to historic buildings.

But there’s not a lot of trust in city officials when it comes to development, Michelson said.

“In Stamford, we tend to make the zoning regulations fit the project, rather than the project fit the zoning regulations,” he said. “That was my great frustration while serving on the Zoning Board.”


Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.

a.carella@ctexaminer.com