The action taken by members of the Stamford Board of Representatives Monday is unheard-of in municipal government.
They voted to turn down a state grant of $950,000.
The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development gave the money to the city to pass on to Building & Land Technology, developer of 650 Atlantic St. – site of the historic Blickensderfer typewriter factory – and much of the city’s once-industrial South End.
The funds are designated for cleaning contaminants out of the soil and water table at the old factory site. BLT, Stamford’s largest developer and landowner, bought the site to build more apartment high-rises.
But city representatives on the board’s Fiscal Committee don’t want BLT to have the money. BLT won’t get it if the full board votes the same way at its April 3 monthly meeting.
City Grants Officer Anita Carpenter Monday presented the request, submitted by Mayor Caroline Simmons on Feb. 24 and unanimously approved by the Board of Finance on March 9, to the Board of Representatives Fiscal Committee.
According to the state DECD document, BLT wants to build a mixed-use development with about 1,000 dwelling units and an unspecified amount of commercial space on the 2.5-acre site, preserving most of the Blickensderfer building.
City Rep. Anabel Figueroa asked the first question during the committee meeting. She wanted to know how many of the units planned for the site will be affordable, given that BLT, which has constructed 4,200 apartments in its South End redevelopment in the last dozen years, builds luxury units.
“It would be wise for us to know how many units will be affordable. This is a lot of money to be given to a company without knowing what the benefit will be to taxpayers,” Figueroa said.
Carpenter said she did not know details about the number of affordable units because BLT has not submitted final plans for the project.
She explained that the grant is part of a state effort to promote economic growth in cities by helping to remediate contaminated industrial parcels, called brownfields, to create much-needed housing, particularly near transit hubs. The Blickensderfer building is close to the Stamford train station and bus depot.
City Rep. Nina Sherwood said she opposes giving taxpayer money to BLT, which generates millions of dollars in profits annually, “to remediate a private property of theirs, where they will put 1,000 units and collect rents to add to their profits.”
It’s “not a good use of taxpayers’ money,” Sherwood said.
“Nothing from the background we’ve been given says anything about affordable housing,” Sherwood said. “I believe state grants should go to the betterment of the residents of the city or the state.”
It’s not likely BLT will walk away from the project, Sherwood said.
“I can’t imagine that the developer would say, ‘Oh, well, we’re not going to get $950,000 from the state so we’re not going to build anything there,’” she said. “Even if the money doesn’t come to Stamford … I would rather see it go somewhere else in the state …. It’s better for the residents of the state that the money not go to an entity that makes as much money as this entity does.”
Sherwood said she contacted William Wallach, a state DECD project manager, to ask whether the grant can be used for remediation at another site, such as Cove Island Park. Wallach said Stamford cannot use the $950,000 for a different purpose but could apply for other remediation grants.
“We can’t divert this money to Cove Island,” Sherwood said. “But this money should not go to private hands. The private entity in this case has the money to remediate its own soil.”
City Rep. Virgil de la Cruz asked Carpenter who initiated the application for the $950,000 grant.
BLT “approached” the Grants Office about the application, Carpenter said.
“I don’t think we should accept the money,” city Rep. Fred Pierre-Louis said shortly before the committee voted.
“I don’t think public funds should be spent on a private company profiting on a project like this,” said city Rep. Carmine Tomas.
Eight committee members voted against accepting the grant, no one voted for it, and one member abstained.
A spokeswoman for BLT said Tuesday that the developer had no comment on the Fiscal Committee vote.
The old typewriter factory has been a point of contention for BLT for some time.
In 2020 BLT sought to demolish parts of the Blickensderfer building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but preservationists intervened. The State Historic Preservation Council took testimony, and in 2021 the office of the state attorney general began negotiating with BLT.
The developer agreed to preserve most of the old factory, and in 2022 Gov. Ned Lamont announced that Stamford would receive the $950,000 remediation grant.
The site was found to be contaminated with a class of cancer-causing chemicals known as PCBs.
The Blickensderfer typewriter has a huge place in city history.
Stamford inventor George Blickensderfer opened the factory in 1896, at the start of the city’s industrial era.
Blickensderfer had created the world’s first portable typewriter. It weighed 5 pounds, one-sixth the weight of other typewriters then on the market, and cost about half as much. Instead of type bars it had a type wheel, allowing users to see what they were writing as they typed. “The Blick” became the world’s best-selling typewriter, spurring other innovators to launch typewriter companies across Connecticut.