A restaurant owner, realty firm partner, shoe repairman, hotel manager, downtown business district president, chamber of commerce CEO – even a fellow developer – came out Monday for F.D. Rich Co.’s plan to build a luxury apartment high-rise on Broad Street.
Mike Cacace, attorney for F.D. Rich owner Tom Rich, had multiple supporters lined up to speak during the Zoning Board’s online public hearing on the developer’s application to build 198 units on two small Broad Street parcels bisected by Gay Street.
The apartment high-rise will bring diners to restaurants, customers to businesses, enliven downtown with pedestrians, and fill two odd lots – together less than an acre – that have been vacant in the heart of the city for three decades, supporters said.
Three Stamford residents spoke in opposition, saying the last thing the city needs is another luxury high-rise where rents are too high and apartments are too small, contributing to an escalating density and failing to provide opportunities for ownership.
Most of those who called in to the Zoning Board hearing praised the plan for a 13-story building with retail space on the bottom floor; parking on the second and third floors; a pool, gym, dog park and other amenities on the fourth floor; and luxury apartments on floors five through 13.
Rich’s proposal includes 22 studio apartments; 100 single-bedroom units; 67 two-bedrooms; and nine three-bedrooms. To fulfill Stamford’s Below Market Rate Program requirement for new developments, the project would include 18 units to be offered at lower rents.
The building would bridge Gay Street, making it into a covered, lighted passageway for motorists and pedestrians seeking access to the parking lot behind the many restaurants and businesses facing Bedford Street.
It’s a win for the city, said Randy Salvatore, president and CEO of RMS Cos. and developer of a 228-unit luxury high-rise under construction at Broad Street and Greyrock Place, adjacent to Rich’s property.
“I support a competitor building 200 units right next door — that’s how good I think this project is,” Salvatore said. “These two projects were always talked about as vital to downtown Stamford. I looked at this site that Tom Rich is purchasing …. I couldn’t make sense of it. It’s one of the most difficult and important sites to develop.”
Gene Rubino, a partner in Gar Realty, one of the businesses facing Bedford Street, said it’s about time the parcel is developed.
“This property has been empty. It’s been an eyesore and has not contributed anything to downtown,” Rubino said. “Yes, there is a lot of housing downtown, but that is where housing should be. This and (Salvatore’s) building will put 400 units smack in the middle of downtown and will add vibrancy.”
Monika Twal of nearby Hanrahan Street said she doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m just a homeowner and a resident of Stamford. I’m not as distinguished as other people here,” Twal said. “But I can tell you downtown is quite congested. I drive it every day. … 198 units is quite a lot for that space.”
The 13-story apartment building would be constructed on .82 of an acre.
“You might have pedestrians but you will also have more car traffic,” said Twal, who thinks downtown congestion is becoming overwhelming. “All I see is concrete concrete, concrete. There’s no green space.”
Resident Esther Marie Giordano of Strawberry Hill Avenue said it doesn’t make sense for developers to assume that people who live downtown won’t have cars, because Metro-North Commuter Railroad and CT Transit “don’t get you where you need to go.”
Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing said a parking study – which is not yet finalized and relies on the cooperation of private building owners – so far shows that ratios for participating buildings are .86 to 1.14 cars per housing unit.
That’s roughly one car per unit, meaning that once Salvatore’s project is complete, and assuming Rich’s project is approved, there will be 426 more cars coming and going from Broad Street.
Giordano said that, besides traffic, she has another fear – that zoning officials are allowing Stamford to become a city of renters.
People “are not owning … so I am concerned about the future of Stamford. People are not putting roots down here,” Giordano said.
“I am concerned that you are not thinking long term. You’re just thinking short-term build, build, build, and develop, develop, develop,” she said. “We’ve lost our way. We’re trying to become New York City.”
There could be New York City-type problems with truck deliveries if Rich’s project goes up as planned, said Amy Souchuns, an attorney for Malloy Realty, which faces Bedford Street. Trucks delivering to restaurants and other businesses won’t have enough room to turn around or even pull into the passageway beneath the high-rise without blocking traffic, parked cars and pedestrian access, Souchuns said.
“This development would create effects to the Malloy property,” Souchuns told the board.
David Kooris, president of the Downtown Special Services District and a supporter of the Rich project, refuted that. The business improvement district has been working with business owners to improve deliveries, Dumpster pickups, traffic circulation and other issues in the parking lot behind the Bedford Street businesses, Kooris said.
“Very little of that parking lot is public property. … The owners have an agreement to provide parking,” Kooris said. “Any one of the private owners can pull out of the agreement and do what they want with their property.”
The Rich proposal will create more order in the lot, Kooris said.
“It’s a messy, complicated place,” Kooris said. “Freight, trash, circulation, delivery will work better.”
Zoning Board Chair David Stein said he would like to have the city’s Land Use Bureau review the plans for the passageway. Board members also want more information on how the developer will replace trees that will be cut down, and other matters. Discussion on Rich’s application will continue at the board’s May 8 meeting, Stein said.
Dann Drive resident Anthony Pramberger told Zoning Board members he expects they will ultimately approve the project, even though it has flaws.
His concern is that this plan, like the others proposed for downtown and the huge Harbor Point development on the South End, is for mostly high-priced studios and one-bedroom luxury apartments.
“What we need are two- and three-bedroom units,” Pramberger said. “That’s what the demand is.”
Pramberger said he reviewed a development map posted on the city’s website and counted about 5,000 rental units in various stages of planning and development.
“We’re becoming a transient community with no opportunity for ownership … and it’s getting less affordable,” Pramberger said. “At what point do we acknowledge that traffic in Stamford continues to worsen, and with every development it gets worse? I don’t know how and when this gets addressed.”
RentCafe.com reports that the average apartment rent in Stamford as of February was $2,789, and the average apartment size was 916 square feet. According to the nationwide apartment listing service, 51 percent of housing units in Stamford are renter-occupied and 49 percent are owner-occupied.