Stamford Reps Strip Charter Changes, Set Hearing Date


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STAMFORD – Yellow means off the table; green means maybe not yet.

That’s the color-coding city representatives chose for a list of recommended charter changes Monday as they worked to identify those that now are prohibited – or perhaps are prohibited – by a recent law passed in Hartford with the support of Mayor Caroline Simmons

The law blocks some of the most significant changes proposed by the Stamford Charter Revision Commission, convened early last year to undertake the once-a-decade mandate to reexamine the city’s governing document. 

All of the now-banned changes the commission proposed concern development, a long-contentious topic in Stamford, Connecticut’s fastest-growing city. 

Simmons, a Democrat and former state representative, has said she disagreed with the commission’s proposals because they would stifle development, and acted to stop them. 

So, on Monday night, those proposals were highlighted in yellow and stripped from the commission’s draft report to the Board of Representatives. The board now cannot deliberate them, and voters cannot decide at the ballot box whether they become law. 

The commission’s proposals would have made it easier for residents to appeal Zoning Board decisions through petitioning; added requirements for more public hearings and public notice on planned development projects; increased the number of votes needed to approve the city’s taking of private property by eminent domain or the sale of public land.

The new law prohibits all towns in Connecticut from changing those and other zoning provisions in their charters.

The changes proposed for Stamford’s charter were highlighted in yellow to illustrate that, though the Charter Revision Commission has been researching and deliberating them since last year, they are no longer up for discussion.

But city Rep. Megan Cottrell asked the commission’s attorneys if one proposal can be salvaged. 

Who is a landowner?

It has to do with a unique feature in Stamford’s charter that allows property owners to gather signatures on petitions to appeal zoning decisions to the Board of Representatives. The law advocated by Simmons killed a proposed change that would have allowed residents to appeal by gathering 300 signatures from landowners anywhere in the city.

Though “the proposal to provide a definition of landowner in that specific section dealing with petitions, based on the ‘rat’ legislation, is off the table,” said Cottrell, a Democrat, it might still be possible to get a definition into the charter.

“Rat” is a term used for legislation that is quietly inserted into important bills most likely to pass. The law pushed by Simmons was inserted into a multi-billion-dollar capital spending package passed a couple of hours before the state legislature ended the 2023 session. 

Changes to the petitioning process now are off-limits in charter revision, Cottrell said, “but I was wondering if we could put a definition of landowner in a glossary section. … It’s an important consideration because a court has asked us to give more clarity on what a landowner is.”

It’s a reference to a case that began in 2018, when the Board of Representatives accepted a petition from residents seeking to appeal a Zoning Board decision to allow large developments in the city’s half-empty office parks.

The office parks are surrounded by single-family homes and condominiums, and residents said allowing huge facilities, such as the indoor-outdoor Life Time Fitness complex proposed for High Ridge Office Park, would destroy their quiet neighborhoods.

City representatives agreed, and rejected the Zoning Board’s decision. The developer, George Comfort & Sons of New York, then took them to court.

In 2020 a state Superior Court judge ruled that the homeowners’ petition was invalid because the city charter says only landowners can sign a petition, and it does not say that condo owners are landowners. The judge said the charter fails to define landowner.

The case is still pending in state Superior Court, with the board and the developer in settlement discussions.

The Charter Revision Commission had recommended that condo owners be included as landowners. The law pushed by Simmons now prohibits that change.

The commission’s attorneys, Steve Mednick and Richard Roberts, told Cottrell they will research “whether it’s possible to consider a freestanding definition of landowner to the extent it doesn’t intrude on the provisions” in the new law.

Mednick and Roberts have other work cut out for them. 

Will the new law last?

They have to research multiple proposals that may not be allowed because of the new law, or because of other possible legal challenges – the items highlighted in green.

One proposal would require the Planning Board and Zoning Board to consider a developer’s efforts to inform the public about a project when considering whether to approve the project. It says a board may deny the developer’s plan or defer a decision if members think the developer’s public outreach was inadequate.

Another proposed charter change requiring more research would suspend voting privileges for elected officials who fail to file campaign finance reports on time. Voting privileges would be restored only when the official’s campaign finance disclosures are complete, according to the proposal.

Democratic city Rep. Nina Sherwood, majority leader of the Board of Representatives, proposed a charter change that was not highlighted in green or yellow. It is to establish an effective date for the charter proposals blocked by the last-minute law backed by Simmons, “in the event the law is repealed by the General Assembly.”

The Board of Representatives’ Charter Revision Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed changes for Tuesday, July 18. Visit to find out the time.

According to procedures and deadlines mandated by state law, the full Board of Representatives then will meet to vote on the recommended changes. 

After that, the board will send the recommendations to the Charter Revision Commission for review. The commissioners may consider only those changes the board gives them; they may not add new ones, Mednick said. The commission then sends the board its final report.

Representatives likewise cannot add anything to the final report, Mednick said. They only may “vote to approve or disapprove each item in the report, in whole or in part.”

The items that are approved will appear on the ballot on election day.

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.