STAMFORD – In an unusual move, the Zoning Board has rejected a developer’s proposal to build 508 apartments in a mostly vacant office park on Long Ridge Road.
The board usually approves large apartment complexes, but members said the proposal by Monday Properties is not right for the site – 36 acres on the edge of woodsy North Stamford.
The four-story complex was the inaugural proposal under a zoning district created to allow obsolete corporate campuses to be rebuilt for housing.
“This is a beautiful piece of property and the first of our conversions of office park to residential,” Zoning Board member Rosanne McManus said during Monday’s meeting. “I think the city needs to get this right, and this proposal just doesn’t do it.”
Her fellow members agreed. With 500 people watching the meeting on Zoom, they voted unanimously to reject Monday Properties’ plan.
Instead, they approved a Resolution for Denial of Application that states that zoning “regulations allow for residential uses in the obsolete office parks by special permit” only if the project “is in accord with the public convenience and welfare.”
According to the resolution, Monday Properties failed to meet that criteria because:
- The project does not conform to requirements for size, scale, configuration, parking space, and proximity to existing dwellings.
- The project is not “integrated into the neighborhood.” The city’s Master Plan says such developments shall be “compatible with surrounding residential properties” and offer “diverse architectural styles” and smaller buildings organized along common areas. But the proposal “more reminiscent of shopping malls.”
- The proposed mix of apartment sizes “reflect a typical development in high-density zoning districts” like downtown and the South End, and does not support the city’s goal to “achieve a diverse and balanced community.”
- The regulations call for design standards that include limiting environmental effects, but the project received a C rating on the city’s sustainability scorecard that “does not reflect excellence in design.” The project could have scored higher by including renewable energy features, reducing the amount of pavement, building with greener materials, or reusing existing buildings.
- Though the proposal would retain the existing parking garage, it “ignores the site’s history as an office park” and contradicts a Master Plan policy of preserving historic buildings. The old Combustion Engineering building on the site – “one of the few examples of brutalist architecture and mid-century office parks in Stamford” – was to be torn down.
Zoning Board members came into the meeting with the Resolution for Denial of Application prepared, and there was little discussion before voting.
Support the neighborhood
Board member Bill Morris said he was opposed to the project from the beginning.
“It could have a long-term effect on the city,” Morris said. “This is not the right plan for this site.”
Member Gerry Bosak Jr. said the proposal doesn’t comply with Section 1.3 of the city’s Master Plan, which says high-intensity development should be focused downtown. Surrounding areas “should accommodate growth at a lesser intensity, while the character of Stamford’s neighborhoods will be supported (and) not significantly altered,” the Master Plan reads.
“This project should be closer to downtown,” Bosak said.
Board Chair David Stein said the “intensity and density is more suited for downtown or Harbor Point, not for an area of single-family homes.”
The corporate park at 900 Long Ridge Road, like four others in the city, is surrounded by single-family homes.
Besides 508 apartments, mostly one- and two-bedrooms with 56 studios and 15 three-bedroom units, Monday Properties proposed
20,000 square feet of commercial space.
Asked whether Monday Properties will challenge the Zoning Board’s rejection, land-use attorney Bill Hennessey, who represents the developer, referred questions to Laura Beth Telep, who handles media communications for the company.
Telep emailed a statement on behalf of Monday Properties saying company officials are disappointed with the outcome.
“We are proud of our proposal for 900 Long Ridge, a development which addresses one of the most essential needs in Stamford by providing equitable access to housing that is safe, affordable, and connected to a thriving community,” the statement reads. “Our application meets or exceeds all zoning regulations and master plan requirements. Further, it will deliver critical housing and help fuel additional economic growth and tax revenue for the city. Despite the setback, we are dedicated to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to keep the process moving forward.”
Telep also did not answer a question about whether the developer will challenge the Zoning Board’s decision.
For and against
In the preceding weeks, it seemed that land-use officials and appointees favored the project.
In September, members of the Planning Board voted to recommend that the Zoning Board approve the project.
In a 13-page report dated Oct. 27, the staff of the Land Use Bureau wrote that “the proposed project will fulfill the goals of the Stamford Master Plan, which calls for the revitalization of existing office parks and an increase in the supply of housing. The proposal also implements the recommendation of Stamford’s Housing Affordability Plan, which similarly suggests redevelopment of vacant commercial buildings for the purpose of housing and to facilitate the production of Below Market Rate housing.”
The Monday Properties plan uses “existing site infrastructure, minimizes site disturbance while providing a well-designed and landscaped residential campus. The public amenities created through the project include a new public sidewalk, street trees, contribution towards pedestrian and traffic improvements, as well as significantly increasing the tax revenue generated from the site,” the report reads.
Patrick Kazley, who lives across from the office park, said he thinks the Zoning Board ultimately voted against the project because members are finally listening to residents who’ve been trying to protect their neighborhoods from traffic increases, speeding on side streets, and other ramifications of congestion in Stamford, the state’s fastest-growing city.
Kazley kept his neighbors informed about the project by sending fliers, knocking on doors, emailing, and posting on social media.
“I think people assume there are common-sense protections against overdevelopment. I wanted them to be aware that there are massive gaps in the process that makes that very untrue,” Kazley said. “You can make great points, but what makes the difference is the quantity of voices.”
Residents came out in large numbers to speak against the proposal during a public hearing two weeks ago, and “made their presence known” at Monday night’s meeting, Kazley said.
“We made it clear that we are not anti-development. We’re for compatible development. We tried to say that as loud as we could,” Kazley said. “We were aware of the fact that our concerns would be labeled NIMBY and discriminatory. To be clear, that is not the motivation of the residents’ opposition.”
It’s about zoning, he said.
“The question boils down to this: why does zoning exist – to promote development, or to promote reasonable and sensible development?” Kazley said. “We think it’s the latter.”
There’s a decent chance the developer will fight the decision, he said.
“It’s a coin flip whether they will work with the community versus take it to court,” Kazley said. “But they’ll try again for sure. So we have to be prepared.”