Long Ridge Road Properties Slated for 862 Apartments, Nearly 30,000 SF of Commercial Space


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STAMFORD – Side-by-side properties on Long Ridge Road would be the first in the city to be converted from obsolete office parks to housing complexes.

Two developers have similar proposals, though one is larger. 

Both proposals were approved by the Planning Board. The first one was then rejected by the Zoning Board and landed in court. The second has yet to face the Zoning Board.

Both have generated significant community opposition because the office parks are surrounded by single-family homes just below the Merritt Parkway, on the edge of woodsy North Stamford. 

Developer Monday Properties has proposed 508 rental apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial space in four four-story buildings. The project on 36 acres at 900 Long Ridge Road is before a judge.

Developer Building & Land Technology is waiting for a date before the Zoning Board on its proposal to build 354 rental apartments and 9,400 square feet of commercial space in two four-story buildings. That 800 Long Ridge Road parcel is 25 acres. 

Residents say the adjacent projects, which together would create 862 housing units and 29,400 square feet of commercial space, are too dense for sites that border North Stamford, the least-dense neighborhood in the city.

But, residents learned from a Planning Board meeting this month, that is not enough reason to deny the projects. 

“I think four stories is too intense, and I think 354 units is a lot for the area,” board Chair Theresa Dell said of the project proposed by BLT, the city’s largest developer and property owner. “It should have been reconsidered. I would have liked to have seen more green space.”

Board members “want major development to be downtown, not in office parks,” Dell said.

Office parks “can be turned over to housing, but that doesn’t mean they have to be built to the limit,” Dell said. “They should be more in style with the area.”

354 is not 60

Besides single-family homes, the area has several condominium complexes, each with about 60 units, far fewer than the 354 units BLT proposed, Dell said. The condos are owned, not rented, which fulfills a demand in Stamford, Dell said.

“Did the applicant look at ownership, or just rentals?” Dell asked Lisa Feinberg, an attorney with Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey, the land-use firm representing BLT. “Did they consider doing townhomes? Or even the style – it’s very boxy … did they consider blending it in more with the neighborhood?”

BLT did not consider home ownership, Feinberg said.

“Building condos is risky under the best of circumstances … lenders are not loaning for condos,” Feinberg said. 

But that’s beside the point, she said, because the renter vs. owner question is outside the purview of land-use boards.

“That’s not something that land use is supposed to regulate,” Feinberg said. “Land use just regulates the use of land, not the character of the project. There is no regulation that says the units have to be home ownership.”

Planning Board member Jennifer Godzeno said residents don’t want more one- and two-bedroom luxury rental apartments, the most common type of unit built in Stamford for 15 years, and favor condominiums or townhomes.

But, under the regulations, a townhome project at 800 Long Ridge Road would not be less dense than two four-story apartment buildings, according to Godzeno.

“You end up with a similar number of units,” she said. 

“It would be sprawl versus height,” Feinberg said.

Planning Board member Bill Levin said he favors the four-story approach.

“We have quite a bit of housing downtown. This is a different type that is badly needed,” Levin said. “It would serve another segment of the population that has not been served.”

No cheap rents

Levin said he has a friend who is apartment shopping and was dismayed to learn that a small two-bedroom apartment in Stamford runs $4,100 a month. Under the city’s Below Market Rate program, 10 percent of the BLT project, or 35 units, must be offered at lower rents, Levin pointed out.

“If we can get more units that are less expensive, I support the concept,” he said.

Dell reacted.

“The 10 percent will be below market rate, but the units won’t be cheap by any stretch of the imagination,” Dell said. 

The board may want to dictate details, Godzeno said, but all it can do is make recommendations to the deciding body, the Zoning Board, based on land-use regulations.

“I hear the desire to bring down the scale of the project … but … this conforms. The state requirement is that you can’t use vague words like ‘character.’ You have to look at height and setback” and other measurable characteristics, Godzeno said.

“I’m not sure we have the standing to request a reduction in the size of the proposal, as long as it meets the requirements as written,” Godzeno said.

City Associate Planner Lindsey Cohen said the Land Use Bureau supports the BLT project because Stamford must figure out what to do with the ever-emptier office parks.

“Office vacancies … have increased (and) there is weaker demand for suburban office space and more demand for downtown office space,” Cohen said, which is why the Planning and Zoning boards changed the regulations “to rezone Long Ridge Road for projects just like this.” 

Planning Board members then voted unanimously to recommend that the Zoning Board approve BLT’s application with two caveats – that the network of sidewalks be extended and that use of the commercial space be restricted.

The Zoning Board will hold a public hearing on the 800 Long Ridge Road proposal, though one has yet to be scheduled.

Monday Properties’ project for 900 Long Ridge Road was moved last month from the Stamford courthouse to the land-use litigation docket in Hartford, after a judge “determined that such transfer is required for the efficient operation of the courts and to ensure the prompt and proper administration of justice.”

Zoning Board members have said they denied the 900 Long Ridge Road proposal because it is too large and lacks a suburban feel. 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,” they said.

The developer’s attorney, Peter Nolin of Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey, said Zoning Board members acted arbitrarily and their decision is not supported by facts or law.

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.