Bridgewater plan to relocate from Westport hits new snag
Updated 10:06 pm, Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The developer of a Stamford waterfront property, whose plan to build a boatyard is part of a larger project to relocate Bridgewater Associates' headquarters from its Westport campus, has withdrawn the proposal.
Building and Land Technology, facing a likely vote by Stamford's Planning Board, on Tuesday withdrew a controversial license agreement that sought permission to use city land to build a 6-acre boatyard in Shippan.
Approval of the agreement was needed for BLT to proceed with needed land-use approval for an additional million-plus square feet in commercial space to build a $750 million headquarters for Bridgewater Associates on a 14-acre South End parcel, where the developer illegally demolished a 14-acre boatyard.
Bridgewater, one of the world's largest hedge funds, is currently hedquartered on a 22 acre-campus on Glendinning Place in Westport.
Planning Board Chairwoman Theresa Dell said BLT General Counsel John Freeman asked to withdraw the proposed agreement at the beginning of Tuesday night's regular meeting, where the board was expected to consider whether to approve the agreement.
"It is clear that the redevelopment of Stamford's Harbor, including the relocation of Bridgewater's headquarters, generates important economic benefits and significant public improvements for Stamford," Freeman said in an emailed statement. "We appreciate the feedback and input received during the Planning Board's review.
"To allow us time to consider and respond to the board's comments, we have asked the administration to withdraw the application. This will provide us the opportunity to work with city officials to build greater consensus. Ultimately, this project will create new amenities for Stamford residents, boost the city's economy and bolster the ongoing revitalization of the South End."
The decision to withdraw the agreement erases two months of public hearings and fierce debate before the Planning Board over the agreement's merits, Dell said. Any future land swap or public improvement deals proposed by BLT would have to have to be considered from square one.
Dell said that she believed that BLT's decision to withdraw the agreement proposal is ultimately the right one procedurally after the Planning Board drafted a list of proposed conditions to be added to the pact to get more money and other benefits for the city.
"I think the license agreement with all the changes is not the same license agreement that was proposed," Dell said. "Maybe they will want to rework a new license agreement with a different approach."
In late August, more than 200 Stamford residents turned out to the first two public hearings on the proposed agreement, which would have granted the developer the right to use 2.5 acres of city land adjacent to 205 Magee Ave. The agreement needed the approval of that city's Planning Board, Board of Finance and the Board of Representatives to move forward.
Under the agreement, in exchange for rights to include the land in a 6-acre boat yard facility, the developer would spend $5 million toward planning, design and completion of a new Stamford animal shelter and additional improvements to Czescik Marina to furnish up to 190 slips to city boaters, as well as landscaping improvements to Kosciuszko and Cummings parks.
Last week, the Planning Board drafted the list of conditions that would have required BLT to pay the full cost of the animal shelter and other called-for improvements and change the boundaries of the proposed land swap to retain land that could be needed by the city's Water Pollution Control Authority.
Stamford residents criticized the benefits of the deal and the propriety of allowing BLT to build the new boatyard, and argued a 2007 zoning approval agreement with BLT's predecessor Antares obligated it to preserve a boatyard on the site where it wished to build the Bridgewater Associates headquarters.
Maureen Boylan, the leader of Save Our Boatyard, a citizens' group that opposed the agreement, said Tuesday she hopes the city and BLT would now work on a proposal to restore a marina to the South End site.
"I'm pleased with the decision to withdraw the license agreement and hope the city and developer will get back to the table about building a boatyard on the 14-acre site," Boylan said. "There is no better use for that site, and there is really no other use for that site but a boatyard."
Critics of the proposal also questioned what they saw as lack of financial benefits for Stamford and other legal assurances in the document that the new boatyard proposed for 205 Magee Ave. would provide the full range of services needed by local boaters.
Planning Board alternate Jay Tepper said that he disagreed with the agreement's attempt to exchange public improvements in return for the use of city land, which would create a precedent of removing the city's control and oversight of public projects.
"Hopefully BLT, Bridgewater, the city and the boatyard supporters will come together with a proposal that will be successful for everyone involved," Tepper said. "I think it was a mistake to include the animal shelter and the other improvements in this deal from the start."