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More static for plan to make way for Bridgewater's move from Westport

Updated 8:43 am, Thursday, August 22, 2013
  • Architectural rendering shows the proposed 850,000-square-foot office building proposed ti house hedge fund Bridgewater Associates of Westport on the 14-acre site of a former boatyard in Stamford's South End. Photo: File Photo / Westport News
    Architectural rendering shows the proposed 850,000-square-foot office building proposed ti house hedge fund Bridgewater Associates of Westport on the 14-acre site of a former boatyard in Stamford's South End. Photo: File Photo

 

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The plan to bring Westport-based Bridgewater Associates to a waterfront site in Stamford continues to make waves.

At a planning board meeting in Stamford on Tuesday night, city residents again voiced adamant opposition to a proposed license agreement that would grant rights to more than 2.4 acres of city land on Magee Avenue for use in a new boatyard in exchange for $5 million in public improvements.

Many speakers echoed arguments made at a hearing last week, and said Building and Land Technology's decision to illegally demolish a boatyard at 14 Bateman Way in Stamford -- where the developer hopes to build a $750 million headquarters for hedge fund Bridgewater Associates -- should not be rewarded.

As part of a 2007 agreement, BLT's predecessor, Antares, had agreed to maintain a working boatyard at the Bateman Way site.

"This is simply a very expensive gift from the city to BLT and Bridgewater," Bob Bayes, a Stamford lawyer, said of the new boatyard proposal.

Carolyn Goldenberg, a member of Save Our Boatyard, a group that opposes the proposal, said the planning board's decision on a license agreement is the most pivotal of three approvals BLT needs, because it would legitimize the plan to build a 6-acre replacement boatyard.

The agreement also requires the approval of the city's finance board and Board of Representatives.

"The point is, if BLT gets planning approval, they'll be able to say they have proposed a boatyard that is equal or better to (the demolished) Yacht Haven," Goldenberg said.

In the agreement, the city would receive $5 million in public improvements, starting with a new animal shelter, in return for giving BLT the right to use 2.4 acres of city land -- including a swath of park land Stamford acquired to preserve as open space -- to build a boatyard at 205 Magee Ave.

Ron Williams, a Stamford resident, told members of the planning board that BLT should be forced to restore a working boatyard on the 14-acre Bateman Way site where in late 2011 the developer razed Brewer Yacht Haven, which had been a working boatyard for more than a century.

"Yacht Haven is absolutely a premium property and other uses of it should come at a premium price," Williams said. "Nobody doubts that BLT has made a lot of significant improvements to Stamford, but what works for BLT is not always what is best for Stamford."

Goldenberg said the license agreement should be rejected because the city has had no chance to study the tax impact of police, fire, schools and other public services related to the proposed Bridgewater move to Stamford, or the $115 million in tax incentives the state is extending to Bridgewater to relocate from Westport.

"How can we allow tax breaks for large, successful corporations that walk out when their benefits walk out?" Goldenberg said. "Whether we are talking about state or local taxes, this is all our tax money."

Some business owners in the South End, wearing BLT-issued "SAY YES" stickers, spoke in favor of the agreement. One of them was Johnny Heil, the owner of the Biergarten at Harbor Point.

Heil said he grew up in Baltimore, where the city made decisions that helped foster the return of retail, office, and other uses to the harbor area that transformed places that had been economically depressed.

"Whether Bridgewater comes or not, I'm going to build more businesses there," Heil said of the South End. "I am in support of this project ... I understand change is tough for people, but change, more often than not, is a good thing."

Mike Gorman, owner of the WHIP Deli on Dyke Lane in the South End, said that since BLT established the Waterside School and some of the Harbor Point complex's residential units, his once-faltering deli has flourished.

"I know there is an issue with the boatyard, and you need to find a good solution," Gorman said. "I think a good solution is on the table."