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P&Z backs Bridgewater proposal to loosen DDD limits on size

Updated 3:05 pm, Friday, March 14, 2014
  • Planning & Zoning Commission members discuss a proposal by BridgewaterAssociates to amend a zoning regulation concerning Design Development Districts. Photo: Anne M. Amato / westport news
    Planning & Zoning Commission members discuss a proposal by BridgewaterAssociates to amend a zoning regulation concerning Design Development Districts. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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A plan promoted by Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's largest hedge funds, to loosen restrictions imposed by Designed Development District regulations on use of its Glendinning Place property was unanimously approved Thursday by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The modification also applies to four other DDD properties in town where, like Bridgewater, the corporate owners will now be allowed to expand and upgrade buildings and parking areas.

Buildings on the Bridgewater corporate headquarters at 1 Glendinning Place are 40 years old. "I'm feeling better about this," said P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens, who said he wanted to get the proposal off the docket. "They are a good corporate citizen."

But commission member Alan Hodge said "several from the public were concerned about the effects on other" DDDs properties, in particular Nyala Farms, the corporate center in the Greens Farms section of town. Among those concerned about potential changes at that complex are members of the Greens Farms Association, a neighborhood preservation group.

At previous meetings on the revised regulation, Larry Weisman, the lawyer representing Bridgewater, told the P&Z the footprint, or building coverage area, on DDD properties would not increase more than 20 percent if the amendment were approved. The footprint is the bird's-eye view of the property from above and would include not only the buildings, but also parking lots and driveways, according to Larry Bradley, Planning and Zoning director.

The footprint does not include the entire square footage of the buildings since some may be more than one story tall, he said. In Bridgewater's case, the three-story office building, which includes a couple of wings, is 47,314 square feet, according to Paul Friia, assessor.

But Bradley said the size of the Glendinning Place footprint is unknown since a survey of the property wasn't submitted with the amendment request.

One will have to be submitted if the property owner plans to go ahead with any expansion or upgrades, he said. To date, he said, only conceptual plans have been submitted by Bridgewater.

"They did a pre-app (application)," he said Friday. That mentioned a new parking deck and a small building addition, he said.

Stephens said he wanted it noted that the commission, in making its decision, "recognized the need to bring buildings up to current (code) standard,"

In approving the DDD changes, the P&Z struck a compromise on the allowance for expanded coverage of DDD properties, cutting back the proposal to no more than a 10 percent increase.

"They never gave a concrete reason for 20 percent, so we did what's best for the town," said Stephens.

Stephens also said he felt the proposal should have gone before the Zoning Board of Appeals and not the P&Z.

Commission member Cathy Walsh, prior to the vote, said there have been rumors about Bridgewater's plans for a 9,000-square-foot expansion of offices and a new parking garage on the Glendinning campus.

Bridgewater Associates, the town's third-largest taxpayer according to the town's 2013 grand list, has been pursuing plans to move to Stamford.

However, hurdles in that city have stalled the plan to build a $750 million, 850,000-square-foot headquarters in that city that would accommodate more than 2,000 employees, after the developer of that project became embroiled in a months-long battle with Stamford zoning officials.

Even though Bridgewater officials, in recent statements to the Westport News, have insisted they remain committed to relocating to Stamford, the lengthy delay and the proposal to allow the firm to increase the size of its Westport headquarters, prompted speculation at local P&Z meetings that the firm may be reconsidering the move.

Weisman told the P&Z at earlier meetings that, regardless of whether Bridgewater moves to a larger Stamford complex, the firm intends to maintain a presence in Westport. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

The text amendment takes effect on April 14, Bradley said.