P&Z wants info: Plan to revise Bridgewater's zone district held up
Published 6:30 am, Monday, February 24, 2014
A proposed change to zoning regulations relating to select corporate properties in town remains under review as the Planning and Zoning Commission awaits more information about the impact of the revision.
The P&Z on Thursday will continue hearing arguments for and against the change to Design Development Districts, which was proposed by a lawyer representing Bridgewater Associates, which would like to be able to expand its complex at 1 Glendinning Place. The session will take place at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.
Lawrence Weisman, the lawyer representing the applicant, at last Thursday's meeting called the change "a benefit to the town."
"You couldn't increase the size of the buildings," he said of the headquarters of Bridgewater Associates, one of the nation's largest hedge funds. The firm plans to move to a larger complex in Stamford, but its project in that city has been mired in controversy.
Weisman then noted that Bridgewater's current coverage of the Glendinning Place property is only "about 6 percent lot coverage now," and that the amendment would raise the limit of site coverage up to 10 percent.
In what appeared to contradict earlier statements, he said proposed coverage increases on the site could be up to 20 percent more than facilities currently there, which would allow Bridgewater to expand its footprint approximately to 7.2 percent coverage overall, at least initially.
"But they could never go to 10 percent" of overall coverage, he said. "So it's not a regulation that's designed to benefit the site that brought me here in the first place."
There are four other DDD properties in town, including the Nyala Farms corporate center near the Sherwood Island Connector.
P&Z Commissioner Catherine Walsh asked Weisman, who said he has been involved with "part of a team" that has been trying to keep Bridgewater in town, if this zoning change would serve as an incentive to the hedge fund.
"We're talking about Bridgewater," she said. "Everyone knows Bridgewater is leaving. Is what we do here something that will induce them to stay?"
"Absolutely," said Weisman, who said the firm plans to keep its executive headquarters at Glendinning no matter what.
"They're going to keep the Glendinning campus as their central executive campus ... and they want to keep it without expanding it," he said.
Several members of the public spoke against changing the DDD regulation, which they said was designed decades ago to freeze growth on the large complexes.
The current language of the DDD zone classification "has effectively been in place for over 34 years," said Jeff Block of Save Westport Now.
"Approving such a drastic change could potentially open the door to big-box commercial configurations in residential areas," he said, adding that it would conflict with efforts to maintain Westport's small New England town character.
A letter to the P&Z from Art Schoeller, president of the Greens Farms Association, stated that when the DDD zones were introduced the intent was "to prevent any new Design Development Districts and to freeze in place the existing ones."
Weisman, however, said, "It doesn't seem fair to me that you can say you're stuck with what you have and you can never make a change to it."
One woman, speaking against the idea, however, said property owners should abide by the regulations that are in place.
"The citizens rely on the regulations that these entities came in under and you can't burden them with having to defend the process continually," she said.
Discussion of the proposal became a bit heated when Weisman was asked about trying to find additional information to support his argument.
"We need some evidence," said P&Z Commissioner Alan Hodge. "If you want us to move this thing forward, you need to present your best case."
"You're asking us to do something for you," he said.
But Weisman, said that wasn't a reasonable request, and added the data on other DDD properties is unavailable and that it is not his responsibility to find.
"I'm not asking you to do a thing," Weisman said. Regarding the other properties that would be affected by his proposed DDD change, he said, "You don't need to know what the consequence is."
When Hodge responded by repeating the statement, Weisman said he didn't appreciate the commission member's sarcasm.