Proposed revision to Bridgewater zone draws support and sharp questions
Updated 5:02 pm, Monday, March 3, 2014
Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's largest hedge funds, plans to keep a presence at its Glendinning Place corporate campus, regardless of whether it moves some of its offices out of town, according to the lawyer who has proposed a change in the regulations governing the site.
Larry Weisman, the lawyer representing Bridgewater, made the statement about Bridgewater keeping offices in Westport as the Planning and Zoning Commission continued its review of this proposed change to the town's Design Development Districts last week.
The Bridgewater headquarters at 1 Glendinning Place is one of the five DDD zones in town.
Bridgewater, which was the town's third-largest taxpayer according to the town's 2013 grand list, continues to pursue plans to move to Stamford, but 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. That's nearly double the number now working at the firm's offices in Westport, which in addition to Glendinning are also located at the Nayala Farms corporate center.
When asked at the Feb. 27 P&Z meeting about the status of the planned relocation, Weisman responded: "There's only a 20 percent probability of a move to Stamford" at this time.
He said he got that impression by talking with a Bridgewater design team.
Last Friday, he confirmed that's what he said the night before. "It was what I took away from the meeting" with that team, he added. Weisman said it wasn't anything he heard from company officials. "It's just my opinion," he added.
"They wanted to leave and had problems (in Stamford), and now they will stay if we help them out a little?" P&Z member David Lessing asked Weisman.
Bridgewater officials on Friday declined comment on Weisman's statement, saying only that they stand behind a comment made on the planned relocation in early February.
In it, officials said their goal remains the same as when the project -- to explore building a new headquarters in Stamford -- was first announced. "We remain excited by the prospect of a state-of-the-art campus that will bring all of our employees together under one roof while at the same time restoring this key piece of natural waterfront property," they said.
"Although as we clearly stated at the time of announcement, there are a number of hurdles that we would need to overcome before we could bring this project to fruition," officials added. "The outstanding issues which we continue to evaluate include zoning and community related issues as well as the overall feasibility, cost and complexity of the project."
The discussion of Bridgewater's future in town came as the P&Z continued its consideration of Weisman's proposal to modify zoning regulations that would allow "expansion of buildings located in DDDs (Design Development Districts)," such as the Bridgewater site.
The modification, however, apply to all of the town's five DDDs, where the corporate owners could expand and upgrade buildings and parking areas.
P&Z member Alan Hodge asked Weisman if he has seen any of the responses on the DDD revisions from the public. Weisman said some think "it's a wholesale expansion" for other DDD properties in town, including Nyala Farms. "The Greens Farms people are concerned about Nyala," he added. "There were knee-jerk reactions. No one likes change."
"Is that your blanket response?" asked Hodge. "Yes," said Weisman.
But Matthew Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member, said the commission needs to "see if these changes will affect other locations," such as Nyala, and take into consideration the concerns of nearby residents.
Meanwhile, Weisman said that the footprint, or building coverage, on DDD properties would not increase more than 20 percent if the amendment is approved.
"I don't think the intent was to freeze the properties," Weisman added of the original terms of the DDD regulations. "It was poorly drafted."
He also said the DDD zone, adopted several decades ago, "doesn't seem fair or legal to me."
Supporting the loosened DDD language was First Selectman Jim Marpe, who told the P&Z that Bridgewater is the town's largest employer.
"They are a good corporate neighbor," he said of the hedge fund. "I believe they deserve to improve this property."
"I know they were lured to Stamford and from conversations I've had with company officials, they have a real commitment to keep a presence in Westport," he added.
The first selectman told the P&Z he had not come to the meeting to "argue the fine points," but said he would encourage the commission members to "take action for the improvement of their property."
No action was taken by the P&Z, which is expected to continue its review at its next meeting.