Vote looms on plan to clear way for Bridgewater move from Westport
Published 8:17 am, Monday, September 16, 2013
After two contentious public hearings last month, Stamford planning officials may vote this week on a proposal to grant the city's most powerful developer land needed to build a 6-acre boatyard -- a key element of plans to move the headquarters of Bridgewater Associates from Westport to Stamford.
Despite strong objections from dozens of people at the public hearings, Building and Land Technology presented a pact that would grant BLT permission to use 2.4 acres of public land as part of a boatyard at 205 Magee Ave. in Shippan.
In return, BLT would make $5 million in public improvements for the city, including construction of an animal shelter next to the new boatyard.
Planning board members have placed the BLT discussion and vote on the agenda of their meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the fourth-floor cafeteria of the Stamford Government Center, 888 Washington Blvd.
Last month, more than 200 people turned out for the hearings, with many questioning the propriety of the agreement and calling for planning officials to vote against the pact.
If approved, BLT could move forward with zoning applications for clearance to get more than 1 million additional square feet of commercial space at the end of Washington Boulevard for Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's biggest hedge funds, which would relocate from Westport.
Carol Ann McClean, a District 3 representative of the Republican Town Committee running for the city's Board of Representatives, said she opposes both the license agreement, partially because BLT acted illegally by demolishing an existing boatyard called Brewer's Yacht Haven West on the 14 acres where it now intends to build the Bridgewater building.
Under a 2007 zoning approval for the Harbor Point complex, BLT's predecessor, Antares, was granted development rights other than those normally allowed within the development, when the boatyard's acreage was included in calculating how much it could build.
Those additional 700 housing units and 122,000 square feet of commercial space were granted with the understanding that BLT would not seek to redevelop the Brewer's Yacht Haven West site and maintain a boatyard, McClean said.
"I feel like everything they do, they try to wiggle through getting things done other than the way everyone else gets things done here," McClean said.
BLT general counsel and spokesman John Freeman did not return calls for comment Sunday, but has maintained the zoning approval agreement in 2007 did not preclude BLT from seeking to redevelop the boatyard property.
Last month, Freeman said that the city's Building Department issued valid permits to demolish the boatyard, which were needed to begin environmental remediation of the land.
Rives Potts, president of Brewer's Yacht Haven Group, the company that operated the boatyard demolished by BLT in 2011, submitted testimony to the planning board seeking to refute BLT's claims that the 6-acre boatyard plan would provide a service on par with the now demolished Brewer's.
One of the criteria BLT must meet is to convince city land use officials that the 6-acre boatyard plan will provide comparable or better services to the Brewer's yard.
Potts said Sunday that the developer's claim that the new boatyard would offer the same amount of service launching, repair and hauling out of a similar number of boats as the Brewer's operation is not credible.
"Anyone can build a boatyard anywhere, but the real question is if you can make it a profitable boatyard," Potts said. "The way they've designed it leaves a lot to be desired and leaves the boats in storage cheek by jowl, so there is no way to really repair them in storage."
Last month, BLT's prospective boatyard manager, John Harter, who currently runs the Marina at Harbor Point, told planning officials that the additional eight acres the Brewer's site had were not necessary to run a high-capacity boatyard.
Planning Board Chairwoman Theresa Dell said that if no decision is made on the proposal Tuesday night, the discussion and vote will be carried over to the board's next meeting on Sept. 24 at the same time and place.