STAMFORD — Straining to speak over the diner din, a half dozen longtime residents of the city’s South End leaned into the vinyl burgundy booths of Curley’s Diner on a recent weeknight to plot a path to save their neighborhood.

Accompanying them were preservationists Wes Haynes and Brad Schide, who joined the nascent organizers at a diner synonymous with fighting against city and corporate interests. Interests similar to those the South Enders see coming for the historic neighborhood permeated with often rundown industrial-era homes.

Preserving the South End is now akin to fighting several brushfires at the same time, resident John DaRosa said. The land there is hot and getting hotter as Harbor Point developer Building and Land Technology begins its push to expand and other builders follow suit.

The group met at Curley’s to send a message: They’re organizing. Curley’s and owner Maria Aposporos made headlines nearly two decades ago for fighting then-Mayor Dannel Malloy and the city, which sought to obtain her diner through eminent domain and sell it to a developer with high-rise apartments in mind.

Aposporos won — though it took the state Supreme Court to decide — and still runs the joint. She grabbed a chair at the table of 10 between coffee warm-ups on the cold December night.

“You’ve got to expose those bastards,” she said. “The brutes.”

The South End case is nothing like Curley’s — there are no substantial eminent domain claims in the neighborhood. Developers there buy up land, assemble lots and then come to the city with ideas in hand. Although, as in the Curley’s case, the city administration appears keen on seeing more development despite what those nearby the development sites may say.

The burgeoning fight in the South End is a case pitting the rights of property owners against those of neighbors. A similar spat — now in state Superior Court in Stamford — could forecast how this fight turns out and showcases the political might the group must wield to stop the forces of city expansion.

The first thing the group needs is people, something those who live in the old South End don’t have.

“We have very small numbers in the South End,” DaRosa said.

The neighborhood would need to use the rest of the city to amplify its message. City-wide petitions will soon be circulated, resident Sue Halpern said.

Mike Battinelli, president of the Stamford Neighborhood Coaltion, assembled two years ago to reign in what it sees as runaway development, said the group would link arms with the South End if asked.

“If they really need our voice, we’ll definitely go down there,” Battinelli said. “That’s what the whole neighborhood coalition is about ... (no) neighborhood is immune to what’s going on.”

Then comes money and — possibly attorneys — a lesson learned in the recent fight by Turn of River residents against developers proposing to build a Life Time Fitness facility in an office park next door.

Neighbors there spent thousands on attorneys to combat the developer’s lawyers and the costly move paid off. The residents’ lawyers were able to convince the city Board of Representatives to overturn the Zoning Board’s decision to allow gyms in office parks. That’s the case now in court with developer, George Comfort and Son’s suing the Board of Representatives over the reversal.

The Life Time fight lays out other obstacles the South End would need to overcome to get a larger say.

If Zoning and Planning approve changes paving the way for more apartments, the neighborhood could petition the decisions by gathering signatures from local homeowners just as the Turn of River residents did — the South End is comprised of predominantly renters. In 2010 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 86 percent of the neighborhood rented.

And could the group afford attorneys to plead their case?

The old South End’s demographics again don’t bode well. In the 2010 census — which is a good benchmark because it came before Harbor Point began to change the neighborhood’s makeup with luxury apartments —the median household income of the neighborhood was about $52,000.

The median household income in Turn of River is more than double that even after accounting for inflation. In the Turn of River census tract, a median household took home $136,000 last year.

What the South End has that Turn of River does not is history, and a 1980s designation on the National Register of Historic Places. That is where the battle can be won, said Schide, a staffer with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

“We’re not going back to gas lights,” Schide said. “We have existing buildings, existing buildings that should be re-used.”

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton