High price keeps many lots empty

Small va­cant parcels costly to de­velop

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Barry Lyt­ton

STAM­FORD — The in­fa­mous “hole in the ground” on Grey­rock Place was the most bla­tant empty lot in the city’s down­town for decades, but it was far from the only va­cant par­cel be­fore a mas­sive hous­ing de­vel­op­ment be­gan ris­ing there last year.

While the hole’s 4.3 acres are filled with the 11-build­ing Urby hous­ing com­plex, there sits an­other 8.8 acres of va­cant land down­town, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the city tax as­ses­sor. Many of the parcels hide in plain sight, cov­ered by as­phalt or used as park­ing for nearby build­ings. Only three lots, an empty sliver on Bank Street and two tracts on Broad Street, strike the naked eye as the next “holes in the ground.”

The largest par­cel, 1.29 acres on the cor­ner of Broad Street and Grey­rock Place, has been owned by the same limited li­a­bil­ity com­pany for two decades, yet noth­ing has hap­pened. A neigh­bor­ing

fenced-off lot, 136 Broad St., which in­cludes some park­ing for busi­nesses on Bedford Street, has also been held by a limited li­a­bil­ity com­pany for years, although the firm has changed names, records show. There, too, noth­ing has hap­pened.

The rea­son, ex­perts say, is likely sim­ple — cost.

Jim Fa­gan, se­nior man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Cushman & Wake­field of Con­necti­cut, a real-es­tate ser­vices com­pany, said there are three boom­ing sec­tors in city real es­tate: high-den­sity apart­ments, med­i­cal space and in­dus­trial uses.

And to build those apart­ments, de­vel­op­ers need a large tract of space to make the build­ing prof­itable.

“If your lot is an acre, it’s hard to build high den­sity be­cause of park­ing,” Fa­gan said. “When you try to go high den­sity on a smaller piece, it gets ex­pen­sive fast.”

Nearly all of the two dozen va­cant lots down­town are less than an acre, as­ses­sor records show. The me­dian size is less than two-tenths of an acre.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the LLCs of the largest va­cant tracts could not be reached for comment.

For all the parcels, there have been “ideas and con­cepts kicked around,” said Rick Red­niss, a prom­i­nent Stam­ford land-use con­sul­tant. But, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, noth­ing has hap­pened.

“It’s been a com­bi­na­tion of things — the seller, the buyer and the mar­ket,” Red­niss said.

Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Bless­ing echoed Red­niss. He’s heard con­cepts for some of the long-va­cant parcels, but lit­tle more.

“Once and a while, peo­ple talk to us about those parcels and what they can do with it, but noth­ing ever ma­te­ri­al­izes,” Bless­ing said.

Empty land may not be the best bet for a profit-minded devel­oper. More money can likely be made where build­ings al­ready stand.

While the large-apart­ment-build­ing sec­tor re­sem­bles a gold rush, the of­fice sec­tor looks more like a ghost town. City of­fice va­cancy rates float around 25 per­cent.

The Bank Street lot has been a re­cent ad­di­tion to empty-land, and would have been a small of­fice tear-down and hous­ing build if com­pleted.

Years ago, it was a twos­tory build­ing torn down by Seaboard Prop­er­ties to make way for a 14-unit apart­ment com­plex. Land records show the empty lot was taken by Pa­triot Bank in 2016, and re-sold last year to an­other com­pany.

Tear­ing down those build­ings and re­plac­ing them with apart­ments, or con­vert­ing the build­ings — which is in­cen­tivized by the zon­ing code — into hous­ing is likely where the ac­tion is.

Bless­ing doubts there will be many con­ver­sions down­town, where the of­fice-sec­tor is still rel­a­tively hot. The high va­cancy rates are largely driven by of­fice parks and of­fices farther from the train sta­tion, he said.

“All the ones that are ripe for con­ver­sions are al­ready con­verted,” he said.

Con­ver­sions are tricky, Fa­gan said, and of­ten come down to how costly it is to de­sign floors so each unit has ac­cess to win­dows.

“It’s very hard to con­vert an of­fice build­ing to a hous­ing unit, and the big­gest is­sue is ac­cess to the out­side walls,” he said.

Red­niss said a “domino ef­fect” will prompt more con­ver­sions in the next few years.

A good ex­am­ple, he said, is the old UBS build­ing.

It was once dom­i­nated by the bank, and now sits empty. To fill the space, its owner will move in sev­eral tenants, mean­ing smaller com­pa­nies that could never get that close to the train sta­tion will fill the de­sir­able lo­ca­tion leav­ing other down­town of­fices empty. Those build­ings will then be hous­ing, he said.

“You have some in­ter­est­ing domi­nos that I think will fall within the next year,” he said. “We started, years ago, writ­ing th­ese con­ver­sion (reg­u­la­tions) to cor­rect the im­bal­ance that was cre­ated with the of­fice boom ... It’s re­ally the fun­da­men­tals of sup­ply and de­mand.”

Ti­mothy Guzda/Staff graphic

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.