Har­bor Point at 10

Zon­ing board tours decade-old devel­op­ment

Stamford Advocate - - Front Page - By Barry Lyt­ton

STAM­FORD — Zon­ing Board mem­bers could point to where the high rises dot­ting the South End stood, though shrouded in fog as they marched down a near-de­serted board­walk to the tune of beep­ing bull­doz­ers.

The band of vol­un­teers de­cides what goes up in this fast-grow­ing city, but rarely vis­its sites as a troupe. So the board packed into a muted-gold mini­van on a re­cent af­ter­noon and toured the now 10-yearold Har­bor Point project, tak­ing stock of all they and the city had agreed to — bil­lions of dol­lars worth of in­vest­ment, a new tax­ing district and a sprawl­ing devel­op­ment com­prised of some dozen build­ings that be­gan con­struc­tion a decade ago.

“Look at all this,” said Chairman David Stein. “It’s amaz­ing what they’re do­ing down here.”

But the board wasn’t only there to see what had been erected in Build­ing and Land Tech­nol­ogy’s Har­bor Point. It was there to assess what’s com­ing.

Like most any 10-year-old, Har­bor Point is not done grow­ing.

There is at least one more pro­posed 22story build­ing in the works, and BLT owns an­other tract to the north. The de­vel­oper also owns build­ings and land not in the orig­i­nal Har­bor Point out­line, the 80-acre

as­sem­blage of va­cant man­u­fac­tur­ing plants and util­ity sites Antares In­vest­ment Part­ners cob­bled to­gether in the mid 2000s.

The fate of the newer sites is the crux of cur­rent con­flict.

In fact sheets and talk­ing points, BLT Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Ted Fer­rarone is quick to out­line the pos­i­tives, and most city of­fi­cials call Har­bor Point an en­vi­able suc­cess story.

Har­bor Point prop­er­ties con­trib­ute more than $1.2 bil­lion to the city’s Grand List value. Twenty-seven restau­rants, and re­tail­ers and of­fice ten­ants in­clud­ing Bridge­wa­ter As­so­ci­ates, the largest hedge fund in the world, ex­ist where over­grown in­dus­trial brown­fields once ruled. The city has reaped $18.6 mil­lion in fees and con­veyance taxes alone, and been paid $100 mil­lion in prop­erty taxes.

BLT has done what city plans have called for for decades by build­ing more hous­ing and af­ford­able hous­ing, Fer­rarone and lawyers say.

Over the last decade, the com­pany has brought 2,476 mar­ket-rent units on line in the South End and has 391 more un­der con­struc­tion. The de­vel­oper also has built 276 units for those mak­ing half the area’s me­dian in­come — an­other 44 are in the works.

The neigh­bor­hood now has more parks than any other in the city, Fer­rarone is fond of say­ing.

But Har­bor Point is also clearly spread­ing, some say with­out con­trol, into its neigh­bor, the South End His­toric District — a 177acre tract within the larger South End that is among the old­est neigh­bor­hoods in the city.

Some of the old Vic­to­rian homes there have fallen into dis­re­pair, but it’s none­the­less on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. The ex­pan­sion into its lines drives neigh­bors to anger, and is what brought the Zon­ing Board out into the field with two city Land Use Bureau of­fi­cials, a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and two South End res­i­dents tag­ging along.

Dur­ing a visit to the 22nd­story rooftop of the Bea­con build­ing, a walk along Com­mons Park and a stop in front of the site of an old boat­yard that BLT infa- mously de­mol­ished with­out Plan­ning or Zon­ing Board per­mis­sion, a mix of pride and dis­trust in the builder was clear.

The Zon­ing Board was later sued by an en­vi­ron­men­tal group for mak­ing changes that al­lowed for the de­mo­li­tion af­ter the fact. That case wast thrown out last fall.

At the boat­yard site, at­ten­dees nod­ded and ad­mired the fact that they were 10-feet above where they would have been a decade ago — back be­fore BLT re­me­di­ated the old util­ity plants and built green space, roads and board­walk — a mile of it — along the West Branch of the har­bor.

But some wounds are still fresh.

“Is this where there used to be a boat­yard?” asked State Rep. David Michel, D-146th.

Board mem­bers winced. BLT en­tered the pic­ture af­ter the Great Re­ces­sion felled Antares’ fast-ris­ing star, and af­ter the nowde­funct Antares, of Green­wich, had al­ready planned Har­bor Point and had gen­eral devel­op­ment plans ap­proved.

Com­par­ing what’s there now to the 2006 zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tions shows some de­vi­a­tions, but high­lights that BLT has largely car­ried out what Antares had pro­posed.

The eastern por­tion of Har­bor Point, home to the Lofts at Yale & Towne and Fair­way Mar­ket — where the Yale & Towne fac­tory com­plex once stood — is lit­tle changed from orig­i­nal plans, but BLT has made some ed­its to the west­ern part of the devel­op­ment, on the water­front along Har­bor Point Road.

The Bea­con build­ing, the one the Zon­ing Board toured, went from con­dos and hotel rooms to wholly apart­ments. And sev­eral other build­ings are con­sid­er­ably larger than called for back in 2006, ac­cord­ing to orig­i­nal ren­der­ings. Those draw­ings show a range from one- to 12-story build­ings in­stead of the high rises there now.

Still, the de­vel­oper has stayed largely within the con­fines of 2006 pro­pos­als and has made quick work. The only spa­ces left to de­velop within Har­bor Point are the large lots west of Dyke Lane. City ap­provals al­low for the two tracts to house up to six build­ings. BLT is now build­ing two build­ings, and has site and ar­chi­tec­tural ap­provals for two more. It has yet to come to city boards with plans for the re­main­ing two.

But be­fore the de­vel­oper fin­ished within it’s orig­i­nal foot­print, it has ex­panded, bound­ing across Stam­ford Har­bor and buy­ing build­ings to the north and east.

Across the West Branch of the har­bor, BLT put up an­other apart­ment build­ing, 218 units in the Har­bor Land­ing com­plex, and built a boat­yard — both opened last year. A wa­ter taxi now runs be­tween the two in the sum­mer months, and there’s even a float­ing tiki bar docked on the wa­ter’s edge. The boat­yard, rented to Hinck­ley Yachts, came as a com­pro­mise af­ter BLT de­mol­ished the old Brewer’s Yacht Haven West boat­yard on the neigh­bor­hood’s 14acre penin­sula.

Now BLT is look­ing to build more af­ter buy­ing up new parcels over the last few years.

Though a slice of land north of Wal­ter Wheeler Drive was part of the orig­i­nal Har­bor Point, BLT has since bought nearly the whole block. The site, now pro­posed to house some 670 units, was once pre­dom­i­nately home to garbage trans­fer firm B&S Cart­ing.

Fer­rarone said the im­pe­tus for de­vel­op­ing the block is to es­tab­lish bet­ter con­nec­tion be­tween east and west, the two orig­i­nal Har­bor Point devel­op­ment sites.

“The num­ber one com­plaint we get from res­i­dents is about that area,” he said. It’s “the hole in the dough­nut.” Be­fore putting any­thing up, the builder has paved a street bi­sect­ing the site, and con­nect­ing the two Har­bor Point pieces.

The B&S block is where neigh­bors are now fight­ing back, try­ing to keep BLT within its district or at least shrink its vi­sion back to what was orig­i­nally al­lowed in city plans.

Fur­ther north BLT also has the so-called Gate­way site, where the de­vel­oper is erect­ing the new 500,000square-foot head­quar­ters of Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. It asked in De­cem­ber for changes to plans there to al­low an­other 365,000square-foot tower.

And it has also bought and de­mol­ished sev­eral homes and busi­nesses along Gar­den Street, where BLT owns nearly the whole block be­tween Gar­den and At­lantic Streets. That is the block where the old Blick­ens­der­fer fac­tory, long va­cant, sits.

Af­ter B&S, the Blick­ens­der­fer site could be poised to be the next bat­tle­ground. Res­i­dents have al­ready ob­jected to any plans to tear more homes down.

To the south and east, BLT hasn’t built, but has bought.

In 2015, the de­vel­oper bought the old Pit­ney Bowes head­quar­ters, also out­side the orig­i­nal Har­bor Point site, de­signed by I. M. Pei and Part­ners along Elm­croft Road — since re­nam­ing it “Sil­i­con Har­bor” in the hopes of lur­ing tech com­pa­nies.

And, of course, there’s the boat­yard site, now a va­cant penin­sula. Fer­raone said this week BLT has yet to have any plans for the site.

But, see­ing as the penin­sula is free of lit­i­ga­tion for the first time in re­cent years, some­thing there could very well be com­ing.

Har­bor Point at 10 may be just the be­gin­ning.

Con­trib­uted photo

An ae­rial view of the Har­bor Point devel­op­ment in Stam­ford last year.

Barry Lyt­ton / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Stam­ford Zon­ing Board mem­bers and Land Use Bureau staffers on Tues­day tour the South End, the neigh­bor­hood now 10 years into the sprawl­ing Har­bor Point devel­op­ment.

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