Center of Controversy
Center School Development
By Barbara Heimlich
Editor Stratford Crier
The Stratford Town Council published a notice of a public meeting scheduled for December 12th with a Public Forum at 6 p.m. Followed by a regularly scheduled meeting at 7:00 p.m. On the agenda for the regularly scheduled Town Council meeting under unfinished business and/or Old Business was an item that had been tabled by the Town Council on July 11th, 2022 was:
“To consider and act upon the favorable recommendation of the Planning Commission for the potential sale of parcel 4009050008 (1000 East Broadway, Center School property) pursuant to the 8-24 Review.”
This move, done during the usual “political lame duck” season, went forward. The vote (not unexpectedly) was approved.
“Mr. Connor moved; seconded by Mr. O’Brien to take Item 5.1 from the table. The motion passed 7 TO 3: Ms. Shake, Ms. Franchesi, Ms Rice opposed.
Mr. Connor moved, seconded by Mr. O’Brien to approve the sale of Parcel 4009050008 (1000 East Broadway) to Romano Brothers Builders LLC or Spirit Investment Partners, in such form as approved by the town attorney and in accordance with it’s proposal. Discussion followed. Ms. Shake moved to table Item 5.1; Seconded by Ms. Rice. The motion failed 6 To 4: with all Republicans opposed.
The sale was then approved: Via roll call, the vote was as follows: Ms. Shake-NO, Ms. Franceshi-NO, Ms. Rice-NO, Mr. Cann-NO, Mr. Poisson-YES to Romano Brothers, Ms. Sutton-YES to Romano Brothers, Mr. Connor-YES to Romano Brothers, Mr. O’Brien-YES to Romano Brothers, Ms. Dancho-YES to Romano Brothers, Chairman Pia-YES to Romano Brothers.” The parcel was approved for sale to Romano Brothers Builders LLC for $1.69 million.
This, despite strong opposition from town residents, not engaging in additional discussions (or residents being able to question developers during a public meeting) with concerned citizens, an outpouring of citizen feedback at recent Public Forums, and a strong showing in a Change.org petition (https://chng.it/yRDQwDxDbM)
Only the developers, representing attorneys, the chairperson of the Stratford Redevelopment Agency, George Perham, and James Millward of the Stratford Architectural Review Board, speaking positively of the Center School development plans.
Impassioned residents decried the proposals as “ridiculous” and “outrageous,” while others chastised Town leadership for anointing developments that would not pass muster in the North End.
There is a perception that the Town is disregarding the neighborhood, which is designated as being in a Historic District, a designation that some thought was not factual.
Roughly the Historic District, according to Town codes, are bounded by East Broadway, Ferry Blvd., Housatonic River, Connecticut Turnpike, Birdseye and Main Streets. To read all about our historic district designation you can go to : https://ecode360.com/9061790
The Town is able to locate new developments in the historic district due to the Transit Oriented District (TOD) overlay, created in 2015. Existing traffic and environmental issues have not been addressed, but will be going before the Stratford Zoning Commission.
Needless to say, the public forum was well attended, to the extent that Town Council Chairman Pia felt that in fairness to all who signed up to speak the time would be extended.
Stepping up to express their opinions were the following residents, and their comments on the development:
Thomas Yates: No to private developer, no tax abatements. No ,traffic study? Should be senior housing like Garden School.
Sandy Leslie: This is a historic district – has there been environmental study? Issues with parking and personal privacy. TOD designation targets millennials, how long will they stay in Stratford? We should think more about from forest to shore and look at elderly housing, keep our town cute and charming.
Shirley Myers: I want senior housing and playgrounds.
Calvin Robertson: Patronizing comes to mind when the Town Council thinks they can tell the residents what to do with our town land, this is vastly overdevelopment; some development there possible, town owned but town against wishes of residents.
Marie Avren: There is nothing in the proposal that improves Stratford. We can and should demand that developers be community based and develop green spaces, and be proactive in housing of the future, not housing that looks like storage units.
Karen Burke: Not one resident/taxpayer is in favor of this, a historic district entrenched by development, listen to the residents, not exaggerating benefits.
Paula Sweeley: In every development proposal we are told we don’t own the land and if they own it they are able to do what they want as long as it meets town requirements. For Center School we do own the land — build a playground, tennis courts, town denied charging stations, table a bad idea and build a better town.
Mark Hannon: A study on parking indicated that for each apartment build there would be 1 ½ cars, that would mean that there would be close to 200 cars brought into a multifamily neighborhood. There is no parking now, and our streets are already narrowed by cars on both sides.
Norah Christianson: There is a growing sense of hopelessness, as the whole center of town is changing, which is why I moved here; vertical spread seems to fit us; the center right now sweet with character and beauty. Pretty just means having something that fits our character. Townspeople do not want this.
Marca Leigh: Once again, residents have to scramble to make the meeting scheduled during a holiday at the last minute on the agenda. This is going to ruin the area. Seems you are not listening to us, seems purposeful to schedule when people are on vacation.
Tyler Bunch: Since March of 2000 people from the entertainment industry in New York City, even Stamford, want to spread their wings seeking homes, not apartments. If millennials are the target, what are they going to do here? Who is going to live here, are we just going to create a wood and brick hole that they will live in for several years?
Christopher Cormier: Once it’s gone, it’s gone. District 2 impacted, show smart land management.
Rebecca L. Miller: I’m directly impacted by this development. Having a meeting the week before Christmas with little notice is similar to the most sleaziest of mobsters. I wanted that Main Street feeling of small town, with doctors, dentists, café’s, people invested in community living here. I will move out if this project goes through.
Tucker Chase: What’s most significant is the land, developers make money by controlling the land.
Orna Rawls: Reminded Town Council Members that their own Councilwoman Laura Dancho stated in April during a Zoining meeting opposing a Broadbridge development, “Laura Dancho, who represents the tenth district on the town council, said she hopes to see section 5.3 revised by the Zoning Commission “as intended” in the POCD and not specifically to Broadbridge. Dancho also said she has spoken out in opposition of the text change, citing traffic and safety concerns.”
Bob Dowler: We are already overdeveloped with apartments, building in flood zones, What’s the rush?
Linda Palermo: No towering building in center of town, we don’t need it, want it.
Thomas Yemm: This is a travesty of good government. The council member that represents us stands opposed, TOD is outdated, it was developed in the early 2000s, traffic flow studies makes a bad situation worse, open space in center needed. Pandemic era work habits have changed. This influences East Broadway to Main. Market rate apartments makes us more at risk for densely packed buildings.
Melissa Burke Fahy: We have been fighting this development since 2018, we want a school, we want a playground, we bought a historical house, you are impacting our home value.
Trevor Jones: There are things more important in life than financial gain.
Susan M. Becker: I am here to talk about the neighborhood – Sutton Place/Warwick Avenue/Blakeman Place. We have endured over decades poor decisions made by the town council; in the 50s they took land resulted in the streets dead ending for I95; in the 60s we lost houses, 6 family homes, to building Center School by eminent domain, and now they want 43 yards of toxic waste dumped at the Morgan Francis property, trucked, dumped, and consolidated property which they feel would be used for recreational reuse. Morgan Francis is an EPA a superfund site. Who wants their children to play there? We have been through enough.
Editor’s Note: Jame Millward and Geroge Perham are the only people that spoke in favor of the Center School redevelopment plan. FYI Mr. Perham served as chairman on the Redevelopment Commission that made developer recommendations. Mr. Millward is a member of the Stratford Architectural Review Board.
James Millward: I am an architect. I think this is the right thing to do. This site is identified as TOD, and it is adjacent to the historic district, not the historic district. Development could spur development in town, the committee spent years studying this.
George Perham: I am chair of the Redevelopment Commission that looked at the property use to get as much as possible on tax rolls. Our first choice was not selected, as when a tax abetment was added to the proposals apparently there was another choice made. I would like to hire a financial analyst to make sure that this developer is in the best choice.
There is also precedent to back up several issues raised by residents voiced by Mayor Laura Hoydick and Town Councilwoman and now State Representative Laura Dancho:.
In January the mayor and some residents opposed the push for more multifamily units, saying increased density in the area between Barnum Ave. and Emerald Place (Gold Coast Broadbridge Development) would alter the character of the neighborhood and worsen quality of life.
Mayor Hoydick: “As a community we have spent significant time, money and resources outlining our housing issues and setting a process to improve these issues,” she said. “When the Housing Partnership surveyed Stratford residents about revising housing for multi-families criteria, the townwide results showed 41 percent were in agreement. This is hardly a sentiment of rousing support.”
Gold Coast is seeking a zone change to a Planned Residential District that would allow up to 35 units per acre along both sides of the road between Barnum Ave. and Emerald Place. And according to Dancho, such a proposal won’t work. Specifically, she cited traffic concerns.
Dancho: “Adding multifamily housing into an area, particularly an area that is not TOD (Transit Oriented Development) will bring in additional vehicles,” she said. “This will only add to the already overloaded traffic and documented speeding on Broadbridge Avenue that will contribute to unsafe conditions.”
Dancho said speeding isn’t the only concern. There isn’t much in the way of sidewalks or crosswalks, making the location particularly dangerous to pedestrians. But she also said if these apartments are built, it would hurt homeowners.
Dancho: “You on this commission are all homeowners. So you recognize that this is usually a resident’s largest investment,” she said. “When a home is purchased in an area, buyers consider the current zoning and trust that the regulations of that zone is one way to protect that investment and retain the parameters of a chosen lifestyle. To make a sweeping change from single family to multifamily is drastic.”
Homeowners in this historic district find themselves surrounded by 3 multifamily, apartment buildings, and Ferry Blvd. The area where the developer wants to build already suffers from traffic and residents fear the project would overburden the neighborhood.
Dancho, who represents the Tenth District on the town council, said she hopes to see section 5.3 revised by the Zoning Commission “as intended” in the POCD and not specifically to Broadbridge. Dancho also said she has spoken out in opposition of the text change, citing traffic and safety concerns. Traffic concerns are not in the future, they are already here. Try Stratford Center at rush hours some time.
What Can I Do?
As a reminder, this is Town owned property. Reach out to your Councilman/Councilwoman and let them know what you think.
First District: Christopher Pia (R)
Second District: Kaitlyn Shake (D)
Third District: Lesette Franceshi (D)
Fourth District: Kimberly Rice (D)
Fifth District: Gregory Cann (D)
Sixth District: Ken Poisson (R)
Seventh District: Jean Marie Sutton (R)
Eighth District: James Connor (R)
Ninth District: William O’Brien (R)
Tenth District: Laura Dancho (R)
As I understand it, this decision has been made. The Council voted, 6 to 4, to approve the sale and construction of apartments and underground parking. IN SPITE OF STRONG PUBLIC OPPOSITION AND A PETITION WITH NEARLY 700 SIGNATURES PLUS MANY COMMENTS. Seems that what the public wants is not a concern. STRATFORD IS NOT A DEMOCRACY.