Center School Redevelopment Protests

Citizens Against High Density Development

On Saturday, March 5th, in the Lovell Room of the Stratford Public Library, Second District councilwoman Kaitlyn Shake convened a meeting of primarily Historic District residents concerned with the fate of the former Center School site. For the past seven years, the subject has been of great concern for those living in the area. The property on Sutton Avenue is an offshoot of East Broadway, very close to where it joins Main Street at the center of town. As a point of reference, The Board of Education (BOE) and the Ruby and Calvin Fletcher African-American Museum are located near that junction.

The Center School, which had served neighborhood children since 1970, was deemed structurally no longer viable and demolished in 2018. Town planning officials, and the Metropolitan Council of Governments, MetroGOG, a State-funded regional planning organization interested in developing the town center as a TOD—Transit Oriented Development*, wanted to build an above-ground parking garage for commuters on the Center School site.

MetroCOG is a multi-discipline, regional planning organization with six member communities — Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull — centered on the City of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a planning and design strategy that consists in promoting urban development that is compact, mixed-use, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, and closely integrated with mass transit by clustering jobs, housing, services, and amenities around public transport stations.

The 2015 TOD plan reads as such: “The purpose of the Transit‐Oriented Development (TOD) Overlay District is to enhance Stratford’s residential neighborhoods, to preserve its historic character, to revitalize Stratford Town Center and commercial areas, and to promote mixed‐use development that increases employment and the Town’s tax base…”

It is worth noting that the current proposal does not appear to fulfill any of the nine listed subgoals associated with the purpose. Subgoals of the TOD purpose include:

  • Adaptive reuse of existing buildings,
  • Mixed-use developments,
  • Reducing auto-dependency and traffic congestion,
  • And ensuring that new development is consistent with and enhances existing streetscape, among others.

Residents were vocally opposed to the proposal, citing existing traffic issues at East Broadway and Main Street. In addition, residents expressed that the hundreds of cars using such a garage and feeding out onto East Broadway would exacerbate the problem, and many of the commuters would be out of towners, offering nothing of value to Stratford.

In 2018, at a community meeting held on the grounds of the BOE for local citizens to offer their opinions, the suggestions they made were overwhelmingly in favor of the land being open park space for neighborhood parents and children to meet and play. Rebuilding a useable school for the growing number of children in the area was a primary desire, but the Town considered that too expensive an undertaking. Town-sponsored charettes on Center School resulted in similar responses.

The current plan is to build a 160 unit apartment complex with an underground parking facility to accommodate 300+ vehicles. The property, which now belongs to the town, would be sold, in this proposal, to the developer for $9/square foot, with a ten-year tax abatement. There are two other large projects, consisting of three buildings, in progress along Ferry Boulevard near East Broadway, which residents feel will undoubtedly add to the traffic. (Editor’s Note at end of article)

At the March 5th meeting, nearly 30 people turned out to share their concerns and ask questions of Councilwoman Shake. While the voices were passionate, there was mutual respect and unified purpose among all those in attendance. In addition to traffic and selling off town property, another concern expressed was what effect the construction might have on the foundations of homes on the opposite side of Sutton Avenue. Many of these are over 100 years old yet currently structurally sound.

Several locals voiced their frustration at what they feel has been a lack of transparency in the town’s actions regarding new development all over town.

Marca Leigh of Elm Street had this to say: “Preserving neighborhood and town center integrity now will strengthen Stratford as a united front from becoming an endless row of bland, cookie-cutter cement blocks, non-local chain stores, and charmless structures with sterile, non-native landscaping.”

Karen Burke Noted “If not stopped, our charming little town nestled into Fairfield County whose motto is from Sea to Forrest will become Strat-City. There will be nothing left in our neighborhood to attract new families and taxpayers. The only beneficiary here is the Spirit developer who will cash out as quickly as it can and move onto the next town.”

The proposal will next go to Town Council for a vote. Based on the response at the March 5th meeting, resident remarks on social media, and a change.org petition opposing the development, it’s expected that residents will be tuned in for the Council’s decision. However, it is not clear whether this proposal will be on the March 14th Agenda for Town Council. Residents with opinions to share on this issue may speak at the regularly scheduled public forum, held in the Council Chambers on March 14th beginning at 7 pm; residents must sign up to speak in advance of the forum.

Editors Note: The following are TOD projects listed by Stratford’s Office of Economic Development

382 Ferry Boulevard Approved for 119 residential apartments with retail on first floor

211 Ferry Boulevard Approved for 45 residential apartments with retail on first

 

2 replies
  1. Paula Sweeley
    Paula Sweeley says:

    Thanks for the clear explanation of this whole issue. I look forward to hearing the public express their views on March 14 at the Public Forum at 7:00 prior to the 8:00 Council Meeting. Town Hall Council Chambers.

    Reply
  2. Karen Dobosz
    Karen Dobosz says:

    Great job Barbara! Covered the history of this and the consistent public opinion against this project in this area! This project indeed does not fit any of the criteria and only worsens the existing traffic mess!

    Reply

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