Rick Redniss Op-Ed: Zoning tweaks that transform Stamford
This is my fifth op-ed correcting Barry Michelson. His latest “Zoning in Stamford — profit vs. perspective” (Oct. 17) should have been titled “Planning vs. Politics.” It is important that the public understands the facts relating to Zoning Text Amendments.
Though he called my stating his 80-percent positive voting record on zoning text changes “spurious,” the facts are in the zoning files. He obviously once agreed text changes were an appropriate land use tool.
He states how bad things are in Stamford and inaccurately insinuates I said the city tax base “has been stabilized.” Here is what I said:
“Section 10-H has allowed many office buildings to be converted to housing, thus reducing peak hour traffic with people living, walking, and supporting local retailers, stabilizing the tax base, strengthening public safety, creating jobs, on-site affordable housing, enhanced public infrastructure, and the benefit list goes on.”
Repurposing the derelict, empty, commercial 614 Shippan Ave building into new residential homes helps stabilize the city tax base. Visit it and compare it to the years of derelict condition. It took two text changes to accomplish that positive result. This adaptive reuse creates four affordable apartments at no cost to taxpayers. The only way affordable housing was produced prior to Stamford’s inclusionary zoning text was with partial taxpayer funding. Now private developers produce much needed below market rate housing with every new development, without taxpayer funding. That helps stabilize our tax base.
The 614 Shippan Ave. developer is also rebuilding offsite public sidewalks and improving water quality at no cost to taxpayers. The taxes on this property will increase by about $100,000 per year with little increased demand on services/infrastructure. The apartments are studios and one-bedrooms, so demand on our schools is minimal. The application and permit fees, WPCA fees, affordable housing, and offsite improvements equate to more than $1 million in public benefits. Not to mention jobs created, materials purchased, new appliances, etc. If it wasn’t for the text amendments, that derelict non-conforming building would likely have been reused as-of-right with virtually none of these long-term benefits.
He also claimed that “We have not seen the ‘enhanced public infrastructure’ improvements Redniss touts.” That is not true. For example, there have been many millions of dollars of improvements to Stamford’s infrastructure via Zoning approvals. Recent applications along Tresser Boulevard have improved almost half of a mile of public sidewalks; new crosswalks, traffic signals, pedestrian detectors, and turning pockets.
Anyone can look at the conditions of Zoning Approvals to see significant public infrastructure improvements that, absent these approvals, would not exist or would eventually fall on Stamford taxpayers. The facts are there. These offsite improvements typically correct prior existing traffic deficiencies beyond just mitigating the impact of the individual development proposed. These improvements that are warranted without any new development yet are deferred using taxpayer funding are being done by the private sector.
Mr. Michelson must also have never been to the Mill River Park where zoning text changes and subsequent approvals have added many acres of land and thousands of linear feet of river frontage to our publicly accessible park system. This includes expensive relocation of private ownership that the city was unable to do for decades. Does he not see Mill River Park as “enhanced public infrastructure?” Does he not know it took several text changes to make that happen?
On the day of his op-ed there was a story of another approved text change to facilitate removing vacant High Ridge Road office space and creating much-needed senior living opportunities. This had no opposition, no controversy, and received unanimous Planning Board and Zoning Board approval. Should we listen to the Michelson mantra and stop these supposedly life degrading text changes? What would be the result? More vacant office space with lost tax revenue so the burden shifts to residential home owners? More peak hour traffic if the offices were reoccupied? Less opportunity to meet the demographic demand of our aging population?
His attack on me also tries to convince people that since I get paid to draft regulations that is a reason to stop text change applications. What about text changes I helped craft where I didn’t get paid? Do these get equally thrown out with his political bathwater? Stamford Museum & Nature Center, Boys & Girls Club, Stamford Land Conservation Trust, Historic Preservation, affordable housing, public park land, etc. I have had a hand in more than 100 text change applications over 40 years. Michelson tries to convince people the “liberal granting of changes to the zoning regulations that affect similarly zoned parcels throughout the city for a “single applicant” on a “single parcel” and that “text changes are granted far too liberally.” Let’s look at an example of a “single applicant” change and the results over time.
I proposed the Special Exception Uses for Historical Buildings with Renee Kahn decades ago to save one historic house. Ironically that particular house was not saved, yet Section 7.3 has since enabled 48 other historic buildings to be preserved. Is that too liberal? Was it better when these historic buildings were being demolished?
Zoning is a dynamic, complicated process that requires careful thought, consideration, and an objective examination of all of the effects — intended and unintended. Misrepresenting facts and publicly bashing our dedicated volunteer land use board members and staff for political purposes does nothing to improve land use in Stamford.
Rick Redniss is a land-use consultant from the Stamford land surveying, engineering and planning firm Redniss & Mead.