In a recent meeting of the Board of Representatives, Democratic city Representative Megan Cottrell expressed her reservations about the ongoing development in Stamford. This city has gained recognition as the "fastest-growing city in Connecticut." Cottrell articulated her concerns: "The aim, for many, is to transform Stamford into an exclusive destination.
We are attracting wealthy individuals from New York and neighboring areas while displacing residents from Stamford. It amounts to a substantial favor to the real estate industry, and we must acknowledge that." The development issue at the heart of the controversy surfaced last month when Democratic Mayor Caroline Simmons, a former state representative, discreetly introduced a bill in Hartford to prevent Stamford from making significant changes to its zoning regulations through the city charter.
Proposed changes that would have required approval from Stamford voters were rendered irrelevant. The bill has now been enacted into law, meaning that Stamford and around 110 other Connecticut towns governed by charters must seek the state legislature's permission to revise substantial zoning regulations in their charters.
Simmons' move has garnered criticism from fellow Democrats, who hold a majority of 36-4 on the board. During the meeting, where Cottrell voiced her concerns, city representatives passed a resolution urging Governor Ned Lamont to convene a special legislative session to repeal the law that obstructs charter revisions.
However, Governor Lamont declined the request.
Development Clash: Economic Growth vs. Charter Revisions
Mayor Simmons argued that she took action against the charter revision proposals to prevent the discouragement of development, economic growth, job creation, private investment, and the depletion of housing stock.
On the other hand, Cottrell and other proponents of charter revisions assert that the type of development unfolding in Stamford necessitates the checks and balances outlined by the Charter Revision Commission. Cottrell pointed out the implications of continuous luxury development, remarking, "When you construct luxury buildings, prices inevitably surge.
We keep hearing that adding more housing will drive prices down, but that hasn't happened. It's causing rent increases in non-luxury buildings nearby. Real estate experts assured us this wouldn't happen, but we are witnessing it unfold." Cottrell cited a December report from the U.S.
Bureau of Economic Analysis that revealed a notable rent rise within the Stamford-Norwalk-Bridgeport area. According to the report, between 2011 and 2021, rents increased from 56 percent above the national average to 57 percent, with Stamford driving most of the surge.
For instance, rents in Stamford are more than double those in Bridgeport. Moreover, Cottrell argued that the push for more affordable housing, which Mayor Simmons claimed would be undermined by the charter revision proposals, excludes affluent areas of the city.
She stated, "New housing is not being constructed in all neighborhoods. Specifically, the working-class and middle-class neighborhoods are disproportionately affected." In response to resistance from these neighborhoods, which are already grappling with overcrowding due to multiple-unit housing, illegal apartments, and excessive on-street parking, opponents often label them as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).
Democratic city Representative Jeff Stella, a supporter of the charter changes, addressed this issue, stating, "When I hear NIMBY, it's offensive because anyone opposing an affordable housing project is labeled as such. We should be called EIMBY (Everything In Our Back Yard) because we want development to occur everywhere." Stella further illustrated the impact of development on his West Side neighborhood, where multi-family structures are being built alongside single-family homes and various commercial projects.
He expressed frustration, saying, "We are tired of changes that are supposed to improve our districts but end up falling short. When we oppose them, they accuse us of being NIMBY, yet such changes will never happen in their districts or affect their quality of life.
They will never worry about their property value decreasing when they sell their homes because someone opened a store next door." Proponents of the charter revisions argue that these proposals aimed to provide individuals most affected by development with more influence over zoning matters.
The proposed changes included allowing residents to appeal zoning decisions by collecting 300 signatures from anywhere in the city rather than just within the immediate vicinity of the development. They also sought to modify planning and zoning regulations, such as increasing the number of public hearings and required approval from a larger percentage of officials before the city could exercise eminent domain or sell public land.
Cottrell highlighted the discrepancies in petitioning for appeal, emphasizing that it is much easier in single-family, owner-occupied neighborhoods compared to areas where property owners are limited-liability companies or absentee landlords.
She commented, "In areas experiencing rapid development, petitioning becomes significantly harder. Hence, Simmons' action effectively preserves the status quo of petition rights for single-family homeowners in certain affluent parts of Stamford." The controversy surrounding the charter prohibitions is expected to continue throughout the summer as the Board of Representatives deliberates on the remaining proposals the Charter Revision Commission put forth.
Meetings have been scheduled for Monday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., with further details available at http://www.boardofreps.org/.