Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stamford Downtown and the South End in the news.....

We've been getting alot of questions about what is happening in the South End, so here it goes....

Op-Ed: Master Plan, not DSSD, says no full service hotels in South End

Sandy Goldstein, President of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District.
Published online 04:11 p.m., Friday, January 20, 2012 and printed Sunday January 22, 2012
The headline in last Sunday's Advocate calls the differences in positions between the Downtown and the South End vis-à-vis hotel development a "civil war." This headline might sell papers, but distorts a respectful difference between two important parts of the city: the Downtown and the South End.
Stamford Downtown is very pleased with the development occurring to the south of us and realizes that it will benefit the entire city. And I believe that the South End is equally pleased with the vitality that is part of its northern neighbor. As a matter of fact, on Jan. 3 the principals of Building and Land Technology and the Downtown Special Services District met, at Stamford Downtown's request, to articulate and understand each other's positions. After lengthy discourse, we amicably agreed to disagree.
One may ask, "Why is the DSSD in opposition to BLT's desire to build a full service hotel in the South End?"
The answer in a nutshell is.....

that the Master Plan, the city's blueprint for development, establishes that the Downtown will be the area of the city with the most intense development. This position was affirmed in 1977, reconfirmed in 1984, again in 2002 and again in 2007. For the past 35 years, this plan has been consistently upheld by city land use boards and has in turn greatly contributed to the successful downtown we have today. Adherence to the Master Plan ensured that a critical mass of offices, entertainment, full service hotels and retail would create a strong city center and prevent the fragmentation that cities like Norwalk, Danbury and those in southern New Jersey have experienced.
A full service hotel, designated by the Master Plan exclusively for the Downtown, is one of the prohibited uses in the South End. Smaller, boutique hotels like the Marriott Courtyard (with no banquet facility) are allowable. There are 150 other allowable uses in the Zoning Regulations designed to activate the South End. However, a full service hotel, i.e. a hotel with a convention center/banquet facility (ballroom), is expressly prohibited. Yet, this use was slipped into a site plan approved in 2008, when the Zoning Board mistakenly approved a prohibited use.
Now that BLT is requesting a major change to its 2008 plan, asking for seven additional stories to the hotel and 50,000 more square feet of space, it is time for the Zoning Board to say, "No." The Zoning Board should insist that all developers play by the same rules. BLT could choose to return to the Zoning Board and ask to amend the regulation that prohibits a full service hotel on the site.
It has been claimed by some that the DSSD's concerns are anti-competitive and intended to protect Downtown hotels. Once again, I refer you to the city's primary land use document, the Stamford Master Plan, which enumerates where full service hotels can and cannot be located. In 2008, when a full service hotel (the Ritz Carlton) was proposed for Atlantic Street in the Downtown, the DSSD was a vocal supporter of the application; as was every other hotel in the downtown. The difference between the Ritz Carlton's application and the South End application is that under zoning regulations the one in the Downtown is allowable and the one proposed for the South End is not.
Please remember, it is not the DSSD or some Downtown property owners who determine the type and location of hotels that can be built. It is the city of Stamford's land use regulations that govern such use and placement.
Sandy Goldstein is president of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District.

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