Stamford residents are fighting against change that would allow High Ridge Health Club



STAMFORD – Half a century ago, as manufacturing was on the verge of dying out, the city began to accommodate businesses, some of which set up in large office parks on High Ridge and Long Ridge Roads.

But the needs of businesses have changed, and the question of what will become of office parks has turned them into battlegrounds – owners and developers versus residents.

A battle unfolded Tuesday night outside the Planning Council, where the owner of High Ridge Park was looking to change zoning laws that would allow a potential tenant, Life Time Fitness, to build a large resort with indoor and outdoor facilities. , surrounded by a single-family houses.

The owner, High Ridge Real Estate Owner, an LLC that appears to be related to the Manhattan Office Park Manager, wants the zoning text changed to allow for a 70-year-old use called a “gym or fitness facility.” .

If allowed, the use could apply to five more office parks – one reason for the large crowds gathered at the Stamford Government Center. Planning Council member William Levin quickly expressed a problem.

“’Gym or fitness establishment’ is an unusual term,” Levin said. “I’m not sure what that means.”

It turns out that neither of the other board members.

Bill Hennessey, a lawyer for Carmody, Torrance, Sandak & Hennessey, the Stamford firm representing the owner, said the term is understood among land use experts.

“Does this mean that everyone can have their own interpretation? Asked Levin.

The elusive definition dominated the discussion – high stakes for residents of Sterling Lake Lane, Intervale Road, Turn of River Road and other streets near High Ridge Park, a 38-acre site just south of Merritt Parkway.

In strength

Residents oppose the change that would allow the construction of Life Time Fitness, a national chain of high-end health clubs. The High Ridge Park facility, first proposed last year, would require the demolition of a mid-century modern office building designed by famous architect Victor Hanna Bisharat.

The Bisharat building, a candidate for the National Register of Historic Places, would be replaced by a large health and fitness center and surrounded by an outdoor swimming pool, tennis and other courts, and a 3 car garage. , 5 or 4 floors, with the goal of selling 5,000 subscriptions and staying open from 5 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

Office park owners are struggling to rent space, so city officials recently amended the master plan to allow for “adaptive reuse” of corporate campuses. Last year BLT, developer of the Harbor Point project in the South End, requested a zoning text change that would allow an 800-unit residential tower in an office park it owns on Long Ridge Road just to the north. from Bull’s Head.

The inhabitants opposed it in force. This plan was rejected.

Deal concluded?

Residents were out again Tuesday night to hear the plan for High Ridge Park, where they are concerned about traffic – already an issue due to the proximity of the boardwalk’s 35 exit ramps – noise, lights and damage to the character of the district.

Hennessey argued for the use of a “gymnasium or physical cultural establishment”. It was not a public meeting, so residents were not allowed to address the council. But they were talking to each other.

“We have these office parks and they’ve worked well for a long time, and now they don’t work as well, and we have to find a way to make them work again,” Hennessey said from the podium.

“Alright,” mumbled a resident of the audience. “But a 24 hour business entity has no place.”

Hennessey said his client is proposing a garage because it will eliminate parking lots and allow more green space and landscaping. He couldn’t provide details because “we don’t have a garage yet,” Hennessey said.

“Notice how he said ‘more’,” one resident said softly to another. “This thing is a done deal.”

‘Respond to invitation’

As the November municipal elections approach, residents called for “taking the city back from developers,” saying there is no plan for rapid growth underway, their neighborhoods are too crowded and their quality life is threatened.

Residents of Cove, Glenbrook, Waterside and North Stamford attended the planning council meeting to help High Ridge residents oppose the zoning change. They questioned the repeated use of text changes to circumvent regulations and the master plan.

Hennessey addressed him on Tuesday.

The master plan calls for adaptive reuse of office parks, but this “directive is impossible to achieve unless there is a change in the text,” Hennessey said. “It invites him. We are responding to the invitation.

Life Time Fitness “will be a world class facility,” said Hennessey. “It’s a good thing, not a bad thing. People want choices.

They also want to preserve the integrity of their neighborhoods, residents said. A few of them have hired their own law firm, Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky from Stamford. Two of these lawyers, Leonard Braman and Steven Grushkin, addressed the Planning Council.

Braman questioned Hennessey’s claim that “there will be no net negative impact on traffic”. Why, then, he asked, is it necessary to have a 330-space garage? It could be built 100 feet from homes, Braman said, disputing Hennessey’s claim that a landscaped berm concealed it.

“Bill Hennessey is a man of many talents,” said Braman. “But I don’t think even he can make a four-story garage disappear.”

The residents applauded. Planning board chairperson Theresa Dell silenced them.

Then Grushkin stepped onto the podium.

“I just hope this council sends a clear message to this community that you are going to do something that … will preserve these (residential) areas,” he told the council. Otherwise, “Don’t think BLT won’t be there to threaten you with the same type of application. “

‘Too much’

Some members of the Planning Council have expressed their feelings about the change in text.

“It hurts the residents,” said Michael Buccino. “No one wants to look at a four story parking garage. I like the idea of ​​having a gym in an office area, but it’s a bit too much.

“I think there are better uses,” said Jay Tepper, board member. “I can’t stand this change of text.”

Dell said she was concerned 5,000 memberships would include families, which means the number of people using the health club could be three, four or five times that number.

“When we came up with the master plan, we thought of adaptive reuse as a decrease in what was in those office fleets, not an increase,” Dell said.

After a three-hour discussion, the council voted to file a decision and ask Hennessey to return on February 20 with a concise description of what would be included in a “gymnasium and physical culture facility.”



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