Thousands of apartments could be built near Stamford’s train station. Here’s why.

The Stamford Zoning Board this past week unanimously approved the final section of a comprehensive rezoning project that covers Mill River Park and much of the area surrounding the Stamford Transportation Center.

Two previous sections of the transportation center project passed July 27 and Sept. 12. The newest approval will open several parcels surrounding the transit hub for redevelopment.

The city Land Use Bureau in May introduced twin amendments to Stamford’s zoning map as a way to both make the zoning designations for Mill River Park match their use and allow for more building in the area near Connecticut’s busiest Metro-North rail station.

While the rezonings were introduced together, they served two distinct purposes. Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing called the rezoning of Mill River Park into designated parkland mostly “an academic discussion” as much of the area is already used as a park. Blessing claimed during early discussions that changing the zoning would protect the city’s land along Mill River in perpetuity by requiring that it only be used for recreational purposes.

However, the rezoning did change the designation for one property, which currently houses an auto-repair business. The rezoning increases the amount of residential housing an owner could build there should the business leave.

Future developers of the Midas property, which is slightly less than half an acre, could put about 41 apartments on the property, not counting any development bonuses — from additional units to added height — developers may receive under the updated zoning.

The Zoning Board passed that part of the plan
unanimously at its June 6 meeting.

In contrast, the rezonings that surround the Stamford Transportation Center would clear the way for thousands of apartments. Most of the area near the transportation center, until recently, was zoned for heavy manufacturing.

The Transportation Center rezoning reclassified three separate subareas near the train station into two updated zones categories: one intended to encourage development near the train station, the other more geared toward high-density multifamily housing.

While presenting the rezonings, the Land Use Bureau leaned heavily on the 2018 South End Neighborhood Study, which presented three different models for growth in the neighborhood.

A “moderate” development proposal presented in that study described about 2,040 apartments in the area covered by the rezonings; Blessing told the Zoning Board in June that the city’s proposal would permit between 1,300 and 1,400 units in that area.

The two rezonings ignited weeks of fierce debate before the board, mostly about how much density the area could handle.

Residents who appeared before the board raised concerns about traffic and quality of life. City transportation officials argued that apartments near the train station would allow people to rely less on cars.

There is no place in the rezoning areas with more potential for visual transformation than Manhattan Street, with its buildings marred by chipping paint and broken windows. The one-way road just south of Interstate 95 has remained untouched by the development that has transformed much of the South End to date.

During public hearings on the redevelopment project, two sets of Manhattan Street property owners publicly supported the rezonings, pointing to the potential for a large tenant to replace them in the process.

“I believe that it will contribute to the vision of the South End … I see the progress with the map change,” the Rev. David Washington of Little Zion Church of God in Christ told the Zoning Board in June.

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