Stamford finance council approves Glenbrook sale despite concerns by some over ‘concentrations of low-income housing’

STAMFORD – The Finance Council has voted to approve a bid to redevelop the former Glenbrook Community Center into a low-income apartment building with community amenities – despite a group of residents demanding the property be returned to its previous use .

Members approved the sale agreement in a 4-2 vote that went in the direction of the party. The deciding vote was Vice President Mary Lou Rinaldi, a Democrat who previously opposed the deal.

Republican members Dennis Mahoney and JR McMullen voted “no,” as they had done when the board considered the sale in April. At Thursday’s meeting, they expressed concern about the developer’s plan to build only affordable housing.

Mahoney recalled from his time on the Council of Representatives that officials originally envisioned a lower percentage of restricted-income units there. A 2020 memo sent to the board by Director of Administration Sandy Dennies called the Crescent site “an ideal location for a transit-oriented development mixing market rates and housing for labor”.

“What is the difference between 30% affordable and 100% affordable in your mind?” Finance Council Chairman Richard Freedman asked Mahoney. “What do you think is the substantive difference?

“I think the substantial difference could very well be the make-up and skin tone of the actual building and the tenants,” Mahoney replied. “I’ve always thought that part of the goal…wasn’t to get people who might need housing help together in one place.”

McMullen agreed, saying, “As a social policy, I don’t think we want to create housing concentrations for low-income people.

“It hasn’t worked in the past. It created problems,” McMullen said.

Dennies pushed back on their comments.

“I disagree with you about people moving into this facility,” she said. “And I’m very offended by the words that are used to describe the people who would live here.”

The building is said to house people earning between 40 and 80 percent of the area’s median income, or AMI, a figure calculated annually by the federal government. To calculate the AMI, the government considers the number of people living in a household and how much money they earn.

A family of four at 80% AMI must earn $102,150 a year to qualify for a unit; a family of the same size at 40% of the AMI would earn $67,320.

The price of rent would range from around $900 to $2,400, depending on the size of the unit and the income level of the residents.

The deciding vote

In April, Rinaldi said she feared the city was “giving away valuable goods for nothing” with the proposed sale.

Crescent Housing Partners LLC, a joint venture of JHM Financial Group LLC and Viking Construction Inc., has offered to pay the city $700,000 in cash for the property near Glenbrook Station, to build nearly $5.3 million there. dollars of affordable housing and keep the exterior of the building. The property had at one point been valued at around $1.8 million.

Rinaldi said at Thursday’s meeting that she changed her vote after walking along Crescent Street and talking to neighbors there.

“What they told me was that they were tired of seeing the community center closed,” Rinaldi said. “They felt it was more of an eyesore than anything else.”

Rinaldi added that she “was happy to hear the revenue levels that are going to be applied to this building.”

After the meeting, Rinaldi told the Stamford Advocate that she often hears people born and raised in Stamford cannot afford to stay in the city.

“To me, it’s just as important as some of the other issues that have come up,” Rinaldi told The Advocate. “And I think that gives at least 50 people or 50 families a chance to stay in Stamford. And if those people work at the hospital or if they’re police or firefighters and they’re contributing to the city, to me, that’s a pretty viable reason to build a complex like this.

“Save the GCC”

Nostalgia for the Glenbrook of yore dominated the public comment portion of the virtual reunion. One person even created their Zoom display name “Save the GCC”.

The Glenbrook Community Centre, formerly the former Glenbrook School, at 35 Crescent Street closed in 2019 and has stood empty ever since.

Speakers recalled dance classes, basketball games and community meetings there. Alcoholics Anonymous used to meet in the building, which several speakers said was a valuable social service.

“People need a place to hang out, kids need a place to play basketball and seniors need a place to do their thing,” said public commentator Joe Avalos. “Building an apartment building is a bad solution to community problems, even if it’s affordable.”

But officials said restoring the center to its former state was too costly for the city or its community partners.

Dennies said the city’s former director of social services, Ellen Bromley, and representatives from several nonprofit organizations “scoured the building trying to find a suitable tenant to continue it as a community center.

“She had a lot of people who went through it – very reputable organizations that you and I both know – and all of them said, ‘The needs of this building are too great for me to accommodate, as well as to operate. my business,'” Dennies said.

Mayor Caroline Simmons said the issues included a lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, flooding, drainage issues and “major structural issues.”

The redevelopment plan enjoys some community support. Marie Metz, president of the Glenbrook Neighborhood Association, said the group’s leadership approved the project after hours of discussion.

When the association alerted its members through an email dispatch, few expressed concerns about the construction of income-tested housing on the site, Metz said.

Daycare, community space

Dennies also tried to assure council members that the new facility would include community space, under sales parameters created in 2021. Officials clarified that any offering “must include community space of at least 1,000 square feet in total”.

Still, the definition of “community space” caused a protracted debate at the meeting between McMullen, Dennies and some of the pro-development board members. McMullen argued that the space would only be for residents of the building, like a living room in a conventional apartment building.

Freedman accused McMullen of “misinterpreting” the offer. The company wrote in its proposal that “the development at 35 Crescent Street should have a child care center as well as a community space for residents that provides a place for entertainment, such as a common room for neighborhood meeting celebrations, vacations , birthdays, etc.”

McMullen remained skeptical, as did some members of the public.

Now that the proposal has gained the support of the Finance Council, it will go to the Council of Representatives. If the board approves the deal, Simmons can execute the contract. Once approved, the developer expects the project to be completed by the end of 2023, Dennies said.

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