Published On: January 24th, 2021Categories: BLT News, News

Over a decade of development, Building and Land Technology has revitalized the South End. Creating new jobs, housing, parks, roads, stores, and restaurants to welcome you home. Harbor Point responds to Rep. Michel’s politically- motivated “alternative facts.”

by Ted Ferrarone – Ted Ferrarone

Jan. 24, 2021

Link to article

I generally do not respond to op-ed pieces, but state Rep. David Michel’s Jan. 5 opinion piece cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. Michel’s positions are consistently anti-growth, anti-business, and anti-renter, a peculiar combination for a representative whose district includes Downtown Stamford and Harbor Point.

As the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan eloquently stated, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Michel’s op-ed shows a consistent disregard for his constituents and the facts, the latter of which are not obscured but readily available. Here are a few of his baseless allegations:

Point 1: “This development, overseen by BLT has been a source of constant dust and noise …” Building and Land Technology prides itself on managing efficient, clean, and safe job sites. It is true that the creation of thousands of apartments, miles of roads, acres of parks, and more than a million square feet of office and retail space has a byproduct of some disruption before the transformation is complete. Despite Michel’s best efforts to fabricate a history of issues that do not exist, local, state, and federal agencies constantly inspect our sites and with rare exceptions (which are immediately addressed), find no issues. As recently as this past December, CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Tracy Babbidge testified to the Stamford Board of Representatives’ Public Safety Subcommittee (as well as Michel) that rather than finding issues, “DEEP inspectors are reporting minimal dust or debris on the site and that street sweeping measures have been effective.” Michel’s point that “streets are no longer cleaned, sidewalks are overgrown with weeds and trash gathers” seems to be a criticism of new development, but cannot possibly refer to the streets surrounding Harbor Point where we have rebuilt roads, installed new streetlights, widened sidewalks, placed utilities underground, and added bike lanes?

Point 2: “If you think this is good for jobs, it is not.” Really? In terms of employment, Michel incorrectly conflates the state’s loss of jobs during the COVID pandemic with our development efforts. BLT has accelerated construction since the onset of the pandemic, due in no small part to the support of state officials who allowed construction to progress state-wide. At this moment, there are more than 1,000 individuals working on the BLT development projects in Stamford. In comparison, how many jobs has Michel created during the pandemic? Michel suggests these are all “out of state” contractors. Harbor Point is a collaboration among hundreds of Connecticut-based companies, employing Connecticut residents, and creating homes for Connecticut families. Further, during the pandemic numerous new businesses opened in Harbor Point, the majority of them owned and operated by Harbor Point residents.

Point 3: “Until last year, BLT was paying the lowest building permit fees in the state.” BLT pays the permit fees as set by statute by the Stamford Board of Representatives — although it is true that we certainly pay more of these fees than any other organization in Stamford. If Michel is aware of other developers or residents who chose to pay more for a permit than they are statutorily required, please kindly share with the rest of us. Michel references a $14 million dollar budget surplus the city used for road paving — which, while certainly needed, fails to recognize the Harbor Point project has been the catalyst for hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments in and around the South End. Whereas the South End once had Stamford’s most deficient infrastructure, it can now boast some of Stamford’s best.

Point 4: “This was thanks to the same Board of Representatives that BLT sued for voting against their zoning plans…” Michel also takes issue that BLT filed a civil action against the Stamford Board of Representatives. What he fails to mention is that the BOR acted illegally, against the formal legal opinion offered by the city’s corporation counsel, and that the court ruled in BLT’s favor and against the BOR. This crusade by the local legislative body has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and continues to do so. Michel also omits that the project in question was unanimously approved by the Planning and Zoning Boards, with overwhelming support from South End residents and business owners — people he should consider his constituents.

Point 5: “…at the expense of some of our last valuable historical buildings.” When it comes to historic preservation, we would be curious to know how many historic buildings Michel has preserved? BLT has preserved hundreds of thousands of square feet of historic buildings in Stamford, more than any other organization.

Point 6: “The practice of brownfield remediation in the South End…” Michel portrays himself as an expert on environmental remediation, but the reality is that BLT’s construction sites are remediated to strict state and federal standards and are overseen by Connecticut DEEP and the EPA. The Harbor Point development is one of the largest-ever and most successful environmental cleanups in Connecticut’s history; the CT DEEP uses Harbor Point as a case study of what brownfield development can accomplish and in 2018, the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast selected Harbor Point as the winner of the Sustainable Communities Brownfield Redevelopment Award.

Point 7: “BLT has also been using cheap materials such as EIFS…” Is Michel an expert on construction? I am unaware of anything he has built. Our buildings are built from energy-efficient, durable materials that comply with modern building codes.

Point 8: “Stamford thrives when we support the families who have owned homes for three generations…” Michel appears to be distinguishing homeowners from renters, implying the renters who make up the overwhelming majority of his constituents are less desirable or not worthy of his representation. While our local economy has certainly been impacted by COVID, recent data indicates Stamford’s median income is increasing and we are on track to surpass New Haven as the second largest city in the state this year. Are these not signs of a thriving community?

Point 9: “The cost of living in these buildings, and their proximity to New York City, is not meant to have a long-term clientele.” Michel seems to have an issue with those who rent their homes — who are the vast majority of his constituents. He rightly points out that apartments can serve as “transition residences” but fails to note this is what allows younger people to live in our community, brings new families to Stamford who often end up buying homes here (keeping the single-family home market strong) and increasingly, offers a way for empty-nesters to downsize and stay within the community. Additionally, a large percentage of apartment renters work here in Stamford, creating the workforce that allows local employers to grow and support every facet of our local economy.

Point 10: Michel also seems to think the buildings are “increasingly unaffordable” while ignoring that the Harbor Point development has created 360 permanently deed-restricted below market rate units for working families, all within his district. In the past 10 years, BLT has developed nearly as much affordable housing as all other developers in Stamford combined, and we have contributed an additional $9.6 million to local nonprofits to build even more heavily subsidized affordable housing to serve working families. As far as market rents, Michel seems to have mixed up the principle of supply and demand. Stamford has suffered from a severe housing shortage for decades. Given the strong demand for housing in Stamford, creating more housing keeps rents reasonable, not vice- versa.

Point 11: “The State Historic Preservation Office and Attorney General William Tong representing them, are fighting back.” Again, Michel is less than transparent, neglecting to mention that Tong reviewed and approved the demolition of the structure in question.

Point 12: “An exodus of taxpayers replaced by renters?” Perhaps Michel is unaware that virtually all of the Harbor Point project was built on derelict, abandoned industrial sites, and the employers he cited left the South End decades ago. On the matter of taxes and taxpayers, the newly developed Harbor Point projects pay roughly 28 times (2,800 percent) more in taxes than the former industrial uses they replaced, and projects currently under construction will provide millions more in tax revenue for the city.

Point 13: “Privatizing our schools?” This doesn’t seem to track to any particular point of Michel’s, but perhaps he is referring to when BLT stepped up to create a new school in under a week for the 900 students and teachers at Westover Magnet School, or more recently when we provided a home for the students and teachers in the Stamford Anchor Program who needed help in a crisis.

Nobody is perfect. When we make mistakes, we quickly correct and learn from them, and I will put BLT’s track record of economic development, job creation, infrastructure improvement, environmental remediation, historic preservation, park development, creation of public waterfront access, public safety, and affordable housing up against Michel’s any day of the week.

I can’t claim to understand Michel’s agenda, but recent events in Washington have made it clear “alternative facts” can have a real and lasting impact if they are not countered with truth. Everything I’ve noted is easily verified and we encourage you to visit the South End and judge for yourself. Perhaps Michel will do the same and spend some time with the thousands of Harbor Point residents, property owners, and business owners that it is his elected duty to represent, not marginalize.

In the meantime, we have work to do, working alongside our partners, neighbors, residents, tenants, and customers to create a community of which we can all be proud.

Ted Ferrarone is co-president of Building and Land Technology, the developer of Harbor Point.