Harbor Point at 10: Where BLT has been, where it’s going
STAMFORD — Zoning Board members could point to where the high rises dotted the South End stood, though shrouded in fog as they marched down a near-deserted boardwalk to the tune of beeping bulldozers.
The band of volunteers decides what goes up in this fast-growing city, but rarely visits sites as a troupe. So the board packed into a muted-gold minivan on a recent afternoon and toured the now 10-year-old Harbor Point project, taking stock of all they and the city had agreed to — billions of dollars worth of investment, a new taxing district and a sprawling development comprised of some dozen buildings that began construction a decade ago.
“Look at all this,” said Chairman David Stein. “It’s amazing what they’re doing down here.”
But the board wasn’t only there to see what had been erected in Building and Land Technology’s Harbor Point. It was there to assess what’s coming.
Like most any 10-year-old, Harbor Point is not done growing.
There is at least one more proposed 22-story building in the works, and BLT owns another tract to the north. The developer also owns buildings and land not in the original Harbor Point outline, the 80-acre assemblage of vacant manufacturing plants and utility sites Antares Investment Partners cobbled together in the mid 2000s.
The fate of the newer sites is the crux of current conflict.
In fact sheets and talking points, BLT Chief Operating Officer Ted Ferrarone is quick to outline the positives, and most city officials call Harbor Point an enviable success story.
Harbor Point properties contribute more than $1.2 billion to the city’s Grand List value. Twenty-seven restaurants, and retailers and office tenants including Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, exist where overgrown industrial brownfields once ruled. The city has reaped $18.6 million in fees and conveyance taxes alone, and been paid $100 million in property taxes.
BLT has done what city plans have called for for decades by building more housing and affordable housing, Ferrarone and lawyers say.
Over the last decade, the company has brought 2,476 market-rent units on line in the South End and has 391 more under construction. The developer also has built 276 units for those making half the area’s median income — another 44 are in the works.
The neighborhood now has more parks than any other in the city, Ferrarone is fond of saying.
But Harbor Point is also clearly spreading, some say without control, into its neighbor, the South End Historic District — a 177-acre tract within the larger South End that is among the oldest neighborhoods in the city.
Some of the old Victorian homes there have fallen into disrepair, but it’s nonetheless on the National Register of Historic Places. The expansion into its lines drives neighbors to anger, and is what brought the Zoning Board out into the field with two city Land Use Bureau officials, a state representative and two South End residents tagging along.
During a visit to the 22nd-story rooftop of the Beacon building, a walk along Commons Park and a stop in front of the site of an old boatyard which BLT infamously demolished without Planning or Zoning Board permission, a mix of pride and distrust in the builder was clear.
The Zoning Board was later sued by an environmental group for making changes that allowed for the demolition after the fact. That case wast thrown out last fall.
At the boatyard site, attendees nodded and admired the fact that they were 10-feet above where they would have been a decade ago — back before BLT remediated the old utility plants and built green space, roads and boardwalk — a mile of it — along the West Branch of the harbor.
But some wounds are still fresh.
“Is this where there used to be a boatyard?” asked State Rep. David Michel, D-146th.
Board members winced.
BLT entered the picture after the Great Recession felled Antares’ fast rising star, and after the now-defunct Antares, of Greenwich, had already planned Harbor Point and had general development plans approved.
Comparing what’s there now to the 2006 zoning applications shows some deviations, but highlights that BLT has largely carried out what Antares had proposed.
The eastern portion of Harbor Point, home to the Lofts at Yale & Towne and Fairway Market — where the Yale & Towne factory complex once stood — is little changed from original plans, but BLT has made some edits to the western part of the development, on the waterfront along Harbor Point Road.
The Beacon building, the one the Zoning Board toured, went from condos and hotel rooms to wholly apartments. And several other buildings are considerably larger than called for back in 2006, according to original renderings. Those drawings show a range from one- to 12-story buildings instead of the high rises there now.
Still, the developer has stayed largely within the confines of 2006 proposals and has made quick work. The only spaces left to develop within Harbor Point are the large lots west of Dyke Lane. City approvals allow for the two tracts to house up to six buildings. BLT is now building two buildings, and has site and architectural approvals for two more. It has yet to come to city boards with plans for the remaining two.
But before the developer finished within it’s original footprint, it has expanded, bounding across Stamford Harbor and buying buildings to the north and east.
Across the West Branch of the harbor, BLT put up another apartment building, 218 units in the Harbor Landing complex, and built a boatyard — both opened last year. A water taxi now runs between the two in the summer months, and there’s even a floating tiki bar docked on the water’s edge. The boatyard, rented to Hinckley Yachts, came as a compromise after BLT demolished the old Brewer’s Yacht Haven West boatyard on the neighborhood’s 14-acre peninsula.
Now BLT is looking to build more after buying up new parcels over the last few years.
Though a slice of land north of Walter Wheeler Drive was part of the original Harbor Point, BLT has since bought nearly the whole block. The site, now proposed to house some 670 units, was once predominately home to garbage transfer firm B&S Carting.
Ferrarone said the impetus for developing the block is to establish better connection between east and west, the two original Harbor Point development sites.
“The number one complaint we get from residents is about that area,” he said. It’s “the hole in the doughnut.” Before putting anything up, the builder has paved a street bisecting the site, and connecting the two Harbor Point pieces.
The B&S block is where neighbors are now fighting back, trying to keep BLT within its district or at least shrink its vision back to what was originally allowed in city plans.
Further north BLT also has the so-called Gateway site, where the developer is erecting the new 500,000-square-foot headquarters of Charter Communications. It asked in December for changes to plans there to allow another 365,000-square-foot tower.
And it has also bought and demolished several homes and businesses along Garden Street, where BLT owns nearly the whole block between Garden and Atlantic Streets. That is the block where the old Blickensderfer factory, long vacant, sits.
After B&S, the Blickensderfer site could be poised to be the next battleground. Residents have already objected to any plans to tear more homes down.
To the south and east, BLT hasn’t built, but has bought.
In 2015, the developer bought the old Pitney Bowes headquarters, also outside the original Harbor Point site, designed by I. M. Pei and Partners along Elmcroft Road — since renaming it “Silicon Harbor” in the hopes of luring tech companies.
And, of course, there’s the boatyard site, now a vacant peninsula. Ferraone said this week BLT has yet to have any plans for the site.
But, seeing as the peninsula is free of litigation for the first time in recent years, something there could very well be coming.
Harbor Point at 10 may be just the beginning.
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