Battle over building leaves Stamford mayor in hot water

Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons is taking heat from fellow city leaders, who said she went behind their backs to stop a controversial zoning overhaul.

John Craven

Jul 14, 2023, 9:39 PM

Updated 284 days ago

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Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons is taking heat from fellow city leaders, who said she went behind their backs to stop a controversial zoning overhaul. Even if you don’t live in Stamford, the issue could impact you too.
RAPID GROWTH
In Connecticut's fastest-growing city, construction is everywhere.
“More cars and driving very fast,” said longtime resident Elizabeth Queally.
Some residents believe Stamford is growing too fast.
“Expensive,” said resident Augusto Osorio. “Rent – everything is expensive.”
A Charter Revision Commission has spent more than a year considering major development changes to the city’s governing charter. Some recommendations would make it much easier for residents to challenge zoning decisions, add more public hearings for proposed developments and limit when the city can seize private property by eminent domain.
CHANGES HALTED AT LAST MINUTE
Stamford’s Board of Representatives was weeks away from taking up the charter changes. Ultimately, city voters would have the final say.
But just hours before this year’s legislative session ended, state lawmakers blocked the changes. The language was buried in a 274-page, multibillion-dollar state borrowing package that most legislators had less than an hour to review. Several members of the Stamford delegation have said they didn’t know the language was included.
STATEWIDE IMPLICATIONS
The new restrictions apply to all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut, but only one other community – Westport – allows citizens to directly appeal zoning decisions to their local legislative body.
The controversy is also a political test for Simmons, a rising star in Democratic circles who is often mentioned as a future candidate for governor or Congress.
“I HAD SERIOUS CONCERNS”
Simmons insisted the drastic move was necessary after she received many complaints about the charter revision process.
“I had serious concerns with several of the proposals that were being put forward,” she said. “It would have essentially rendered our city government dysfunctional, added on so much bureaucracy, halted growth – as well as increased residents' taxes.”
The mayor said the Charter Revision Commission only held one public hearing and appeared to dismiss her concerns.
Meantime, Simmons’ fellow Democrats recently asked Gov. Ned Lamont to call a special legislative session to remove the budget language. Although the governor said no, he doesn’t think this was the best way to handle the issue.
“Probably not,” he said. “But again, you've got a Planning and Zoning Board. I think they're elected. You've got probably a Board of Appeals, if you want to challenge a decision.”
YOU CAN WEIGH IN
The Board of Representatives will hold a hearing on the stripped-down charter changes on July 18. The final list of proposed amendments will appear on this fall’s ballot.


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