Vote 2023: Building boom on the ballot in Stamford charter vote

In Connecticut’s fastest-growing city, a battle over building is on the ballot this Election Day.
Stamford voters will decide on major changes to the city’s charter – changes that could have a big impact on future development.
“A LOT OF SIGNS”
Drive around Stamford and the signs are hard to miss.
“A lot of signs, so I know that it’s an issue,” said one driver on High Ridge Road.
Across the city, lawn signs are urging people to “Vote Yes” or “Vote No” on several city charter revisions. But many voters aren’t sure what the proposed changes are.
“Yeah, I’m not sure what it’s all about,” said Roger Wilk, of Stamford.
DEVELOPMENT ON THE BALLOT
The biggest change has to do with new developments – and the people who approve them. A “yes” vote would give Stamford’s Board of Representatives more say in who serves on the city zoning board.
“They make decisions as to where things get built, how they get built, how close to the property line things are going to get built,” said city Rep. Nina Sherwood (D-8th District), who supports the charter revisions. “And those individuals – nine out of 10 of them – are expired.”
Sherwood said too many developments get rubber-stamped because zoning board members outstay their terms.
“The charter revision – if people vote ‘yes’ – closes loopholes that large developers, their law firms, big construction companies are using to overdevelop the city of Stamford,” she said.
But opponents argue that changing the charter could raise taxes, add more bureaucracy and grind city government to a halt.
“The cure is far worse than the disease that's being complained of,” said fellow city Rep. Jonathan Jacobson, also a Democrat.
Jacobson thinks the proposed revisions will worsen the city’s housing shortage – and do little to curb over-development.
“Unfortunately, it’s not that the citizens are going to have more say in the project. It’s going to be political insiders,” he said. “You don't what they're going to do and who they're going to select. And ultimately, there's a lack of accountability here.”
Another major change would allow the Board of Representatives to hire its own legal counsel – at taxpayer expense.
STRIPPED-DOWN PROPOSAL
Originally, the proposals to curb over-development went even further.
A Charter Revision Commission wanted to 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.
But in a highly controversial move, Mayor Caroline Simmons convinced state lawmakers to ban the most contentious land-use changes in a state budget bill passed just hours before the 2023 session adjourned. Stamford-area lawmakers who voted for the legislation later said they were unaware the provision was included.
BIG MONEY, LOW TURNOUT?
Both sides have poured big money into this fight.
The “Vote No” political action committee – Stamford for Fair Government – has raised just over $100,000, according to the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Much of that money has come from developers.
Meantime, Yes to Stamford Charter 2023 has only raised a third of that amount.
But despite the big bucks spend to lure voters, all signs point to a low turnout.
“It's something I’m not familiar with, and I’m not interested in voting at all for anything,” said Darlene Pickering, of Stamford.
If voters reject the charter changes, city leaders could go back to the drawing board. Or they could simply forget the idea, and wait another 10 years.