Attorney seeks extension on Stamford building projects
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Attorney seeks extension on Stamford building projects

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STAMFORD, CT – March 12, 2009 – (RealEstateRama) — With the bad economy delaying construction, a land-use attorney is considering drafting a zoning amendment to extend how long developers have to break ground on approved projects.

“The reality of the marketplace is that well-studied, good projects which have been approved are not financeable due to the world economic climate,” said Bill Hennessey, an attorney whose clients include the developers of Harbor Point and the Ritz-Carlton hotel. “It would be a shame to allow the investment that the developer and the city have put forth in reviewing and approving a project to go to waste.”

Hennessey said he may submit a proposal next month that would give developers an opportunity to request a zoning permit extension. The measure likely would be temporary, he said.

Zoning regulations now give developers four years to break ground on approved projects. Those who fail to do so must be re-approved, which requires another public hearing, exposing the project to appeal and possible denial.

Randy Salvatore, a developer who builds rental and condominium units in Stamford and Norwalk, said the proposed amendment gives developers some certainty.

“These are unprecedented times,” Salvatore said. “When you look at some of the things that the government is doing with stimulus packages, these types of small measures are not detrimental but can have a big benefit in encouraging development.”

Seth Weinstein, another developer in Stamford, agreed.

“By giving good projects some additional time in this very difficult period, it makes it more likely that these projects would actually be built when the economic and financing environment improves,” Weinstein said.

Hennessey said the idea to draft an amendment came from learning that the state legislature is weighing a bill that would extend the expiration of site-plan and subdivision approvals on or before July 1 from five to eight years.

The bill “is to allow the marketplace to catch up with already approved projects,” said Bill Ethier, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Connecticut, who wrote the proposed amendment.

If approved, the law would have limited application in Stamford, City Planner Norman Cole said. The reason is that site-plan approvals are used only in village commercial districts, a new type of zone for which no projects have been proposed so far, he said.

For other zones, the city reviews development proposals as “special exceptions” rather than site plans, Cole said.

The limits should remain as is, he said. Four years is ample time for developers to put projects into the ground, Cole said, and re-approval generally is not as time-consuming and costly as the initial application, he said.

Another reason for keeping the limits is that extensions insulate developers from changes in regulations, Cole said.

“If it’s been four years and a developer can’t get it started, then it’s a fair trade-off to impose the new policy,” he said. “You don’t get protected forever.”

— Staff Writer Elizabeth Kim can be reached at elizabeth.kim (at) scni (dot) com or 964-2265

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