|By Elizabeth Kim, The Stamford Advocate,
Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 25, 2012--STAMFORD -- After months of controversy that featured a heated battle with the Downtown Special Services District, the developer of Harbor Point has received the final go-ahead to build a 260,000-square-foot hotel overlooking Stamford Harbor.
The Zoning Board on Monday voted 4-1 to approve the project, which is to include 60 condominium units and several restaurants.
Reflecting the city's desire to move forward on what is expected to be one of the prime public spaces of the 80-acre development, the board stipulated that two outdoor restaurants totaling 14,000 square feet must be built at the same time as the hotel.
The approval was a hard-won victory for developer Building and Land Technology. Opposition to the plan had been fierce, with initial public hearings packed with DSSD officials objecting to plans for a ballroom in the hotel, boaters protesting the developer's demolition of a heavily used South End boatyard, and union leaders who have accused BLT of unfair labor practices.
But last month, BLT reached a deal with arguably its biggest adversary. The DSSD dropped its complaint after BLT agreed to reduce the ballroom from 4,580 square feet to no more than 3,500.
The DSSD had maintained the proposed ballroom was the type of banquet facility that were strictly prohibited in the South End so that large-service hotels and events would be concentrated downtown.
BLT, which has referred to its project as a "boutique hotel," said the facility was only meant to accommodate functions like weddings.
As requested by both parties, the Zoning Board made its approval conditional on the agreed-upon concessions, which included limiting the hotel to 125 rooms. The board also stipulated that any changes to the ballroom or adjoining administrative rooms would subject to public hearings.
Although earlier in the evening, the board had proposed a resolution that would pressure BLT to produce a plan for a permanent boatyard, boating community advocates expressed disappointment with the hotel vote.
Maureen Boylan, an organizer of Save Our Boatyard, was among those who had been calling on the board to delay review of any Harbor Point projects until a boatyard plan was in place.
"It is a slap in the face to the boatyard community, which has been fighting so hard for nine months," she said on Tuesday.
BLT, which has said it needed to close the 14-acre boatyard to begin much-needed repairs and remediation, has said it will submit a final site plan in July.
In the meantime, it has begun developing temporary boatyard facilities scattered across several sites. The plan is designed to address the immediate needs of area boaters while allowing the developer to begin remediation.
Boylan, however, called the temporary boatyard "nothing more than a Band-Aid."
During the public hearing, John Freeman, an attorney and spokesman for BLT, defended the company's efforts.
"Don't lose sight of what we've done," he said. "We do what we can. We don't ignore people. We take it on the chin and try to keep our promises."
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