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Monday, September 24 Local

Petition fails against Stamford’s approval of Life Time gym

STAMFORD — Neighborhood opponents to the construction of a high-end gym in a vacant Turn of River office park were dealt a possibly fatal blow by city staffers who disqualified more than 400 signatures on a petition aimed at blocking the measure.

The petition, to bring the Zoning Board’s approval of a text change that would allow stand-alone gyms in the office park and all others to the full Board of Representatives for review, had 700 signatures, but the city discounted condo owners and signatures where only one resident of a jointly-held home had signed, for example, leaving the petitioners 60 names short.

“The petition was filed in a timely manner, but was not signed by 300 landowners of privately-owned land anywhere in the city,” Valerie Rosenson, legislative officer for the Board of Representatives, wrote in a 58-page memo sent late last week.

The decision, she wrote, was informed by an opinion from city attorney Jim Minor, who in an amended 8-page memo cited the charter, state law and case law in narrowly defining valid signatures as land owners, not condominium or co-op dwellers.

“Only the condominium association can sign as a ‘landowner,’” Minor wrote. “A condominium owner does not own the land upon which the condominium is built. The unit owner, in common with all other condominium owners, owns a fractional interest in the building and the land and has no authority to sell or mortgage the land on which the condominium building stands.”

For the condo owners to count, all owners in a given association would need to sign the petition, Minor wrote.

The ruling to strike more than half the signatures shocked residents but highlighted that the city wants to see this through no matter the objections, said Hank Cuthbertson, a retiree and president of a next door homeowners association who has led the growing opposition.

“When this came out, everyone’s phone went off and everyone was like,‘What?’” Cuthbertson said. “But it’s coming from city hall — they don’t want this.”

Cuthbertson, whose association has spent some $30,000 on attorneys to see Life Time’s proposal quashed, said the petition was well vetted and leaders included a former Board of Reps member, Cynthia Reeder, who successfully instructed signature gatherers to garner far more than the needed 300.

“These are signatures that Cynthia Reeder went through and validated herself,” Cuthbertson said. “(The city) is terrified that this will come up to the Board of Reps.”

Political markings

The board in recent months has butted heads with Mayor David Martin’s administration, primarily over his budget, and has proved fertile ground for dissent, which bodes well for petitioners if they could get in front of it.

The opposition, while driven by residents who live next to the High Ridge Office Park plot that Life Time is eyeing, has political markings.

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Several elected representatives spoke against the proposal at Zoning Board hearings, and the GOP’s Barry Michelson, who unsuccessfully challenged Martin, a Democrat, last year, has also spoken against the proposal.

In Minor’s memo, he also argued “that any member of the Board of Representatives who made a presentation for or against the Life Time text change at the public hearing before the Zoning Board should not participate in any of the proceedings before the Board of Representatives.”

Cuthbertson said he is now raising several thousand more dollars to pay for a vigorous legal defense of the petition.

If that defense will be heard is unknown. Rosenson in an email to representatives wrote that it is on a Land Use Committee agenda for July 10.

But Virgil de la Cruz, co-chair of that committee, declined to comment until he knows more, he said.

“I myself am trying to understand what the proper process is, the legal bounds,” he said.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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