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Monday, November 19 Local

Stamford reps to hear residents’ appeal of Life Time gym ruling

STAMFORD — A short meeting of the Board of Representatives set in motion a procedure that will be long on implications for neighborhoods.

In an eight-minute meeting Monday night, representatives voted unanimously to accept a petition signed by residents fighting a Zoning Board decision that allows stand-alone gyms in half a dozen office parks citywide.

In decreeing that the petition is valid, representatives not only advanced the possibility of overturning a Zoning Board decision, they acted against the advice of city attorneys who said 560 of the 700 signatures on the petition are void.

City attorneys rejected the signatures of condominium owners, for example, saying they are not landowners.

That left residents 60 signatures short of the 300 needed for the petition to be heard by the Board of Representatives.

But residents balked, and asked the Board of Representatives to determine whether their petition is valid, as the city Charter allows.

The petition began with Turn of River residents who oppose an application by Life Time Fitness to build a large indoor-outdoor gym complex in High Ridge Office Park.

They and residents of other neighborhoods who support them left the meeting saying it felt good that “someone finally heard” their pleas to protect their homes.

Representatives had little comment after the meeting, since Wednesday night they will begin to discuss whether to flip the Zoning Board decision.

“The vote said it all,” Rep. Robert Roqueta, D-4, said of the 31-0 vote Monday night. Eight board members were absent and one seat is vacant.

“We all look forward to discussing the substance of the issue Wednesday,” said Rep. Jonathan Jacobson, D-12.

The Charter states that the Board of Representatives, “when acting upon such matters … shall be guided by the same standards as are prescribed for the Zoning Board.”

It’s an unusual position for representatives, who are elected by residents. Zoning Board members are appointed by the mayor.

“So we are sitting in the seats of the Zoning Board,” Jacobson said.

But representatives have decided to do so against the advice of city attorneys, who recommended they reject the Turn of River residents’ petition — and therefore a determination of whether the Zoning Board’s decision on Life Time Fitness should be overturned.

Representatives decided to accept the petition after hearing the arguments of attorneys for the city, Life Time Fitness, and Turn of River residents earlier this month.

Confusion in the case stems from the Charter, which says all petition signers must be landowners, but fails to define a landowner.

City attorneys said the signatures of Turn of River condominium owners cannot be counted because the land is owned by the condo association, not individuals. So all association members would have to sign the petition but it would count as one signature - for the association, city attorneys said.

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Representatives, however, questioned how associations can be landowners, since they are not listed on the tax rolls. Moreover, they said, individual condo owners pay taxes.

Representatives also questioned city attorneys’ decision that a signature is invalid unless all residents of a jointly owned home also sign. A husband’s signature, for example, cannot be counted unless his wife, as a co-owner, also signs, city attorneys said.

“It’s difficult,” said Rep. Denis Patterson, D-6. “Some lawyers are speaking one way and other lawyers are speaking another way. You want to listen to the city’s corporation counsel, but there’s such contradiction.”

If the Zoning Board’s decision is allowed to stand, developers may build stand-alone gym complexes in office parks along High Ridge and Long Ridge roads and elsewhere in Stamford. Many of the office parks have significant vacancies, and city officials have been looking for ways to interest developers in re-purposing them.

Turn of River residents say the Life Time Fitness complex would bring a significant amount of traffic to an already congested area, create a good deal of noise from an outdoor pool and other amenities that would be open long hours, and destroy the character of their neighborhood.

Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Representatives’ Land Use Committee includes a public hearing. It begins at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor legislative chambers at the Stamford Government Center, 888 Washington Blvd.

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.

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