STAMFORD — Less than half a year after developer Building and Land Technology’s contentious boatyard project got the green light, plans for the company’s involvement in a public boat launch are raising eyebrows.
The developer promised $450,000 toward improvements at the West Beach boat launch, less than a mile from the site of a future boat storage facility Magee Avenue, as part of its final applications to the city Zoning Board.
The upgrades will allow Hinckley, BLT’s boatyard vendor, to use the ramp for transporting boats to and from an off-shore storage site at 205 Magee Ave. Hinckley’s primary boatyard operations will be located at the Davenport Landing site on Southfield Avenue.
City officials appear to agree that these improvements are necessary and long overdue.
“The West Beach boat launch is a city asset that is need of repairs and dredging in order to make it operational for longer hours of the day,” said Michael Handler, the city’s Director of Administration. “The city will be using funds from the applicant, which are required by one of the conditions of the zoning agreement to make these necessary improvements.”
Erin McKenna, a city planner who worked on the Master Plan for West Beach and Cummings Beach, said she has no issues with BLT’s plans for the boat launch.
“Everything they have proposed adheres to our Master Plan,” she said. “It will be nice to have some of the things on that plan completed.”
But boaters and protectors of Stamford’s waterfront are concerned that tying a public facility to a commercial operation could restrict public access. The issue was discussed in a recent administrative meeting with city officials and BLT, in which minutes were not kept.
“I think it will make the ramp very busy, but (BLT) doesn’t have those numbers yet. They don’t know what to expect,” said Damian Ortelli, chairman of the city’s Harbor Management Commission. “While I don’t, as a citizen, like the way things have been done, I think the improvements will be good. From the Harbor Management perspective, we are all for improvements to water-dependent uses.”
“Our concern is that the principal users of that boat launch ramp are small boaters,” said Fedeli, who is also the staff liaison for the Harbor Management Commission and attended the administrative meeting last week.
Commercial use of the West Beach ramp is not uncommon. Such uses go through the Fedeli’s department, which charges commercial entities $550 for a permit to use the ramp.
Whose ramp is it?
It appears that nothing will prevent Hinckley from applying for use of the ramp on a case-by-case basis.
“It has been demonstrated during the zoning process that the applicant’s commercial launching of boats will not compete with non-commercial daily launching,” Handler said. “Any fees associated with commercial use of the boat ramp will need to be paid by the applicant or their operator, just as other commercial operators would be subject.”
There are still some hurdles to clear before work at West Beach begins. Ortelli says the city will need to come before his commission with an application or at least detailed plans for the launch improvements.
“If there are any additional city approvals that are required with respect to a boat ramp permit for a commercial applicant, I would expect that process to be followed,” Handler said.
BLT’s general counsel John Freeman did not offer a commercial traffic estimate, but said Hinckley will haul and launch boats during off-peak hours and days.
“Their schedule will also be submitted in advance to the city transportation bureau and managed by the bureau chief to avoid any congestion,” he said.
Fedeli said it’s too early to tell if Hinckley will monopolize the West Beach ramp. He currently issues about four commercial permits a year for the ramp.
“We have not gotten an estimate from BLT on how many large boats per season would use the facility,” he said. “We do have concerns about a public facility being dominated by a private entity, but hopefully it’s early enough in the process that we can do some type of outreach to these small boaters — the primary users of the facility.”
BLT’s $450,000 contribution to boat launch repairs is based on an estimate developed by the city’s land use bureau and a consultant, Handler said.
The scope of the work BLT has signed on for includes dredging, repairs to the ramp itself and redirecting a storm water outflow.
“Should the city choose to do work beyond the original scope, such as installing additional floating docks, any additional costs incurred above $450,000 would be done at the expense of the city,” Handler said.
As the city and BLT work together to bring the West Beach boat ramp up to snuff, a portion of the developer’s approved boatyard plan is facing an appeal hearing in State Superior Court early next month. BLT tore down the old boatyard in 2011 in violation of its zoning agreement with the city.
The developer’s approved boatyard plan — which is to include a 4.4-acre boatyard, a 26,000-square-foot building and a 115-unit housing complex and a separate boat storage and repair site — is designed to replace the one it demolished in order to clear the way for a new development.
Long Island Sound preservationist group Soundkeeper is appealing the zoning board’s decision to eliminate the condition that once required a full-service, working boatyard to remain on the peninsula off Bateman Way. Last month, the zoning board filed a motion to dismiss this appeal with support from BLT.
The developer is still opting to move forward with the project pending the court’s ruling on the appeal, as it cannot receive a building permit for the Magee storage site until it contributes the $450,000 to the West Beach launch.