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Stamford: Legally fraught meetings on Life Time gym to kick off this week

July 9, 2018

STAMFORD — The stage has been set for several contentious city meetings, starting Tuesday, on whether the Zoning Board’s move to allow stand-alone gyms in office parks should hold up.

The Zoning Board approved the text change over fervent opposition this spring, paving the way for a Life Time Fitness center in a quiet Turn of River neighborhood office park, kick starting a petition process now before the Board of Representatives.

The petition to have reps reverse the move was recently shot down by city staffers, but the board will get the final say. Thanks to dueling interpretations of the law around petitions, representatives will not only have to decide whether to overturn zoning, but must also choose whether the petition is valid.

The first step comes Tuesday evening when the board’s Land Use-Urban Redevelopment Committee will meet in City Hall and recommend whether or not the board should accept the nearly 700-signature petition.

The meeting is slated for 7 p.m in the fourth-floor legislative chambers.

Hundreds of signatures were scrapped late last month by Valerie Rosenson, legislative officer for the Board of Representatives. Rosenson contended that signatures from condominium owners along with dozens of others don’t count, therefore the petition falls short of the 300 signatures needed to be heard by the board.

City Rep. Charles Pia, R-18, who co-chairs the committee, said he hopes to split discussion on the petition into several meetings.

His committee will discuss whether the petition is valid on Tuesday, and make a recommendation to the full board, which is slated to discuss the validity of the petition next Monday, July 16. Neither of the meetings will have public comment.

Tuesday’s agenda also calls for hearing arguments for whether representatives should overturn zoning’s approval, but Pia said he plans to make a motion to postpone that until his committee and the full board decide on whether the petition is valid.

If the full Board of Representatives accepts the petition next week, Pia’s committee will discuss and make a recommendation to the full board as to whether it should overturn zoning’s unanimous approval.

This all must happen by Aug. 6, or zoning’s decision is affirmed by a lack of action, Pia said.

Meanwhile, Life Time opponents, lead by Hank Cuthbertson, president of a homeowners association next to the office park, are calling the city into question. One of his association’s attorneys sent a 10-page letter to the members of the land-use committee late last week countering Rosenson’s memo.

“The memoranda’s conclusions make no sense as a matter of law, logic, or mathematics, and would disenfranchise hundreds of Stamford citizens who have expressed their strong opposition,” wrote Leonard Braman.

Braman argues that disqualifying condo owners because they are not “land owners” is legally dubious and “ignores” the city charter. He calls Rosenson’s memo, which was informed by city attorney Jim Minor, “a tortured analysis to attempt to show that ‘300 signatures’ means something other ‘300 signatures.’”

Braman goes on to find fault with case law Minor cites in forming his opinion.

Pia, in an interview, said this appeal, one of only a handful over the last decade, will likely be even more contentious than others.

“There have been appeals, maybe two of them over the last 10 years, but neither of those were controversial,” Pia said. “This has a multitude of legal issues.”

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