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Park ownership question arises out of proposal to build 14-story hotel Who owns Veterans Memorial Park?

February 7, 2019

STAMFORD — The plan to tuck a 14-story hotel behind a 119-year-old bank and between a parking ramp and a downtown park won its first city approval this week, but land mines — such as learning who actually owns the land around it — abound.

The proposal, to use the old Stamford Savings Bank building next to Veterans Memorial Park as a lobby and restaurant space for a hotel built on its parking lot, was presented to the Zoning Board Monday. It was pitched by prominent land use consultant Rick Redniss, who was seeking a text change to city zoning code to allow for downtown hotel balconies and overhangs, pending a special exception.

Redniss and attorney John Leydon were granted the change, but said it may be a while before the two are back with a formal plan for the hotel.

First, the two must figure out who owns Veterans Memorial Park, now amid a multi-million-dollar renovation, and the parking ramp to the Stamford Town Center mall.

“As of the moment we don’t know who owns the park, the ramp or the property under the ramp,” Leydon said.

It could be the city, he said, or the Urban Redevelopment Commission — which is still around though far outliving the Urban Renewal period that birthed it. Title searches show there’s an agreement in place for drivers and mall shoppers to use the ramp at Stamford Town Center, but ownership is still unclear, he said.

Further complicating the development is a six-inch encroachment where the bank juts into the ramp’s land. According to land records, a patch of land that happens to be under the bank is owned by whoever owns the ramp, whoever that is, Leydon said.

“It appears it’s the URC, the city or some combination thereof; we need to sort that out,” he said. “There is not a simple answer.”

To remedy the encroachment, Leydon said, the hotel development plans to swap land — the front of bank has long been considered the park, but is in fact owned by the bank — with the mystery owner, be it the city or the URC, which is a city agency.

“Once we determine who owns the property, we will propose the swap,” Leydon said. “There are different procedures whether you’re going to the URC or whether you’re going to the city to get that accomplished.”

Moreover, Veterans Memorial Park isn’t a “park,” according to the city, Redniss said. He hopes to fix that, too.

“The park is well over a 100 years old,” he said. “But it’s not Master Planned as a park and it’s not zoned a park, and that’s one of the things we’ve been working with staff about.”

Historically, Veterans Memorial Park was always a public space — once called Central Park, just off Park Row — but came to its current size and scope during Urban Renewal in the early ’70s, the same period that paved over portions of Main, Canal and Pacific streets, and wiped away Quintard Place, Gay Street, Luther Street and Park Row.

Much like the ownership of the park, the appearance of the hotel is also an open question.

The early design for the hotel — first rendered as a modern addition behind the old brick bank — is getting a second look, Redniss said. Monday he presented another set of renderings, with the hotel now dressed in a “sympathetic” brick facade.

The Zoning Board appeared to like the new design a good deal better, each member telling Redniss they preferred the brick he was pitching.

“I was not impressed with what I saw in the paper,” Zoning Chariman David Stein said. “I think we can improve on what’s there.”

The Zoning Board also learned who is behind the hotel plan. Hotelier Shelly Nichani sat in the crowd at the meeting, and said in interview that he will own and operate the new hotel, pending approvals. His family runs the city’s Hampton Inn and Suites on Mill River Street.

Nichani said he plans on buying the old Stamford Savings Bank building from First County Bank within a month to set the hotel plan in motion.

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