When Brewer Yacht Haven, a full-service marina in Stamford, CT, closed suddenly in 2011, many boat owners in the region were forced to look elsewhere for service and winter storage. The owner of the 14-acre property off Bateman Way, a real estate development company called Building and Land Technology (BLT), subsequently announced a plan to develop the site as the headquarters of a hedge fund company called Bridgewater Capital.
At that time, a group of concerned boat owners formed Save Our Boatyard, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the site as a working boatyard with haulout, launch and winter storage capabilities. To learn more about this ongoing issue, we spoke with Save Our Boatyard co-founders Maureen Boylan and Randy Dinter. (An archived interview with BLT's General Counsel can be found at windcheckmagazine.com.)
WindCheck: What is Save Our Boatyard’s mission?
Save Our Boatyard: Our mission is to keep the most prominent water-dependent use in the tri-state area (a boatyard and marina) on the 14-acre site, to prevent the Bridgewater Capital application from being approved, and to convince the current developers, BLT, to restore the boatyard site. [Yacht Haven] was illegally destroyed – a violation of the City of Stamford’s General Development Plan which was created by the City’s Zoning Board and the Master Plan. Save our Boatyard hopes to preserve land that once serviced the United States Navy, that has a rich history in marine manufacturing, and that serves for boat repair, storage, fuel services, emergencies and a host of other services. It’s the only deep water access channel in the tri-state area for large vessels to maneuver, to tend to boating emergencies, and the largest in-water winter storage facility in Connecticut.
WC: How many boaters were displaced when Yacht Haven closed?
SOB: More than 600, as many used the yard for service but did not have storage there. The situation has forced many boaters to go far afield for service and space, but they would return if the proper facilities and servicing were restored.
WC: How has this closing affected local marine businesses?
SOB: Seven businesses are gone. Two yacht dealers, one sailmaker, a propeller service shop, an electronics service, a machine shop and a parts outlet on the premises are all gone. Spray painting, structural repair, full rigging service as well as six capable mechanics are gone. In total, over 60 employees have lost their jobs. The recreational boating industry is a $121.5 billion dollar a year industry nationwide. Boating dollars among Connecticut’s four congressional districts is currently $1.347 billion. In Stamford’s 4th Congressional District alone, the total annual economic impact of recreational boating spent is $325.2 million dollars a year. Congressional District 2 comes in at $420.8 million dollars, Congressional District 3 at $202.4 million dollars, and District 1 at $178.5 million dollars. These figures come directly from the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Stamford is a “staycation” destination, and it has the only deep water channel between here and Newport, RI, making it accessible to large boats to access for repair service and to any size vessel for food, fuel, etc. The City loses dollars from vessel owners who would be supporting the community by visiting our restaurants, hotels and shops on daytrips and weekend stays. The City’s economic development team fails to realize this because they know nothing about the boating industry or running a boatyard. There are the financial means, funding and ability to build a world-class, Newport-quality boatyard here in Stamford, but the developers cannot see past their own greed to make this happen.
Besides restoring all the services that were at the Yacht Haven site, the developer – or a new yard owner – could have huge in-water boat shows, a restaurant, a chandlery and a nautical museum, just to name a few, if they had planned this properly without using all their commercial property rights. Such a boatyard could provide an immediate return on the developer’s investment, but when you’re not in the marine industry you can’t seem to think outside the box.
WC: Would BLT’s proposed boatyard at 205 Magee Avenue be capable of accommodating those boat owners?
SOB: No. That site is only 3.5 acres, and there will be no in-water storage, no fuel service, no storage for sailboat owners, and no rigging services. It basically will be a rack storage system for smaller powerboats, and will not offer at least half of the services provided by the previous boatyard. Onshore storage for boats over 30 feet will fall short of Yacht Haven’s capacity by at least 350 to 400 boats.
WC: Is the 205 Magee Avenue application a done deal?
SOB: No, it’s not even close. The 205 Magee Avenue application is a separate application from the BLT/Bridgewater application. The developers are offering the alternative site at 205 Magee Avenue first, before they can proceed with the Bridgewater application. Should it become a done deal, the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Governor and others will be in violation of the Coastal Area Management (CAM) Act without a proper economic study to validate their claims.
Although DEEP may approve the application at 205 Magee Avenue, the decision will still be made by Stamford’s local municipal boards: Zoning, Planning and the Board of Representatives. The Stamford Harbor Commission has since voted this plan down twice. The 205 Magee Avenue application has just been approved to “Review Only” by the Zoning Board, but no decision on the application being approved has happened yet.
WC: Would Bridgewater and BLT’s proposed housing units be a better use of the former Yacht Haven site, and more beneficial to Stamford’s economy than a boatyard?
SOB: No. Housing units, condos, or any Bridgewater company buildings are not water-dependent uses. The City’s Master Plan strictly defines the boatyard property as a water-dependent usage facility only, and the property is already zoned for a boatyard Approximately 26% of Stamford’s commercial properties, including many BLT-owned buildings, remain unoccupied. Bridgewater and housing units can be located elsewhere. The right boatyard operator can come in and run the boatyard efficiently, making a profit and helping the City’s economic future.
WC: Are there any alternative sites for a boatyard in Stamford?
SOB: None that even compares with the size of the former site. The 14-acre site is on a peninsula, which also offers a huge advantage as a marina, and it survived Hurricane Sandy with no destruction. None of the properties that the City has looked at offer enough acreage for winter storage, let alone enough depth for navigation by deep-draft vessels.
There are many issues with this 205 Magee application, regarding an illegal use of land swap by the mayor, an illegal licensing agreement by corporate counsel that the mayor would like to enforce. Not to mention that the developers, in the land swap for access to city property, want to destroy a building that was gifted to the City of Stamford by the US Navy after World War II in 1945 for the purposes of navigational education. The district Power Squadron teaches their classes and the Stamford Sea Cadets do their training in this building.
WC: How can WindCheck readers help?
SOB: They can attend a DEEP public hearing this month concerning the Flood Management application for the 14-acre site. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 19 at 6:00pm at the Gen Re Auditorium on the University of Connecticut’s Stamford Campus. We need as many of you as possible at this meeting!
Furthermore, readers can ask the following questions directly to Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty:
• Why is Governor Malloy giving Bridgewater Capital (the world’s richest hedge fund) $140 million dollars in tax incentives to move their offices from Westport to Stamford when the company had no intentions of moving out of state?
This has become a statewide taxpayer issue. Connecticut taxpayers should ask their state representatives, congressmen and elected officials:
• Why was the 205 Magee Avenue proposal fast-tracked through the Connecticut DEEP in a five-week time frame (December 2012 - January 2013), whereas many other municipal dredging permits take five to seven years to approve?
If readers would like to know more, they can contact firstname.lastname@example.org directly, go to Facebook.com at SaveOurBoatyard or look for the latest boatyard articles in the Stamford Advocate or the Ct Mirror newspapers online at stamfordadvocate.com and ctmirror.org F
Editor’s note: The DEEP public hearing on June 19 concerns the Flood Management Exemption for construction of new building, parking garage, driveways, public accessways, utilities, grading landscaping and appurtenant site improvements at the Foot of Bateman Way in Stamford, CT.
After the hearing, the DEEP Commissioner may approve such exemption if he determines that the agency has shown that the activity is in the public interest, will not injure persons or damage property, complies with the provisions of the National Flood Insurance Program, and, in the case of a loan or grant, the recipient of the loan or grant has been informed that increased flood insurance premiums may result from the activity.
Members of the public should check the DEEP Calendar of Events on the DEEP Website (ct.gov/deep/calendar) or contact the Office of Adjudications at 860-424-3037 for information on any alterations to this hearing schedule.