STAMFORD – Jamie D’Agostino, an entrepreneur, says his plan for the Glenbrook community center “has been virtually rejected”.
Michael Thomas, a pastor, says he would like a chance to amplify his vision for the center, and he will “pray for the Oct. 3 vote,” when the Council of Representatives decides the fate of the city building, which the Mayor Caroline Simmons wants to sell to a real estate developer.
Residents are fighting hard to save the stately stone building in the heart of Glenbrook, an area dense with small businesses and apartment complexes, and multi-family and single-family homes.
Residents say the neighborhood needs the center, which for 50 years provided after-school and summer camps for children; child care and preschool programs; activities for the elderly; dances; sports leagues; music, art and exercise lessons; and 24-hour meeting space for people trying to stay sober.
Simmons is fighting just as hard to sell the community center at 35 Crescent Street to JHM Group and Viking Construction to build 51 much-needed affordable housing units, which the mayor says is essential to the well-being of the city.
It’s become a battle of what residents call “misinformation.”
Simmons says the building is in poor condition and will cost $23 million to repair. Residents say it’s the cost of building 51 units, not the cost of repairs – a 2020 appraisal detailed $1.3 million in renovations.
Simmons says the community center has been closed for four years. The former operator says it closed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Residents say Simmons does not specify that the developer cannot reserve affordable housing for people who live or work in Stamford, even though an online fact sheet published by the administration indicates that a method of choosing the tenants has not been determined, and developers in the past used lotteries to decide.
Simmons wrote that the last-minute proposals submitted by D’Agostino and Thomas are “not operationally viable or fiscally viable.”
It’s not, D’Agostino said.
Simmons, who took office in December, is working according to plans drawn up by former mayor David Martin, who issued a request for proposals from developers interested in building housing, not renovating a community center , D’Agostino said.
“I’m calling BS on Martin’s drafted RFP,” said D’Agostino, a mechanical engineer, real estate investor and owner of Netology, an IT services company that employs 23 people on Summer Street. “I wanted to submit a tender but I didn’t want to empty the community center, so I was not considered an audience for the tender.”
D’Agostino, who grew up participating in programs at the Glenbrook Community Center, said he heard last October that the city was selling him and contacted Martin the following month. He said he was looking for bigger office space for his growing business and for a bilingual daycare that his wife, a teacher, is starting.
By then, Martin had lost the mayoral election to Simmons.
“Martin told my team to contact the new mayor in the new year. We contacted them and were told that the city was not interested in receiving more offers, but that they would meet with us by courtesy,” D’Agostino said.
In August, he met with Simmons’ chief of staff, Bridget Fox, and his director of community engagement, Janeene Freeman, D’Agostino said.
“They were very dismissive. They said, ‘You’re not serious because you don’t have affordable housing,’” D’Agostino said. “They weren’t willing to work with me.”
D’Agostino said his plan was to pay the city’s market value for the building, between $1 million and $1.4 million. JHM and Viking offered $700,000.
He would locate his business on the top floor and the bilingual daycare center on the first and second floors, D’Agostino said.
The third floor, including the kitchen, and the ground floor gym would be for community center activities, he said.
D’Agostino said he would add affordable housing if city officials wanted it. He could build 20 to 30 units at the back of the property, like what JHM and Viking have proposed, he said.
“I can get all the tax credits and all the loans they could get for affordable housing, and I have a developer I can work with. But it takes time to put together a proposal. I didn’t have time to make a proposal,” he said.
JHM and Viking, in their proposal, say they will finance most of their construction costs by seeking state and federal resources available to affordable housing builders, including a conventional loan using proceeds from a bond issue. tax exempt; Connecticut Housing Finance Agency low-income housing tax credits; a below-market-rate loan from the state Department of Housing or similar source; and a below-market loan from the Federal Home Loan Bank, which helps fund projects that meet community needs, or a similar source.
Thomas, pastor of ACTS Church on Richmond Hill Avenue on the west side, said he could also get this type of funding.
“We proceed in the same way as the developer. We use a Manhattan consulting firm that works with nonprofits to find this funding, which is a complex process,” Thomas said. “They tell me there’s not a lot of funding for community centers, but there’s a lot of funding for affordable housing and seniors housing.”
His proposal is to keep the existing community center space, renovate it and “add affordable housing around it to make it cost effective and incorporate it into programs so they are self-sustaining,” Thomas said. .
Like D’Agostino, Thomas said he did not respond to Martin’s tender because he was only asking for plans to build housing. After residents began challenging the sale of the center this summer, he presented a plan he and his wife, Teena Thomas, had been working on.
“This business plan is three or four years old. We took it off the back burner and made some minor changes, but we need a chance to update it,” Thomas said. “I believe the concept is viable and can satisfy both worlds. The only thing is that the administration will give me the same exceptions they give to this developer – how far I can go, how much parking I have to provide.
He met with members of the administration, including Simmons, and they liked his idea, but “there were no further conversations,” Thomas said.
His church has rented space at the Glenbrook Community Center for four years, Thomas said. It was a sanctuary, he said.
“COVID has brought a level of isolation we’ve never seen before, and community centers are a place of fellowship,” Thomas said. “Creating a place where people can come together, a place of safety, is very important.”
JHM and Viking’s plan includes 3,000 square feet of community space, far less than D’Agostino and Thomas are proposing.
JHM and Viking have offered to purchase the 16,400 square foot community center on nearly an acre of land for $700,000 in cash plus a “cash equivalent of $5,261,240 as a credit for the 51 affordable housing units “.
The developers would build seven studios, 30 one-bedroom apartments and 14 two-bedroom apartments for a total of 51. Twelve of the units will be built in the community center building and 39 units will be built behind in a new building.
Under their proposal, all apartments will be offered to individuals or families with incomes below the Stamford-area median income, which the federal government says is $180,900 for a family of four.
For renters earning 40% of area median income, developers will offer nine units – a studio for $1,080 a month; six one-bedroom apartments at $1,121 per month; and two two-bedroom apartments at $1,331.
For renters earning 50% of the area’s median income, nine units will be offered at higher rents – $1,374 for a studio; $1,436 for one bedroom; and $1,709 for a two-bedroom.
The largest number of units, 26, will be available to renters who earn 65% of the area’s median income, which would amount to $117,585 per year for a family of four. At this income limit, four studios will be available at $1,673 per month; 14 one-bedroom units at $1,756; and eight two-bedrooms at $2,092.
The highest income limit is 80% of the region’s median income, or $144,720 per year for a family of four. At this level, a studio will be available for $1,729 per month; four bedrooms will cost $1,815; and two two-bedroom units will rent for $2,164.
Critics of the JHM-Viking proposal say these rental prices are not much different from Glenbrook’s market prices.
Thomas and D’Agostino said they would watch the virtual Council of Representatives meeting at 8 p.m. on October 3, available at http://www.boardofreps.org/Data/Sites/43/userfiles/agendas/2022/221003 . pdf.
“I just hope the project comes back to DP,” Thomas said. “It will give us a chance.”
D’Agostino said the same thing.
“No one in the city cared to realize that there might be people here who would be interested in keeping a community center,” D’Agostino said. “They didn’t even try.”