I just finished a pleasant phone conversation with Nagi. (OK, maybe some parts of it weren't so pleasant.) It apparently took him a few days to hear about the "Nagi's Nightmare" flyer and this website. I was fully expecting to hear from Nagi on Sunday 10/9 when I started distributing the second flyer with the stopnagi.com website on it. Apparently he doesn't have too many close friends where I delivered the flyers in Indian Ridge, nor in the Crystal Lake development next door.
Anyway, Nagi called and wanted to know why I was still making flyers when he had "addressed" all of my issues during our meeting. (He apparently believes that, if he sits down with someone and tells them, "I'm doing it my way," he has "addressed all of their issues.") I politely explained he did NOT address my issues, other than to state the economic reasons for his project. (For example, when I asked him why he can't build condos like those at Vine Meadows instead of apartments, he said that the housing market is terrible now and may not come back for 15 years. (Well, DUH, Nagi!) But that's his problem, not ours. He is the person who paid (through his LLC's) 40% over market value for the homes that he bought adjacent to his store.
In between pleasantries, I asked Nagi to clarify exactly how large his apartment buildings would be, since their square footage seemed to depend on which city document you happened to examine (as pointed out in my latest flyer). He said that the larger two-story building would have a 14,136 sq. ft. day-care center on its first floor, and 10 apartments in the 14,136 sq. ft. on the second floor. He also said that his second building would have a total of 12,000 sq. ft., with six apartments on each of its two 6,000 sq. ft. floors. (If you subtract the space for hallways, stairwells, etc., it appears that each of these 12 apartments would be around 900 sq. ft.) I will take Nagi's word that these figures are correct.
Nagi was upset that I had confused the "footprints" of his buildings with their "gross areas." (This distinction was not stated in the city documents that I mentioned in the flyer.) I asked Nagi if he describes his house at 90 West Bank Lane as being only the size of its first-floor "footprint" (about 1,600sq. ft., according to city records), or its "gross area" (about 4,000 sq. ft.). There is obviously a big difference between these figures and what they imply for the size of his house.
So what do the figures suggest for Nagi's...ahem..."apartment complex?" (He appears to really dislike the term "housing project" and would prefer that I call Maple Ridge an "apartment complex." OK, whatever...at least for the moment....)
If you do the math, it appears that the total square footage of both buildings is just over 40,000 sq. ft....on 1-1/2 acres of land, including a 98-space parking lot (although Nagi did say that some of those spaces will be under the buildings).
To put this in perspective, a ranch in Indian Ridge is about 900 sq. ft., and a two-story colonial here is about 1,800 sq. ft. Both types of homes sit on 1/4-acre plots of land. Thus, while Nagi's land is only six times larger than our lots, his two apartment buildings combined are between 22 and 44 (!!!) times larger than each of our homes. One resident in the Crystal Lake development summed up the situation very well when he said:
The email below was sent by Nagi Osta on 10/5/11 at 9:37 PM to residents who had written to Norman Cole in Zoning to oppose Nagi's housing project. (Their emails had apparently been forwarded from Mr. Cole to Mr. Osta. Needless to say, some of the residents were upset about this. Paul Longo then sent a follow-up email to these residents to apologize for the breach of their privacy and to rebut Nagi's claims.)
I want to thank you for your interest and concerns about our project and I would like to clarify for the record.
This is not a public housing project .
The two buildings we propose to construct will be built in a high quality manner.
Nineteen or twenty of the twenty two units will be market rate. Two or three of the units will be below market rate.
These units will be available to those earning up to 50% of the area median income which under current guidelines is $63300.00 for a family of four.
The gross rent for below market value rate for two bedroom unit maybe up to $1424.00 per month. .
Our traffic engineer has thoroughly reviewed our proposal and assisted us with its design and has concluded that it will no significant traffic impact to the study area intersection.
The development will have a top quality drainage system which will move water into the city system not the Indian Ridge neighborhood.
Our sewage system connects to a trunk line which has sufficient capacity to accommodate the sewage from our site. Our proposed connection will have no adverse impact on the capacity of the Bradley Place or Snow Crystal sanitary sewer lines.
Our family has operated our business on 828 High Ridge Road for ten years. We hope and expect to remain for decades . We have enjoyed being part of the neighborhood and the community and we hope to improve it with our proposal.
If you are interested in discussing the proposal with me or reviewing our plans before the public hearing tomorrow please contact me by email or by telephone 203-964-0551 ext. 18
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Nagi M Osta
(On 10/6/11 at 2:45 PM, Paul Longo sent the following response to the residents who received Nagi's email.)
Dear fellow concerned Stamford resident,
First, I wish to apologize for the fact that you received an unsolicited email from Mr. Nagi Osta in response to your email to Norman Cole of Stamford's Zoning Department (i.e., regarding Mr. Osta's proposed housing project). Apparently, any correspondence that is submitted regarding such issues becomes part of the public record. Although most of us have no problem with the fact that our names and addresses are public record, we carefully guard our email addresses to prevent ourselves from being spammed, etc. In this case, I trust that Mr. Osta (whom I have copied on this email, along with his associates) has no intention of spamming you, and that his intentions in sending his response to you via email were totally sincere. (I would, perhaps, caution Mr. Osta to use the "Blind carbon copy" (Bcc...) feature for his future mass emailings to prevent his recipients from obtaining each other's email addresses, as apparently happened in this case.)
My name is Paul Longo, and I live at 76 Bradley Place, about 500 feet from Mr. Osta's proposed housing project. I created and distributed the flyer that you received after I had carefully analyzed Mr. Osta's property purchases, his plans for the project, and the City's relevant zoning regulations. I have since spoken with Mr. Osta several times, and I have also spoken with mutual acquaintances who have known Mr. Osta for many years. All of them had good things to say about him. So, first, I would like to say that I personally have nothing against Mr. Osta and that I have found him to be a pleasant person who is attempting to rectify the issues that I currently have with his project.
On Tuesday, 10/4/11, I met with Mr. Osta at his jewelry store. As part of our 45-minute discussion, we reviewed my flyer point-by-point, and Mr. Osta agreed that all of the assertions in the flyer were accurate. He did have a problem with the term "housing project," but I showed him that I had taken it directly from the heading of the online version of the Advocate's 9/23/11 article ("High Ridge day care, housing project back before Zoning Board"). You can view that article here:
In order to address Mr. Osta's claims to you, I have copied them from his email and have added my responses below:
Osta: This is not a public housing project .
Longo: Mr. Osta is correct, but I never stated that it was. (Connecticut Avenue, in contrast, is a public-housing project.) Yes, Maple Ridge is a private housing project...but it is still a housing project. There are other privately-owned housing projects in Stamford. Some of them are partially privatized: Ursula Place is an example here. But they are still housing projects, and they continue to have the problems that housing projects tend to breed. (Walk down Ursula Place late at night if you need to experience what I am talking about, although I would advise you against really doing so.)
Osta: The two buildings we propose to construct will be built in a high quality manner.
Longo: I agree here. In other words, the buildings would look nice on the outside and on the inside. During our meeting, Mr. Osta wanted to convince me that his project would be better than the completed "Vine Meadow" condominium project at 865 High Ridge Road. (To be fair to Mr. Osta, this condominium, like the Connecticut Avenue housing project and Mr. Osta's proposed Maple Ridge project, was also re-zoned RM-1 prior to its construction.) A careful analysis of the City's assessment records, as well as a physical inspection of the Vine Meadow condo property, reveals the following:
(1) Vine Meadow contains only 10 privately-owned condominium units, each with an attached garage, on a total of about an acre of land. These units have sold for about $500,00-$600,000 each. In contrast, Mr. Osta's project would contain 22 rental apartment units, a day-care center, and a 98-space parking lot on only 1.5 acres of land...in other words, much more density than that found at Vine Meadow.
(2) Each condo unit in Vine Meadow contains about 2,500 square feet total space, with about 2,100 square feet of living space. In contrast, Mr. Osta's project would contain rental apartment units of 900-1,100 square feet, with a few offered at 1,400 square feet...much less space than the units at Vine Meadow.
(3) There is only one entry-exit driveway for Vine Meadow, and it is located on Merriman Road. In contrast, Mr. Osta's project would contain a speed-bumped roadway connecting Bradley Place and Maplewood Place, and possibly a driveway (or driveways) on High Ridge Road, as well...a much more busy thoroughfare than that found at Vine Meadow.
So, in response to Mr. Osta's claim that Maple Ridge would be superior to Vine Meadow, I repeated the old adage:
"You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."
Osta: Nineteen or twenty of the twenty two units will be market rate. Two or three of the units will be below market rate. These units will be available to those earning up to 50% of the area median income which under current guidelines is $63,300.00 for a family of four.
Longo: This is true. However, "two or three of the units" is the minimum number of units that must be offered at below-market rates, according to the Zoning Department's regulations for RM-1 zoned rental units. You can view this information yourself under Section E.8 ("Below Market Rate Requirement") on Page 9-59 of the City's Zoning Regulations:
These regulations state that: "not less than ten percent (10%) of the total number of dwelling units shall be offered for rent or sale as Below Market Rate (BMR) units. By application for special exception, the Zoning Board may approve a bonus density not to exceed 15 units per acre...". [bolding emphasis added]
In other words, if Mr. Osta cannot rent out all of his remaining 19-20 units at market rate, he is free to apply to the Zoning Board for a "bonus density" of up to an additional 15 below-market-rate (i.e, low-rent) units. Now, I concede that, considering the fact that Mr. Osta has invested millions of dollars in his jewelry business and its very well-maintained building, he is not very likely to do this. But the fact remains that he--or perhaps another entity that purchases his building and his housing project in the future--can do it. And that would be a big problem for the neighborhood.
Note: Norman Cole of Stamford's Zoning Bureau corrected Longo's interpretation of the "bonus density" provision:
From: Cole, Norman [mailto:NCole@ci.stamford.ct.us]
Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2011 4:27 PM
Subject: RE: Response to Nagi Osta's email re: Maple Ridge
I will copy and distribute your email to the Zoning Board at tonight’s meeting. I would like to clarify the permitted density in the RM-1 zone, because you seem to have misread the regulations. The standard density in RM-1 is one unit (regardless of size) for every 3,750 square feet of property. The site area is 64,823 square feet (1.5 acres), allowing 17 units of which 10% or 2 units must be rented/sold at the 50% of Area Median income level. The RM-1 regulations also permit an increment of additional “bonus” density in exchange for providing additional affordable units, up to a maximum density of 15 units per acre (not an additional 15 units). Mr. Osta has utilized this bonus density provision to increase density to 22 units which equals 15 units/acre. To earn this additional density, the number of affordable units has been increased from 2 to 3.
You stated that “…he is free to apply to the Zoning Board for a “bonus density” of up to an additional 15 below market rate (i.e. low-rent) units”. This statement is incorrect. The 22 units is already at the maximum density possible, and the resulting difference in affordable units is only one (1) unit.
Acting Land Use Bureau Chief
Osta: The gross rent for below market value rate for two bedroom unit maybe up to $1424.00 per month.
Longo: This is true. However the key word here is "gross" rent. Rents for below-market rate units are often subsidized by H.U.D.'s federal "Section 8" housing-choice voucher program. "Section 8" picks up a large portion of the rent for the low-income tenant, who pays only 30% of the rent-and-utility total. So, in this case, a Section-8 tenant would pay around $400-$500 per month for his or her unit. You can view the details of the Section 8 program here:
Osta: Our traffic engineer has thoroughly reviewed our proposal and assisted us with its design and has concluded that it will no significant traffic impact to the study area intersection.
Longo: I can't adequately address a traffic study that Mr. Osta paid Mr. Joseph Balskus tens of thousands of dollars to complete for him. I can only speak from personal experience. Again, I urge you to personally check out the traffic situation at the day-care center on Hillandale Avenue (or at any other large-scale day care facility) during drop-off and pick-up hours. Surely a traffic study was completed for these facilities prior to their completion, as well.....
Osta: The development will have a top quality drainage system which will move water into the city system not the Indian Ridge neighborhood.
Longo: I won't attempt to address this issue, since I was speaking strictly about sewage, not clear-water drainage from rain, snow, etc. But I hope that Mr. Osta is correct, since we do have significant water-drainage problems in parts of Indian Ridge.
Osta: Our sewage system connects to a trunk line which has sufficient capacity to accommodate the sewage from our site. Our proposed connection will have no adverse impact on the capacity of the Bradley Place or Snow Crystal sanitary sewer lines.
Longo: At this point, there is still some confusion regarding the issue of sewage being directed into the main on Bradley Place. During the 9/26/11 public hearing on the project, Mr. Osta's surveyor, Leonard D'Andrea, had made a statement to this effect. A summary of Mr. D'Andrea's statement does appear in the draft minutes for that meeting, although the exact wording of his statement can only be ascertained via the audio recording of the meeting. (I had spoken with several other people who were at the meeting, and they heard Mr. D'Andrea make same statement about the sewage that I did.)
In response to my concern, Mr. Osta checked with Mr. D'Andrea, who assured Mr. Osta that the sewage from the project will be directed only into the main on Maplewood Place. Although this does resolve *my* sewage-related issue (as I live on Bradley Place), Mr. D'Andrea also stated that the Maplewood sewer main ties into the main on Sun Dance Road, which is located behind and below Maplewood Place. Unfortunately, this part of Sun Dance Road (which is also part of the Indian Ridge development) has experienced similar settling problems as the properties at the lower end of Bradley Place. Although I do not know if the sewer main on Sun Dance Road has also settled unevenly, for the sake of residents there, we can only hope that it has not.
Osta: Our family has operated our business on 828 High Ridge Road for ten years. We hope and expect to remain for decades . We have enjoyed being part of the neighborhood and the community and we hope to improve it with our proposal.
Longo: I have lived on Bradley Place for 23 years, and I agree that Mr. Osta's jewelry store has been a good business neighbor to me. Unfortunately, because of the issues noted above, I cannot see how Mr. Osta's proposed housing project will improve our single-family-zoned community. If the Zoning Board approves the project as it stands, I hope that Mr. Osta can and will address these concerns before moving forward.