Stamford parking garage saga takes strange new turn

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The nearly decade-long struggle to replace the crumbling Stamford railroad station parking garage has taken another bizarre turn:  the Connecticut Department of Transportation now wants to spend $1.5 million and take six months to repair the garage before they tear it down.

How did we get into this mess?  Let’s examine the time-line:

May 1983: Construction begins on the Stamford Transportation Center, featuring a new train station and parking garage. But construction is halted when cracks are found in beams. Repairs are made and work continues.

Aug. 2006: Crumbing concrete, exposed and rusting rebar convince engineers the garage is near the end of its life.  CDOT decides it will be cheaper to demolish the old 727-space parking garage than to repair it… $35 million.

Aug. 2008: A hoped-for public-private partnership to replace the old garage in its current location and add private office space falls through.

July 2012:  The transportation department tries a public-private deal again, issuing an RFP (Request for Proposals) for replacement parking within a quarter mile of the station.  Developers are promised confidentiality.  There are no public hearings on any concepts, leaving commuters in the dust. After protests, Gov. Dannel Malloy appoints a panel to oversee the DOT process of selecting a developer.  The group meets secretly, never seeking public input nor ever issuing a report on its work.

July 1, 2013: Developer John McClutchy and family donate $30,000 to the Connecticut State Central Democratic Committee.  By February 2015, the McClutchy’s have donated $165,000 to that federal account, bypassing state laws prohibiting contractor contributions to candidates.

July 11, 2013: The DOT announces its choice of developers for the Stamford Garage, JHM Group of Companies (headed by John McClutchy), which proposes a 600,000 square foot office/hotel complex on the site of the old garage while parking is moved a quarter mile away.  Negotiations on a final deal get underway.

Nov. 2014: Having been completely bypassed in the state’s decision making process about the garage project, the City of Stamford Zoning Board passes a new zoning ordinance giving it final approval over any projects near the train station.

March 2015: In response, the governor introduces HB-6851, a bill to give the state control of all development within a half mile of any transit station.  The bill would create a quasi-governmental CT Transit Corridor Development Authority, all of its members appointed by the governor, with the power of eminent domain.  The bill is eventually killed.

April 2015: Large chunks of concrete fall from the ceiling of the Stamford Garage prompting the DOT to close the facility for safety inspection, displacing 700+ daily parkers.

July 2015: The second anniversary of DOT’s selection of JHM as developer of the garage passes, but there is still no signed contract.  The old garage remains closed into a third month with no word on repairs.

Oct. 2015:   The DOT announces it will spend $1.5 million and six months to repair part of the old garage, eventually re-opening 270 of its 727 spaces.

Those facts speak for themselves.  My only opinion:  if DOT can so mismanage a small project like this, what’s going to happen when Gov. Malloy gives them $100 billion to spend on his 30-year transportation plan?

Jim  Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Represtentative Town Meeting.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.

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