Glenbrook Community Center at Heart of Affordable Housing, Community Services Discussions

The Glenbrook Community Center has become the center of conversation in the city. There are plans to refurbish the building and build 50+ affordable units, but many want to see it saved as a community center.

Glenbrook Community Center at Heart of Affordable Housing, Community Services Discussions
A look at the Glenbrook Community Center from the City's Request for Proposals in 2021. (Courtesy of Stamford.)

The discussion surrounding the Glenbrook Community Center in Stamford has included many issues and questions that the city—and other communities around the region—are grappling with. How much affordable housing does a municipality need and how can the local government play a role in building that? What happens to our community spaces when they fall into disrepair and how do we make sure there are those resources available for residents?

Deciding what to do with the center has been a contentious issue over the last few months in Stamford. Here’s a brief recap: (You can also check out our full recap of the history of the property.)

  • The city searched for a provider to run the Glenbrook Community Center, which is located at 35 Crescent Street, in 2018-19, but didn’t get a suitable bidder.
  • In 2020, the city sent out a request for proposals to renovate the property, which is a historic building in the city, and include affordable housing on the site.
  • Crescent Housing Partners LLC was selected as the developer for the site and drew up plans to construct 51 affordable units on site. This would remove the full community center.
  • However, in recent weeks, residents and members of the Board of Representatives have been lobbying to try and keep the center as a community center and reject the sale of the property.

The Board of Representatives voted to hold the item earlier this month. It’s currently listed on the agenda for the Legislative Committee of the Board of Representatives, which meets on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m. The item could also return to the full board in October.

What’s Happened Since the Board of Representatives Held the Item?

Over the past month, many members of the community have stressed that they think keeping the property a community center is important, while members of the administration have emphasized why they believe restoring the building and adding affordable housing to the site is the best use.

More than 80 emails have been received by the Board of Representatives during just the month of September, with most of them asking the board to keep the center a community center.

“I am sorry to hear that you are planning to turn the Glenbrook Community Center into affordable housing. Yes, I am very much in favor of affordable housing but not at the expense of losing what has been an important part of our community,” wrote resident Joyce Day.

Resident Susan Iacovacci wrote that “removing the community center would take away what's left of our neighborhood.”

“I'm writing to express my strong opposition to allow affordable housing or any housing in that matter to replace the Glenbrook Community Center. Glenbrook has become overly congested!” she wrote.  We need the Glenbrook Community Center to act as it once was, a place for the community.”

Many residents said that the center has been used as a meeting space for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or for child care services, and they would hate to see their community lose that kind of space.

A few voiced their support for adding affordable housing to the city.

Resident Dawn Randall asked the board to support the project so it can “provide critical workforce housing as well as community space for residents to utilize.”

“I believe it is very important for Stamford to create, and retain, affordable housing,” she wrote. “The 35 Crescent Street proposal may not be a perfect solution but it was thoroughly vetted and passed by the Planning Board and the Board of Finance over the past two years.”

Mayor Caroline Simmons emphasized the need for affordable housing in the city, and how this project could help meet those goals.

“This vote is about affordable housing. As elected leaders in this City, we have an obligation to ensure that residents and those who work in our community have access to high-quality affordable housing,” she wrote in a letter to the Board of Representatives. “With this project, Stamford can distinguish itself as a leader on this issue and move forward toward addressing a pressing need in our community.”

Simmons also emphasized that residents are being “presented a false choice.” She named price and lack of interest from community providers in operating the site as to why her administration believes “it is not a feasible option for this site to become a community center.” Simmons’ noted that it will cost approximately $23 million to complete the Crescent Street project.

The Glenbrook Neighborhood Association had initially unanimously voiced its support for the Crescent Street project, but some members rescinded their support after there was a move by members of the community to try and find a way to save the community center.

“We appreciate and recognize that there has been time and effort invested by the city in trying to address the now vacant building,” wrote three of the association members who changed their vote—Lori Constantine, Laurie Doig, and Zdenka Zeman. “We are not in favor of selling the property because this is the ‘best opportunity available’ at this time. Finding the most beneficial use of the property far outweighs the expediency of what has been presented as the only option. We believe that the city of Stamford and the Glenbrook neighborhood are better served by ensuring the building is used primarily as a community center.”

What Could the Future of the Property Be?

If the Board of Representatives votes to approve the sale, the plan would be for the new property owner—Crescent Housing Partners LLC, which is a subsidiary of JHM Group, a local housing developer—to repair the building’s historic facade, build 51 affordable housing units on site, and create about 3,000 square feet of community space.

If the Board rejects the sale, the matter could become more complicated. Board of Finance Chair Richard Freedman wrote a letter to the Board of Representatives stating he did not believe there would be support to fund the needed repairs and maintenance of the center.

“Given recent public representations as to the Board of Finance's position on a community center at 35 Crescent Street, I am compelled to comment,” he wrote. “Last week, I was asked by Bridget Fox of the Mayor's office as to the potential level of BOF support for City funding for a community center at 35 Crescent Street. My response was that based on my conversations with two other board members as well as my own position, there would not be enough votes to approve the expenditure of either City capital or City operating funds for a community center.”

Before the Board of Representatives last meeting in September, two last minute proposals were submitted, both of which sought to operate the property as a community center.

The first was from Reverend Michael Thomas, a local pastor, who submitted a proposal to the board to utilize the building for “Acts Community Resource Center,” which is currently occupying space at 98 Richmond Hill Avenue and is pending 501(c)3 approval. The center would provide a variety of services including day care, counseling, support for those in recovery, health programming, and financial resources for small businesses and first-time home buyers.

The second was from Jamie D’Agostino, a Stamford resident who owns Netology, an IT support company. He also submitted a proposal to move his company to the space and use the rest of the building to support his wife’s bilingual learning center and community space.

Simmons told the Board’s Legislative and Rules Committee that her administration reviewed the proposals and they believed the proposals were not “legally, fiscally, or operationally viable.”

“What has happened in the last 24 hours feels like what has happened in cities and towns across the country when affordable housing developments are about to cross the finish line,” she said.