Stamford Mayor David Martin
The way he sees pressing issues of the day
It’s easy for David Martin to talk about goals. In his twenty-six years serving the city on various boards, including the Board of Representatives and the Board of Finance, Martin has observed city happenings from the front seat, imagining all the while how to help the city thrive. Many Stamford residents probably share similar desires for the city—among them, ethics, honesty and transparency in government; a sound budget; fair revaluation; eliminating overcrowding in schools; bolstering smart development. Listing the goals is the simple part. But getting there? That’s where things get tricky.
Martin supporters would say the new mayor has been training all of his work life for this job. Before he took office last month, Martin was a senior partner at the Michael Allen Co. in Darien, a consulting firm that uses strategic planning to help clients grow. “I like to work on problems and to solve problems,” Martin says. “That attracts me like a moth to a flame.”
Pity the moth that gets too close to the flames though. And there are many burning issues making headlines in Stamford today. First among them is revaluation. “There are a lot of questions about what appeared to be inconsistencies from property to property. Let’s see if we can fix them,” Martin says. He hopes to streamline the appeals process, especially for homeowners, and to ensure they have better notice next time around.
Regarding school overcrowding, three options are in play, Martin says. First, a combination of modular classrooms coupled with “minimal redistricting.” Adding modular classrooms works almost anywhere but if there’s not enough space in the gym or the cafeteria or the library, that fix doesn’t work. “Minimal redistricting” could simply mean tweaking enrollments at magnet schools. These aren’t expensive fixes, but they might not eliminate the problem. Second, moving fifth-graders to middle school. This might work on paper, but Martin says there seems to be “little enthusiasm” for this option. Finally, building a new school. But new schools cost money and take time, neither of which Stamford can afford right now. On the plus side, as of this writing, Martin is negotiating with the Sisters of St. Joseph, a Hartford-based order that owns the former Sacred Heart Academy property on Strawberry Hill Avenue as a potential future site for an elementary school. Also, J.M. Wright Technical High School is on target to reopen in the fall after an $85 million renovation.
Then there is Harbor Point. “First of all, I want the South End transformation to succeed,” Martin says. “What I hope to be able to do is give BLT [Building and Land Technology] a better understanding of what is going to work and what is not going to work.” For example, what is going to work, in Martin’s view, is bringing back a working boatyard at 205 Magee Ave., where there used to be one before BLT demolished it though it had been part of the city’s original zoning approval. As for Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund currently headquartered in Westport but with eyes on relocating to Stamford, they’re better off at the planned Gateway development near the train station, in Martin’s view, than on BLT’s fourteen-acre site. But he’s hoping for “a win, win, win” resolution. “Everybody’s got to win, or everybody loses.”
Speaking of the train station, the state Department of Transportation has selected a preliminary development proposal, Martin says, but at press time, he still hadn’t seen it. “The devil is in the details, but sometimes the angels are too,” he says. He’s hoping for more commuter spaces, better intermodal connections and a much simpler transportation flow around the station, as opposed to “the forty-two jitneys we have now.”
With respect to higher education, bring on the colleges, says Martin. He’s thrilled with the University of Connecticut’s ten-year plan to double the school’s presence in Stamford. The move, which includes a new garage and dormitories, will bring energy and innovation to the city, he says. Another positive: the expansion of Sacred Heart University’s Graduate Center in Landmark Square. Digital media is booming in Stamford and the university presence will “make this area more attractive to employers,” Martin says. “There’s a pool of people that will have a talent that’s relative to them.”