STAMFORD — During a public hearing on a medical clinic proposed for High Ridge Road, opposition came from everywhere.
Residents crowding the City Hall cafeteria Monday night clapped whenever Zoning Board members got tough on the applicant, Ahuja Holdings LLC, which was seeking to build a 7,000-square-foot clinic in the single-family zone.
They sent board members a petition with more than 600 signatures demanding that the clinic application be denied.
One resident used his three minutes at the microphone to deliver an impassioned speech describing neighborhoods as “the bedrock” of the city and urging that they be protected.
Another resident went to the podium and said, “Three words.” Then he held up a sign reading, “Enough is enough.”
After board members heard their comments and a presentation by Ahuja Holdings attorney Nicholas Ahuja, they unanimously rejected his request to amend zoning regulations to allow the clinic proposal to move forward.
The cafeteria erupted in applause.
It was another example of a push by residents to oppose what they call overdevelopment and a failure to stick to zoning regulations, which has become a focus of this year’s mayoral race.
Though the Ahuja proposal is for High Ridge Road at Donata Lane, residents from several neighborhoods attended the hearing, because the regulation change would have allowed medical clinics in most single-family neighborhoods.
Michael Guroian, who lives in Belltown, said residents “recoil in disgust when developers profit by taking away protections” for neighborhoods.
“This application is emblematic of our frustration,” Guroian told the board. “The frustration felt by thousands of Stamford residents is bigger than the Ahuja clinic. ... The frustration boils when applications (are backed by) professional advocates, high-priced law firms, and paid experts who woo and wow elected officials, appointed boards and city personnel. ... Representative government in Stamford has been short-circuited.”
Development that was allowed along High Ridge Road in the last five years has only spurred more, said Mike McNamara, who lives near the site for the proposed clinic.
“Now other people look across the street and say, ‘Why not?’” McNamara said, urging board members to “correct the wrong that was done then” by rejecting Ahuja’s plan. “It starts at one point and mushrooms out.”
City Rep. Steve Kolenberg, D-16, which includes High Ridge, said his constituents are upset over intrusive development.
“Every time, the public response is thunderous, overwhelming and unanimous — the public says no, no, no,” Kolenberg said. “Please listen to what the community wants.”
City Rep. John Zelinsky, D-11, the Bull’s Head area, illustrated the point.Read Full Article
“I ask all who oppose this to stand,” Zelinsky said, getting just about everyone in the room to their feet. “I think I made my point,” he said to the board. “End this.”
Against that backdrop, Ahuja tried to make his case. Zoning regulations must be changed from time to time, he said, citing the city’s Master Plan, which is revised every 10 years.
“The city undergoes change from economic growth … from shifts in the population. The board has a good deal of discretion in how to … effectively respond to changes in urban planning and land use,” Ahuja said.
He cited a zoning change that allowed the expansion of Stamford Hospital in a similar district, and questioned why the board wouldn’t allow such a change for a clinic.
The city has one hospital, Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing replied, and an untold number of clinics.
“A hospital complex is a different animal,” Blessing said.
Zoning Board member Bill Morris asked Ahuja to explain how his requested amendment would affect other neighborhoods. Ahuja said he has not studied that, but “it is not opening a can of worms.”
“That’s exactly what text changes do,” Zoning Board Chairman Tom Mills said.
“I would say it’s not going to be chaos,” Ahuja insisted.
“You have no idea,” board member Bill Morris said. “Once a text change is made, it’s like opening the gates. When applicants want to make a change that affects the whole city, we ask them to present findings. You don’t have those.”
The Zoning Board cited that reason in turning down Ahuja’s request. The board also cited the Planning Board’s recommendation to deny the application and the Zoning Board of Appeals already rejecting it twice.
Ahuja has a second clinic application that board members said will be given another hearing date. It seeks a special exception to construct an outpatient clinic for people with acute and chronic medical conditions.
During the hearing, some residents tried to discuss a federal civil suit brought last year against Ahuja’s father, Dr. Ajay Ahuja, but board members told them they could comment only on the specifics of the zoning application.
Ajay Ahuja runs Stamford Immediate Medical Care Center at 825 High Ridge Road, adjacent to the site of the proposed clinic, and owns 1 percent of Ahuja Holdings, according to court papers.
Last year, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration sued Ajay Ahuja, alleging that he failed to keep accurate records for how he dispensed narcotics such as hydrocodone, sedatives such as alprazolam, the anabolic steroid testosterone cypionate, and other substances. The DEA also alleged he improperly prescribed some pills and could not account for large quantities of them.
Dr. Ahuja admitted to 23 violations of the Controlled Substances Act, according to the lawsuit. In May, a federal judge ordered him to pay $200,000 in penalties.