Stamford’s Democratic Mayor Caroline Simmons addressed the Greenwich Retired Men’s Association on Wednesday morning.
Simmons, who is one of five siblings who grew up in Greenwich, attended Greenwich Academy before heading to Harvard where she majored in Government and graduated in 2008.
Later she worked at the US Department of Homeland Security, serving as Director of Special Projects in the Counterterrorism Coordinator’s Office.
Simmons then served as State Rep for Connecticut’s 144th District from 2015 to 2021 before becoming Stamford’s first female Mayor in 2021.
At the RMA meeting, 20 Stamford residents, most of whom are members of the RMA were part of the audience where Mayor Simmons shared her vision and priorities for her city, including economic development, infrastructure improvement and a more responsive government.
Simmons said a priority of her administration was a $1.5 billion school construction plan that includes upgrades at Stamford High School, Westhill High School, Northeast Elementary School, Davenport Ridge Elementary School, Springdale Elementary School, Newfield Elementary School, Julia Stark Elementary School and Roxbury Elementary School.
She noted that according to the 2020 Census, Stamford had gained over 10,000 new residents since the previous census in 2010, surpassing New Haven as the second large city in the state (after Bridgeport).
She added that Stamford has the second largest grand list in the state, second only to Greenwich, noting that the city’s grand list had grown from $22 billion to $26 billion according to their last reval.
“That was great because we were able to lower our mill rate last year,” she said, adding that the Stamford mill rate reduction was from 26 to 24. (A mill is equal to $1.00 of tax for each $1,000 of assessment.)
Greenwich’s mill rate is significantly lower at about 11.
She said that in contrast to some other cities that have been struggling with vacancy rates, Stamford has benefited from a number of new restaurants and businesses.
Further she said Stamford was home to the highest concentration of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies in the tri-state area, outside New York City. Stamford has a 96% apartment building occupancy rate and a 90% downtown occupancy rate.
A notable brag was that the former Lord & Taylor property on High Ridge Rd is now Saks OFF 5th.
Also, she said, the first branch of the New York Comedy Club recently opened at the Stamford Town Center.
Better yet, at Stamford Town Center, Pickleball America will soon open the largest indoor pickleball facility in the country, with 36 indoor courts.
In addition to the vibrant restaurant scene with cuisine from around the world, soon to open are Crumble Cookies, Shake Shack and Pepe’s pizza. And, a new Whole Foods is also in the works.
AAA Bond Rating
Simmons said Stamford was one of the only cities in CT with a population over 100,000 people to have a AAA bond rating.
“It is a signal to investors and businesses that Stamford is an attractive place to do business, and saves us when we go out to bond for capital projects, we get a lower interest rate,” she said.
The “Pave Stamford Initiative” has doubled the amount of road and sidewalks paved from 2021 to 2022. Simmons said he city had a of paving 200 roads by 2025.
Also, she said it the city seeks to install sidewalks around all of Stamford’s schools to further enhance pedestrian safety.
Other initiatives are to add more bike lanes, improve bridges and make sure all sidewalks and curbs are ADA compliant.
Simmons said other infrastructure priorities include projects at parks, beaches and marinas.
Simmons said her first executive order was to create “Vision Zero,” formalizing a goal of zero pedestrian fatalities by 2032.
“We unfortunately have had a series of tragic pedestrian fatalities,” she said, adding that last year nine pedestrians were hit and killed by cars.
The 20 most dangerous intersections have been identified for improvements including bumpouts, better sidewalks, better speed signs and increased enforcement.
Another executive order was signed for Climate and Sustainability, with the goal of reducing the city’s carbon footprint and advancing sustainability initiatives.
For example, the city is working on a “Green Fleet Plan” to electrify the city’s municipal fleet.
They also launched their first solar RFP to deploy solar panels to five municipal buildings.
They are also adding electric vehicle charging stations.
“We want to take advantage of the solar tax credits and save on our energy costs,” she said.
20 Bioswales and Green Infrastructure Goals
Simmons said as part of the city’s green infrastructure goals, there are plans to build 20 bioswales which are green vegetated trenches filled with soil, rocks and gravel. The bioswales will be established near storm drains to slow runoff and remove sediments and other pollutants during rain events.
“It takes away 30% of storm runoff. It absorbs some of the water to reduce flooding. It also reduces waste that goes into our sewer system and beautifies the street corners,” she explained.
And, like Greenwich, the city of Stamford has a food scrap recycling program which composts food scraps. The goal is to reduce costs to haul away trash by removing food waste.
“It’s a great way to recycle, to get rid of food waste in a more sustainable way, to reduce carbon footprint, and it’s also good for the environment and for soil,” Simmons said.
Other green initiatives include a city launched a city-wide tree planting initiative, and an effort supported with a federal grant to convert all the city’s 6,000 streetlights to LED lighting.
Simmons said with the goal of restoring people’s faith in government, the city has established a permitting walk-in center for people to get their permits more quickly.
They also opened a veterans resource center for veterans to have a place to access resources at the old town hall, across from Veterans Park. It is open every Tuesday and Thursday.
The city’s website has also been improved to make it more accessible. It is available in over 100 different languages.
“We have people from all over the world in our city that speak over 70 different languages,” she said. “We are also working to make it more accessible for people who are vision impaired.”
State and Federal Grant Opportunities
Simmons said Stamford, like Greenwich and other municipalities in Fairfield County, is responsible for much of the revenue that goes to Hartford.
“We don’t always see as much of that coming back as we should,” she said. “My goal is to fight for more funding for the city of Stamford and make sure we take advantage of all the wonderful grant opportunities available at the state and federal level.”
Citizen Service Hubs
The city has created Citizen Service Hubs to bring government services out into the community. They’ve been done in every neighborhood. “It’s sort of like mini town hall pop-ups across the city.”
Future of the mall
During Q&A, someone asked about the future of the Stamford Town Center mall.
Simmons said the city was working to attract more retail and restaurants to the downtown, and make downtown more pedestrian friendly with improved sidewalks and connections between neighborhoods and to parks.
As for the Stamford Town Center, which many recall was previously vibrant and attractive, Simmons noted it had recently lost many retail outlets to to the internet and the new SoNo Collection in Norwalk.
Nevertheless, the the city welcomed Pickleball America, the new comedy club, and a Children’s Fun Zone. There is also a project to make the mall entrances more accessible for pedestrians.
Simmons said the state affordable housing statute 8-30g did not apply to Stamford because the city exceeded the 10% requirement.
Nevertheless, she said Stamford seeks to continue to grow, and add safe, affordable, quality housing.
“As mayor, I see it as my job to continue to grow our city in a responsible way, to make sure that anyone who wants to live in our city can afford to live there. Whether it’s someone who is retired and on a fixed income who is struggling to afford their property taxes – whether it’s a recent graduate from college who wants to move back to Stamford and work in our schools – whether it’s a working family that is struggling to afford their rent right now.”
Simmons acknowledged pressures ranging from high inflation and high rents to high mortgage rates, and said it was important to makes sure the city was accessible, inclusive and affordable for everyone.
She said initiatives ranged from making more affordable rental units to upgrading aging housing stock, but also providing affordable pathways to home ownership.
“The median home value is about $530,000 and it increased over the past couple years because of Covid,” she said. “We do want to make the pathways to home ownership more accessible to Stamford families.”