A battle over a boatyard that no one really wants

Current site of proposed Bridgewater HQ project
Source: BLT
Current site of proposed Bridgewater HQ project

Don't call them boat people.

Or SOBs.

Even though they own boats and have an organization called Save Our Boatyard, the people of Stamford, Conn., prefer to be called "boaters." The group is opposing plans by Ray Dalio's $120 billion hedge fund Bridgewater to build a new headquarters on the Long Island Sound.

This week saw another meeting of the planning board of Stamford to consider granting a license on a piece of land called 205 Magee, which the developers want to use to construct a new boatyard. That piece of property is near a 14-acre peninsula where Bridgewater would like to build its new headquarters.

It's a strange fight. The boat people—sorry, boaters—don't want the developers (a company named Building Land and Technology but always referred to as BLT) to get the license needed for the boatyard. And the developers don't really want to construct the boatyard. The old boatyard was losing money, according to the developers. They'd probably be perfectly happy to not have a boatyard at all.

So if neither the boaters nor BLT want a boatyard at 205 Magee, why all the acrimony?

Here's the rub. The boaters do want a boatyard—their old boatyard. Until 2011, a boatyard called Brewer Yacht Haven stood on the 14-acre peninsula. A failed real estate company called Antares had acquired the land and agreed to keep it as a boatyard. Later BLT acquired the land from Antares and tore down Yacht Haven.

How did that happen?

One of the people at this week's meeting, which was again held in the auditorium of the Westover magnet school because of the size of the crowds that have been showing up, was the guy who actually tore it down. Gary Fanali, who was raised in Stamford, runs a company called City Carting and Recycling.

(Earlier: The boat people of Stamford take on a giant hedge fund)

"We were given a demolition permit by the city of Stamford," he told the planning board.

There was nothing illegal about the demolition of Brewer Yacht Haven, Fanali insisted.

After the demolition of Yacht Haven, a judge ordered BLT to restore the boatyard. BLT struck a deal with the city of Stamford to build a new boatyard at its 205 Magee property. But since that property is landlocked, it needs the city to give it a license to use a small strip of land that runs down into the water.

From the perspective of Save Our Boatyard, a denial of the license would put a stop to BLT's larger development plans and lay the groundwork for rebuilding a boatyard in the old Yacht Haven location.

This gives the planning board meetings a very weird atmosphere. Everyone is actually fighting over the fate of the 14-acre parcel but officially the meetings are focused on waterfront property adjoining the 205 Magee property.

The meetings will resume next week, when city officials and the developers will respond to the arguments that the public has made over the past two weeks.

—By CNBC's John Carney. Follow me on Twitter @Carney