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CT Construction Digest Friday January 14, 2022

Contractor optimism high entering 2022, per AGC report

Zachary Phillips

Contractors are optimistic for 2022, according to a member survey from the Associated General Contractors of America

The net reading — or percentage of respondents who expect the available dollar value of new work to expand compared to the percentage who expect it to shrink — is positive for 15 out of 17 categories from AGC's survey. That is a stark turnaround from 2021, where respondents had negative expectations in most sectors.

Indicative of that optimistic outlook, AGC found 74% of firms intend to hire in 2022, despite supply chain challenges that are slowing project starts and previous labor shortages.

Dive Insight:

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has played a large part in this confidence boost. Respondents were most optimistic about highway and bridge construction, with 63% expecting a large dollar value of projects to compete for. They were also upbeat for transit projects, such as rail and airports, with a net positive reading of 51%.

Despite nearly three-quarters of firms expecting to hire in 2022, 83% of respondents reported continuing troubles filling salaried or hourly craft positions. Three-fourths of respondents said they expect the difficulty to continue.

On a call with media about the report, AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr indicated that the infrastructure funding that created optimism could also help recruitment issues.

"If we see long-term sustainable funding, that would and should aid in our efforts to recruit people in the industry," Sandherr said. "If we can demonstrate to them there is funding in the future, their jobs won't be in jeopardy."

Both Sandherr and AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson said it's vital that the appropriation funds from the IIJA become available soon, in order for that optimism to be fulfilled.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the supply chain, Simonson noted, some manufacturers are responding to the increasing demand for materials, citing a recently announced $3 billion U.S. Steel plant project in Arkansas

Also on the call, Charlie Wilson, president of CT Wilson Construction in Durham, North Carolina, said that supply chain and material delays are not always as bad as they seem. Wilson said he has experienced material delivery dates changed to months earlier than anticipated after his company has ordered them, which he attributed to suppliers likely wanting to avoid overpromising.

The bottom line is that the issues construction has seen either during or because of the pandemic will continue into the new year, but contractors' confidence isn't withering.

"Our ultimate goal is to make sure that contractors' optimistic outlook for 2022 becomes a reality," Sandherr said.

New Haven’s Grand Avenue Bridge reopening early, under budget

Mark Zaretsky

NEW HAVEN — Old-timers in Fair Haven Heights and Fair Haven remember past nightmare closures of the ancient Grand Avenue Bridge that lasted years longer than they were supposed to and cost millions of dollars more than anyone imagined.

Not this time.

When the vintage 1898 swing bridge, which has been closed now for 18 months while its inner workings got a $28 million overhaul, reopens at 7 a.m. Jan. 18, it will be more like a pleasant dream: it’s reopening a couple of months early and a bit under budget.

“This bridge connects neighborhoods,” said Fair Haven Heights resident Ed Ozyck. “I think people have missed that tremendously. I’m really looking forward to the opening of it.”

The bridge, which connects residents in Fair Haven to their neighbors in Fair Haven Heights, even got a makeover in the process, trading in its longtime basic black color scheme for a new shade of pale “Oregon D.O.T.” green — chosen by the community.

The city and other stakeholders are going to throw a neighborhood party from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday featuring a bridge walk and performances to celebrate its return.

“I am super happy. I can’t be more pleased that they finished on time,” said Alder Rosa Ferraro Santana, D-13, who lives in and represents Fair Haven Heights.

So what happened?

“It was a big, complicated job in the middle of a vastly unprecedented time for us,” said City Engineer Giovanni Zinn, who gets much of the credit for it, although he’s quick to share the credit with city Chief Structural Engineer Zachary Shapiro, contractor Mohawk Northeast and bridge designer Hardesty & Hanover.

Zinn credited careful planning with making things run as smoothly as they did.

The process began with a study in 2009 and 2010 to determine what the bridge needed, “then we worked to try to get ahead of it” with the idea to “do the work in a planned fashion, as opposed to having something go wrong” and then responding to it.

“There’s always small issues that come up and that you have to deal with — I mean, we’re working with a bridge where there are parts that go back to the original bridge in 1898,” Zinn said.

But this project went surprisingly smoothly.

“We’ll have it open on the 18th at 7 in the morning,” Zinn said. “We’re doing a bunch of testing right now.”

The project budget included more than $24 million for construction and design, plus another $4 million for inspection. The new bridge has an expected life of at least 30 years.

“I think one of the things that we tried to do ... was design a project that eliminated construction risk,” Zinn said. “We made a decision to fully replace the approach spans” — which had been original from 1898.

They also changed the structure types on the bridge decks, “which saved us about 100,000 pounds,” replacing the old, steel decks with “with exodermic decks on the center,” he said. “It’s a composite deck — the lower half is all steel and the upper half is all concrete.”

They replaced the approach spans with new, more modern ones that eliminate the bumps people used to drive over when crossing, and replaced all the electrical and mechanical components, “everything that moves the bridge,” Zinn said.

That included installing splash-proof motors, moving the components higher to accommodate future sea level rise, completely changing and modernizing the control system — it now gives operators error and feedback messages — and rebuilding and expanding the two sidewalks, widening the southern sidewalk into a “promenade.”

Finally, they installed new lighting and a special polymer overlay on the bridge deck “to preserve the bridge going forward,” Zinn said.

“I’m thrilled. I’m just absolutely thrilled,” Santana said. “Every time a bridge is closed in this area we have to be concerned. ... In the past, it caused a chaos — that’s what I was trying to avoid.”

Even while the bridge has been closed, folks still could get around by taking Quinnipiac Avenue to Route 80 or the nearby Ferry Street bridge or Water Street into New Haven proper. But “it’ll save so much time — it’s a matter of going down Grand Avenue” to downtown. “It’s a straight shot for me.”

“They did a lot of outreach. Giovanni’s team was wonderful,” Santana said. “They kept the job going on time. There are some punch list items that will need to be done in the spring. But all in all, the city did a great job.”

Not that everything has been perfect.

It’s been a rough couple of years for some business owners that depend on people crossing the bridge, including the Grand Vin wine and spirits store and Ziggy’s Pizza on the Fair Haven Heights side and Grand Apizza on the Fair Haven side, among others.

“I feel sorry for Grand Vin,” located at 23 E. Grand Ave., Santana said. “He’s been a trooper.”

Grand Vin’s owner for the past 17 years, Ben Tortora, said it’s been tough.

“I can’t wait” for the bridge to reopen, Tortora said. “It’s been a very trying two years. I knew it had to be done ... and I know it will be better because of it, but I’ve been stranded here.

“I had 12 clients — 12 that I know of — that walked here every day from that side of the bridge, and those 12 clients spent $165 a day with me,” Tortora said. “So at the end of the week, I was down $1,000. So it affected me greatly. What hurt me the most was there was no help.”

Also, “during 18 months, every time it snows, they never plowed in front of my store,” which for 18 months has been on a dead-end leading up to the bridge. “I feel like a second-class citizen here,” he said.

But “my neighborhood customers are faithful” and “I’m fortunate enough to have a fair amount of business from out of town,” Tortora said. Those accounts kept him afloat, he said. “If I didn’t have my out-of-town clientele supporting me, I probably would have had to close my store.”

Residents on both sides of the bridge can’t wait to get the bridge back open.

“I’m totally thrilled, which I can’t often say,” said Ozyck. “I look at it this way — fate smiled upon Fair Haven and Fair Haven Heights. ... All of a sudden, it’s like, ‘We got it done early.’”

He praised Zinn and Shapiro for their efforts.

“Zach Shapiro and Giovanni are just so good at communicating with the neighborhood,” Ozyck said.

Lee Cruz, co-chairman of the Fair Haven Community Management Team, said that while “nothing is perfect ... I think it was very nicely executed.” City officials “did a really nice job of keeping us informed. Originally, I think we were looking toward March or April, and here were are.”

Fair Haven Heights resident Patricia Kane, who helped lead the ranked choice voting process that chose the new color for the bridge, said “it appears they’ve done a great job.

“Unfortunately, it’s taken it’s toll on local business,” Kane said. “We were hoping the city would do more for them.”

But overall, “people here are excited that the bridge will be reopening,” she said.

Kat Calhoun, chairwoman of the Quinnipiac East/Fair Haven Heights Community Management Team, said she has the reopening date on her calendar and “personally, I’m very excited about the reopening.”

She would have preferred a blue bridge, but she’s getting used to the green, she said.

“I missed the bridge,” Calhoun said. “I look forward to it being open — and I think everyone I know looks forward to it reopening.”

Fairfield considers affordable housing project for Castle Ave

Josh LaBella

FAIRFIELD — Neighbors are taking issue with the scale of a proposed apartment building, with some saying the development could cause safety problems.

“This is a very small piece of property,” Trisha Pytko, who lives across the street from the site, said at a meeting Tuesday. “Drive by the property and imagine how they’re going to put 43 units on this postage stamp of a property.”

Berwick Associates LLC, who is developing the project, is seeking a zoning compliance from the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. Berwick is looking to construct a four-story, 45-foot structure with 13 studios, 18 one-bedroom and 12 two-bedrooms units.

The proposal also calls for 57 parking spaces, most of which would be under the building. The developer is planning to set 30 percent of the units aside as affordable.

The application has been made under 8-30g, a state statute that allows developers to bypass municipal laws and regulations as long as a certain percentage of the project is affordable housing. Local boards must prove the project presents serious enough health or safety risks that outweigh the need for affordable housing there.

“This affordable housing is necessary and essential to the town,” Raymond Rizio said.

Rizio, the developer’s attorney, said the brick veneer building would have an entrance on Berwick Avenue. He said there is only one house that borders the project.

“The balance is either street side or parking lot for the 500 Kings Highway commercial district,” he said.

Rizio said the parking plans for the development exceed one spot-per-bedroom, calling it “unprecedented in most of the affordable applications” the commission gets. He later noted the 25,000-square-foot site was home to single-family houses decades ago, but is now zoned as multifamily residential and is a block away from the Kings Highway business corridor.

“We haven’t plopped something in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” he said.

Project engineer Russ Waldo said the building would have underground stormwater units and a rain garden. Rizio later said the proposed drainage system covers up to 100-year storm events.

The proposal is expected to generate approximately 500 car trips per day, with 39 during the morning peak and 50 during the afternoon peak, according to traffic engineer Scott Hesketh, who went on to say the development would have a minimal impact on the area. He noted the developer does intend to ask the police commission to approve installing stop signs on Castle and Berwick avenues, but said there would not be a safety hazard if they were not.

Calling the plan “absurd,” Pytko brought up concerns with the proposal’s potential impact on street parking, traffic and flooding.

Pytko said cars park on both sides of the road, effectively making it a single lane. She said her daughter’s school bus stops right where the developer plans to put the driveway.

“It is absolutely impossible to see either way if you’re coming out my driveway or, now what would be theirs,” Pytko said, adding she wrote to the Fairfield Police Department asking for a traffic study to be conducted. “It’s a safety hazard.”

As a former Board of Education member, Pytko also said she was concerned about how the development could impact possible redistricting.

“Our school districts cannot handle this overflow,” she said.

Gloria Perez, who lives on Berwick Avenue next to the property, said the height of the project is “too much.” She echoed Pytko’s concerns about how the development could impact traffic and parking.

“This definitely needs to be scaled down a lot,” she said.

Carole Hull, who lives near the site, said there is no room on the property for anything of that size. She said the area already deals with flooding issues.

“I’m not saying don’t build anything, and I have nothing against building, but this is just too big for the area,” she said. “It’s not safe. Please, reconsider the size of this.”

Fort Trumbull development plan gets green light to start construction

Greg Smith 

New London — A key vote Thursday has cleared the path for construction of a major hotel and residential development on the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a site development plan and a special permit for Optimus Construction Management to build two four-story buildings — a 100-unit apartment complex and 100-unit extended stay hotel.

It would be the first new construction on the Fort Trumbull peninsula since the city approved a municipal development plan, or MDP, for the area in 2000. One of the catalysts for the MDP was the construction of Pfizer's research and development headquarters, a complex now occupied by Electric Boat.

Parcels on the peninsula, which also is home to Fort Trumbull State Park, have been vacant since it was cleared for development in a move by the city that led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005 on use of eminent domain. The Fort Trumbull MDP area encompasses 35 acres of development sites and 80 acres in all.

Optimus' buildings would be constructed across parcels labeled 2A, 2B and 2C. The apartment building, with 100 parking spaces situated underneath, will be built on a waterfront parcel adjacent to the Fort Trumbull Riverwalk. Plans depict a large parking lot separating the apartment building from the hotel.

The land is owned and marketed by the city’s development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, which has been working with Optimus for the past several years. Talks with Optimus culminated with a development agreement approved by the City Council last year that includes a $750,000 purchase price for the land. A portion of the payment is expected to satisfy a court settlement between the city, RCDA and Riverbank Construction. Riverbank's lawsuit had for years hindered development of the land.

Fred Mielke, president of Massachusetts-based Optimus Senior Living, the company behind the proposal, said after Thursday's meeting that his intention is to close on the property by the end of the month. A timeline for the start of construction has not yet been determined.

“This is pretty exciting. This has been a long time coming,” RCDA board member Mark Christiansen said. “We’re excited to see the development on the peninsula and this is just the start of good things to come.”

The city has plans in the works to construct a $30 million recreation center on a Fort Trumbull parcel not far from the new development. Plans for the facility are still under development, and it is unclear which project might break ground first. A 200-unit apartment complex is also being constructed by RJ Development + Advisors on development parcels 5C 1 and 2 on Howard Street.

The vote on the Thursday’s application was 6-1, with Planning and Zoning Commissioner Ronna Stuller casting the lone vote against it.

“No disrespect intended to the developer or RCDA but the original 2000 (Municipal Development Plan) did call for owner occupancy,” Stuller said. “Every (Plan of Conservation and Development) I’ve read since 1997 bemoans the low rate of owner occupancy in New London ... it’s a spectacular site and I believe the city is missing an opportunity by creating apartments rather than owner opportunities.”

Optimus initially had pitched the idea of condominiums but changed direction, presumably because of the booming market for apartments in New London. Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Barry Levine said the panel was voting on a plan that contained “multi-family housing” and any distinction between the different types of housing was not part of the permit approved by the commission.

Optimus specializes in senior living facilities and built a $17 million, 115-unit senior housing complex in Bozrah called Elmbrook Village. The Fort Trumbull development, however, will not be restricted to seniors.

Massachusetts industrial developer buys Windsor site for logistics center

Michael Puffer

Condyne Capital Partners paid $1.65 million for a 15.8-acre site in Windsor in December, with plans for a logistics center.

The Braintree, Mass.-based development firm had previously announced plans for a 165,625-square-foot, high-bay, industrial building at 105 Baker Hollow Road.

Windsor-based O.J. Thrall Inc. sold the property to 105 Baker Hollow Road Investors LLC in a deal recorded Dec. 13. That limited liability company shares a Braintree, Mass. address with Condyne.

Condyne, in an earlier announcement, touted the “Baker Hollow Logistics Center’s” location, saying it’s in a strong regional labor market with proximity to Massachusetts and Rhode Island, providing tenants access to dense population centers, as well as proximity to Bradley International Airport and Worcester Regional Airport.

Windsor’s planning office reports the company has all necessary board approvals for its plans.

Condyne acquires, develops and invests in modern, multitenant, industrial properties. The company and affiliated entities have acquired and developed more than 20 million square feet of building and invested more than $650 million, according to Condyne.

South Windsor PZC rejects zone change for Evergreen Walk apartment expansion

Joseph Villanova

The South Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission in a 4-3 vote Tuesday night rejected a zoning regulation change that would have allowed adding 165 units to the Tempo apartment complex at Evergreen Walk.

The Buckland Gateway Development Zone general plan limits the area to 200 units of multifamily residences and requires one square foot of commercial space to be constructed for every two square feet of residential.

The proposed regulation change would have increased the number of units permitted to 365 and allow previously constructed commercial space, namely the recently opened Costco warehouse, to apply to the new application for expansion.

If approved, the 165 extra units would have been divided among 14 buildings — 11 with 10 units, one with five units, a three-story, 12-unit building, and a four-story, 38-unit building.

PZC Chairman Bart Pacekonis, PZC Vice Chairman Kevin Foley, and members Stephanie Dexter and Michael LeBlanc voted against the regulation change, while members Alan Cavagnaro, Robert Vetere, and Stephen Wagner voted in favor.

Some commission members were concerned that approving the regulation change could set a precedent for other developers.

Pacekonis said Tuesday night that another applicant could come in with their own general plan, take a look at the Buckland Gateway Development Zone rules, and ask for a similar increase to the number of units.

“Zoning laws are made to be fair to all applicants,” Pacekonis said.

Chris Smith, the lawyer representing the applicant, said the PZC would still have the authority to deny other regulation change proposals, and the language is written in a way that should address these concerns.

Smith said a time window defined in the proposed change would make it applicable only to general plans approved before a certain time, effectively limiting it to the Buckland Gateway Development Zone. Smith said the PZC has the power to reject any other similar proposed regulation changes.

“You have extremely broad discretion when reviewing text amendments,” Smith said.

Later in the meeting, Pacekonis said he still wasn’t certain about the proposed regulation change, despite the professed safeguards.

“I just have a continued concern that the same way this applicant brought forth their changes, another applicant could do the same,” Pacekonis said.

Dexter said she was concerned with the amount of changes to the area.

“I guess I am general plan-weary,” Dexter said, adding that she would like to see the parcel proposed for development transferred to the town and left as open space.

The proposal also consisted of a second application for a site plan and special exception to facilitate the 165-unit expansion itself. The second application was rejected in a 6-1 vote, with commission members stating they couldn’t approve it because existing zoning regulations don’t allow it.

Cavagnaro voted in favor of the second application, with the other six members voting against.

Discussion on the actual apartments was limited, as PZC members who spoke focused on the proposed regulation change.

Following questions from some PZC members about the impact to the school population, Town Planner Michele Lipe said she reached out to Superintendent Kate Carter who said the local school system has the capacity to absorb the number of students expected from the development.

Dexter said she still had concerns about more students in town.