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CT Construction Digest Friday january 18, 2020

City Council approves redevelopment of Sessions building
BRISTOL - The City Council Tuesday night approved a proposal to redevelop the Sessions building into market rate apartments, through a public-private partnership between Vesta Corp. and the Bristol Housing Authority.
Vesta/BHA Joint Venture will be working together to clean up contamination and redevelop the property at 273 Riverside Ave.
Vesta Corp. is a Weatogue-based owner, manager, and developer of apartment housing, including more than 20,000 housing units in 13 states and the District of Columbia. The project will differ from other BHA projects, as it will be not be subsidized for lower-income earners.
Their construction partner will be D’Amato Construction of Bristol and the architect will be Quisenberry, Arcari and Malik of Farmington.
Marie O’Brien, who chaired the J.H. Sessions & Sons Building Task Force that recommended the Vesta/BHA, said Meriden and Manchester already have employed this type of partnership which “enhance the value of historic properties as well as increase revenue to the city to benefit taxpayers.”
She said 13.35% of Bristol’s apartment units are already considered subsidized affordable, well above the 10% the city has set as its standard, so the task force chose to focus on the need for “modern market rate units - those are unsubsidized and in most demand at the current time.”
Arthur Greenblatt, Vesta CEO/president, said his company has been going since 1981, with its first municipal partnership in 1983 with Manchester to develop Bennet Junior High School into housing for the elderly.
“We still manage the property today,” he said. “In fact yesterday I attended a meeting with the residents to discuss some different things that were going on.”
Greenblatt said it is a 50-50 partnership with BHA and he has known Mitzy Rowe, BHA chief executive officer, for more than 20 years.
“I told her I was interested in taking a look at Bristol to see if there were any workforce housing opportunities,” he said. “She said ‘I have just the building for you.’ I’m glad she didn’t show it to me that day, I don’t know what I would have done. I didn’t know about all of the issues with the building, but the more I learned about it the more I thought it would really be exciting to do.”
“We’re ready to get started. Unfortunately it’s going to take a while before you see any real results because we have to deal with the brownfields cleanup, which go on for an extensive period of time,” he continued.
There will be 91 apartments, “pretty much even split between one and two bedroom,” Greenblatt said. “We’re estimating they would be somewhere between $1,100 and $1,500 out in 2022, when we think the first units will become available.”
“We view the City of Bristol as a partner with us because we have to be working together, shoulder to shoulder, on all the approvals we will need,” he added.
“Riverside Avenue is a very critical corridor for us as it leads into downtown and it’s going to be our focus for the next two to three years,” Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu told him. “As you develop your project we’ll be working with the other property owners there as well.”
The 80,000-square-foot industrial building sits on 3.54 acres and is in tax arrears for close to $1 million. The building is eligible for state and federal Historic Register listing.
Built in 1907, it was the site of a trunk hardware manufacturing business which used heavy metal compounds in the painting and plating operations.
Since the Sessions Co. ceased operations in 1984, other industrial users have leased space in the building, including Armaloy and Plymouth Spring. The building is still owned and operated by members of the Sessions family.
In past 15 years, the city, with support from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Connecticut, has done several environmental site assessments. The most recent, in 2017, concluded that remediation would cost up $1.4 million.

Conn. taking ‘a serious look’ at exiting regional power market
The state’s commissioner of energy and environmental protection said Wednesday that Connecticut is being forced to invest in natural gas plants it doesn’t want or need.
Katie Dykes’ comments on the future of Connecticut’s energy policy were made during a forum at Trinity College, and they come as the legislature prepares to convene next month. Speaking to a crowd at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, Dykes said a “lack of leadership” at ISO New England, which oversees the regional power grid, is hindering the state’s fight against climate change.
“We are at the mercy of a regional capacity market that is driving investment in more natural gas and fossil fuel power plants that we don’t want and we don’t need,” Dykes said. “This is forcing us to take a serious look at the cost and benefits of participating in the ISO New England markets.”
The department has scheduled a meeting on the issue for Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Dykes’ comments come amid a fight over a new natural gas electricity plant in Killingly, which was greenlit by ISO New England — and by state siting officials.
In an emailed statement, ISO spokesperson Matt Kakley took issue with Dykes’ critique. He said the Killingly plant won approval in a recent power auction but added that “securing an obligation in our market does not mean that a resource will be built.”
“The states control what is built in their states, and new [plant] owners must meet the environmental and siting requirements of the state in which they are trying to build,” Kakley said. “The ISO has no jurisdiction over those decisions. In this case, it was the Connecticut DEEP and other agencies who approved the permits for the plant.”
Connecticut’s Siting Council approved the Killingly project in June of last year. The DEEP also wrote a letter in support. Opponents of the plant have staged protests throughout the state, and last September they sued to block its approval.
Kakley also questioned the feasibility of Connecticut exiting a multistate energy market that dates to the late 1990s.“If any one state seeks to cease participating … it raises a host of complex questions that have yet to be answered,” Kakley said. “The markets … were designed as part of a multistate regional framework and were not set up with carve-out provisions. In addition to changes to the ISO tariff, the states would need to determine what changes to their own laws would be required, as well as the impact of such a move on any existing contracts they may have.”
Connecticut’s legislature convenes on Feb. 5.

CCM: Tackle Transportation, Property Tax Reform, Arbitration & Opioids

The agenda includes some short- and long-term proposals for lawmakers.
“The short-term state legislative program for 2020, which was developed, vetted, and approved by our member town and city leaders in the final months of 2019, is focused around the notion that healthy towns and cities and regions are the key to one healthy Connecticut and its overall economic success,” said Michael Freda, first selectman of North Haven and CCM president.
The short-term items CCM is hoping lawmakers tackle this year include creating a state ombudsman to coordinate funding to support substance abuse prevention and education. They believe the position would help combat the opioid epidemic.
In addition, they want the ability to be able to tax property owned by nonprofits currently exempt from property taxes.
Cities and towns would also like the legislature to approve a bond package so that they can get funding for local roads and construction projects.
That bond package is tied to the possible approval later this month of a 10-year, $19-billion transportation plan that includes truck-only tolls.
CCM called for a bipartisan solution, but bipartisan talks ended in November when Senate Republicans put forward their own transportation plan, FASTR CT, which didn’t include tolls.
CCM said it’s not against limited tolling.
The General Assembly is expected to vote on a transportation plan that includes truck-only tolls as soon as next week.
Those efforts, CCM states, “must identify and allocate appropriate resources which may include the establishment of limited tolling and will enable the state to leverage all available federal funding resources.”
The tolling issue continues to evolve with promises that legislation would be available for public consumption next week.
Last week, following a closed-door caucus, Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said 18 of his 22 members have “not rejected the concept of a bill to toll trucks on bridges only.”
However, their votes were contingent on certain changes being made to the draft legislation.
But Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano immediately questioned whether the votes were there to pass any tolling measures whatsoever.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont simply wants the legislature to vote on the issue, once and for all.
CCM wants to lay the groundwork this year for more comprehensive policy changes following the 2020 election.
In its priority statement, CCM made it clear that property tax reform will also remain one of its key initiatives.
“Property tax remains the single largest tax on residents and businesses in our state. The property tax is income-blind and profit-blind. It is due and payable whether a resident has a job or not, or whether a business turns a profit or not,” CCM stated. “According to the Tax Foundation, the per-capita property tax burden in Connecticut was $2,927 in FY 16, an amount that is almost twice the national average of $1,556 – and third highest in the nation.”
CCM formed the Commission on Property Tax Reform, which will seek to develop over the next few months, CCM states, a comprehensive, grassroots-based, property tax relief initiative.
“Mayors and first selectmen know the challenges of managing a community during these tough economic times,” CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong, said. “One of those challenges is operating in a state where you have to contend with the third-highest property tax rate in the country.”
CCM is acknowledging that legislative action on the issue isn’t going to happen in the upcoming session but, DeLong added: “The Commission is expected to meet through the spring to develop recommendations. Afterward, CCM will launch an intensive grassroots campaign to inform the public of the Commission’s recommendations, to ensure that meaningful property tax reform is a major part of the 2020 General Assembly election campaign, and that real action occurs after the election.”
As far as the 2020 legislative session, CCM also is once again looking to legislators for some relief on the issue of binding arbitration.
CCM is asking the legislators to revise “the binding arbitration system to realize increased efficiencies for the benefit of employees and municipal employers by requiring binding arbitration proceedings to conclude within one year from the date at which the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration provides notice to the involved parties of pending binding arbitration proceedings.”
As far as schools are concerned, cities and towns want more predictability.
They want special education funding to follow the student until the end of the fiscal year when a student changes schools mid-year. They also want to see some changes to regional school districts.
CCM is asking for the ability to establish a regional board of finance to provide oversight to a regional board of education. “Such regional boards of finance shall have the same authorities as a local board of finance and shall be comprised of representative membership identical to the regional board of education in the regional school district in which they are located,” CCM proposed.
They also want boards of education to be able to develop a “contingency” line item in their budget for unanticipated expenditures.