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CT Construction Digest Friday September 10, 2021

New Haven developer proposes 500 new apartments on city's waterfront

Mary E. O’Leary

NEW HAVEN — There certainly would be water views.

More apartments are being proposed for the city, this time along the harbor off Long Wharf Drive.

Lynn Fusco of Fusco Harbor Associates LLC and Fusco Maritime Associates LLC has submitted a petition to the Board of Alders to modify a Planned Development District approved in 1984 to allow construction of up to 500 units on a parcel bound by New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound.

The proposed site is on the south side of Long Wharf Drive on 4.3 acres between the Fusco’s Maritime Center and the Canal Dock Boathouse, on land that was home to a series of restaurants, the most recent being Lenny and Joe’s.

The modified PDD would consist of three parcels: “501 Long Wharf Drive with related parking to be included at the existing Maritime Center and connected parking garage at 585 Long Wharf,” according to the proposal.

The proposal fits into the Long Wharf Responsible Growth Plan adopted by the city in 2018, which is part of the New Haven Vision 2025.

The growth plan proposed five new walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods for Long Wharf, one of which was a Harbor District.

The Vision Plan said Long Wharf was underutilized and it recommended “denser development of new residential and commercial uses.”

“This portion of the Long Wharf area is one of the most visible locations in the city and often the first impression visitors have of New Haven,” attorney Matthew Ranelli wrote in his letter to the alders.

He said the proposed development would provide “a critical mass of residences on-site and create a destination for New Haven residents and others to visit the shoreline. The mixed-use amenities will create a synergy and direct connection with the boathouse, Long Wharf Park, and the Hill South and Downtown neighborhoods.

“People will have more options; they can meet for a walk or bike ride, visit with friends and family, shop in the market, enjoy a meal or potentially some live entertainment, or just sit and enjoy the harbor,” Ranelli wrote of the proposal.

The current PDD allows for such things as a restaurant, office use, commercial/retail, and other service, research, professional and marine-related uses. Ranelli, in tracing the history of the property, said it was thought that residential and greater retail uses would be added at some point.

The general plan is to construct two mixed-use buildings of 13 and 15 stories with a range of apartments from studios to three-bedrooms. The first floor would contain 20,000 square feet of commercial space, including a market with indoor and outdoor food services.

The buildings would contain one floor of parking, loading areas and valet parking options for spaces in the nearby 1,800-space Maritime Center garage, which was built with extra capacity.

The existing Maritime Center was constructed by Fusco and now houses Fusco’s headquarters and many other New Haven businesses.

The proposed plan is “intended to improve and enhance public access to the site and in particular New Haven’s waterfront while also providing residents with over 250 square feet of open space per unit.” Ranelli wrote.

The developers submitted a traffic study that said the existing roads have the capacity to accommodate the development. Its stormwater management report said the proposal “will not result in any increase in the peak rate or total volume of runoff.”

Ranelli said the developers met with the Hill South Community Management Team members and Alder Carmen Rodriguez July 30 to present its draft plan. He said there was a desire by the residents to connect with the shoreline for walking and biking.

SLR International Corp. submitted a coastal site plan for the project, which has direct frontage on New Haven Harbor and straddles two 100-year flood zones.

“The proposed project has been designed mindful of the dynamic coastal area, and the site redevelopment allows for periodic flooding. The buildings will lie above the base flood elevation with freeboard to account for anticipated sea level rise. The project incorporates green infrastructure to improve storm water quality prior to discharge in New Haven Harbor,” according to the report.

The proposal is to remove the existing building and parking lot to allow construction of the two apartment buildings, plazas and outdoor lawn areas, as well as a public walkway along the seawall.

“The lower levels of the high rise buildings will be used as open, floodable garages and commercial areas, while the upper levels will be residential,” according to the engineers.

“The buildings will be constructed to resist hydrostatic and hydrodynamic wave loads as well as debris loads. The buildings will be constructed to velocity zone flood zone standards and are designed to National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and Connecticut Building Code standards with appropriate freeboard between first flood elevations and flood zones. A flood contingency plan will be prepared to address egress from the site in forecasted storms,” SLR wrote.

The developers said because public access and visual connection to New Haven Harbor was a key element in site design, there would be public seating, plantings and stormwater infiltration areas between the two buildings.

The public walkway along the harbor would be 10 feet wide at an elevation of an estimated 5 feet, 7 inches, and would connect the project site to Long Wharf Drive and adjacent properties to the east.

A pervious concrete walkway at an elevation of 14 feet is proposed to cross over the existing walkway at elevation 5 feet in order to provide access to an overlook platform of the New Haven Boathouse and harbor as well as provide access to the boardwalk and market entrance.

The proposed buildings would be constructed at an elevation of an estimated 15 feet, while the proposed plaza and market area will be constructed at an elevation of 14 feet, 5 inches.

The amount of impervious surface within the project site would be slightly less than existing conditions with approximately 1.949 acres (45.3 percent) of impervious surface within the 4.3-acre project site.

'They created a miracle': North Haven's former Upjohn site transformed from 'chemical cesspool' to nature preserve

Meghan Friedmann

NORTH HAVEN — Residents Rico B. Gattilia and Miriam Brody saw decades of their own advocacy efforts come to fruition Thursday as they gathered with officials to celebrate the opening of a nature preserve at the former Upjohn Chemical site.

First Selectman Michael Freda said Brody and Gattilia, who turns 97 next month, were part of a group of citizens that banded together roughly 40 years ago to call attention to environmental issues on the land, located at the end of Stiles Lane.

More than a century of industrial use left it contaminated, according to a release from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Products ranging from photographic chemicals to herbicides to cosmetic additives were manufactured at the site, it says, and past owners included the Pharmacia Corp. and Upjohn Chemical.

Pfizer never operated on the site but became the latest owner when it acquired Pharmacia in the early 2000s, according to Russ Downey, Pfizer’s director of remediation.

Through years of work, the company has turned 57 of the site’s 78 acres into a nature preserve featuring interactive trails. Called Brick Yard Point, the attraction will open to the public next week.

It offers a stark contrast to the state of the land several decades ago, when it was “nothing but a chemical cesspool,” as Gattilia put it.

Activities there produced vapors residents could smell all over town, he said.

Freda remembered the smell from when he first moved to North Haven in 1980.

“I’d be jogging up and down Hartford Turnpike every day, and I could actually smell what could best be described as a sweet, pungent type of aroma,” he said.

Gattilia, Brody and other residents formed a Citizens’ Advisory Panel so their voices could be heard during the remediation process.

Their input helped Pfizer decide to designate part of the site as a nature preserve, according to Downey, who said the panel had requested a buffer between any industrial activity and the adjacent Quinnipiac River.

The preserve serves as that buffer.

“30 years ago ... the wetlands here were all polluted,” Gattilia said. “And then Pfizer got in here and look what they did here. They created a miracle.”

Two golden dragonfly pins shone atop his hat as he spoke. They belonged to his late wife, also a panel member, who used to wear them with a red dress, he said.

Neither she nor Brody’s husband, another advocate, lived to see the result of the cleanup. But Brody and Gattilia got front-row seats during Thursday’s festivities, watching as local, state and federal officials delivered remarks.

Afterward, staffers for Woodard & Curran, which runs the site’s treatment plant, gave the panel members a tour of the trails by golf cart. During the drive they saw lily pads, pink and yellow wildflowers and a pair of swans gracing the Quinnipiac River.

“They really gave the town nature back,” Gattilia said.

Pfizer spent between $140 and $150 million on the cleanup, according to Downey, who described some of the remediation strategies.

Treatments from heated underground metal pipes helped removed contaminants from the groundwater.

A mile-long underground hydraulic barrier wall prevents groundwater from entering the Quinnipiac River, Downey said, adding that wells collect the water, which is treated at an on-site plant.

Caps of various types also cover contaminated areas and protect visitors from “contact with environmental impacts,” according to Downey.

“Everywhere that people are walking on there’s ... different kinds of lining systems,” he said.

Four interconnected loop trails totaling about two miles comprise the preserve, he told attendees of Thursday’s grand opening.

Signs along the way educate visitors about various types of wildlife, and the preserve’s website, brickyardpoint.org, offers trail maps and other information.

Another 17 acres of the site are slated for development. While exactly what kind of development has yet to be determined, Downey said there have been discussions about constructing a commuter rail station.

Freda praised Pfizer’s handling of the site.

“Pfizer has been such an outstanding company for me to work with these past 12 years because they’ve taken total responsibility for a site that they have purchased,” he said.

Downey said the preserve will be open to the public from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and then again in 2022. Visitors should make reservations, which also can be done online.

A construction worker from New London volunteered on 9/11. Now, he prepares to return to ground zero for the first time.

Erica Moser 

Ricky Free has traveled from his home in New London to New York City dozens of times over the past two decades, whether on business or for dinner or to attend a motorcycle show. But he never returned to ground zero, the place where he was bucketing debris 20 years ago, adrenaline pumping and time blurring together.

In a better place now mentally, he is planning to return Saturday with his niece Holly Jones.

"I'm nervous as hell," Free, 65, said in an interview Aug. 26. He said with a nervous laugh this week, "I really don't know what to expect. I'll see what my feelings are when I get there. I'm excited to go down."

And if it doesn't work out for him, he and Jones will "go to Little Italy and have lunch and call it a day," or he'll take her shopping.

Hijackers linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network crashed two planes into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City, a third into the Pentagon and a fourth into a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people. Free, a longtime Local 547 Laborers worker who is now a field representative in an office, has struggled to talk about his experience as a volunteer construction worker in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Jones, 38, was the family member who pressed him to finally open up about it.

"It took me 16 years of asking and begging him to tell me what really went on for him the days following 9/11, and last week he finally gave in and sat and told me all about his story," she wrote in a Facebook post on Sept. 9, 2017. She wrote about his experience and the impact it had on him, and said this week she wrote it because she's really proud of him and many people don't know what he did.

Jones said Free called her about a month ago and asked if she would go to New York with him on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and she was honored.

"She doesn't leave me alone," Free said lovingly, "so she's all excited."

Jones said since her own father wasn't in her life, Free was her main father figure. She said "besides my husband and two boys, he is honestly the best guy in the world to me. He's amazing." She feels that returning to ground zero is a big step that will help her uncle in the long run.

They're hoping to go to a memorial service Saturday, and Free also wants to retrace his steps. He wants to take the same route he drove in his truck with two other guys on Sept. 14, 2001, when they left Connecticut at 3 a.m. and arrived at the Jacob Javits Convention Center three hours later to sign up and have their credentials checked. He wants to take the same long walk they took from the Javits Center to ground zero.

That — the walk — is the biggest thing Jones can't stop thinking about.

"He said that family members were standing outside the area with pictures of their family who were in there, begging them, all the volunteers, begging the volunteers to find their family members and just showing pictures of people's faces," she said.

Asked if he would have volunteered if he knew then what he knows now, Free immediately said no, and reiterated a previous statement that he was naïve.

"We thought we were going down to help rescue people, and when we got there, everybody was dead. It wasn't a rescue. We were digging dead bodies out," he said. He doesn't think he would have signed up for that.

"Being from like a small town like New London, you don't see shit like that," he said. "You see a bad car accident every now and then, but to see something, that kind of devastation is just ..." He trailed off.

He remembers the buildings being hot from blocks away, and will never forget the smell hanging in the thick air, one he struggles to explain: "I guess it's death. I guess it smelled like a big morgue. I don't know."

'I've come a long way'

When Ricky Free got back after three days at ground zero, he wasn't himself.

"When he came back, we knew he was having a hard time, and he kind of just kept quiet," said his daughter, Jordan Pezzello. She was 16 at the time while her brother, Austin Free, was 11. They both said their father wasn't talking about it, so they didn't ask.

"I was scared," said Pezzello, who was in anatomy class at Saint Bernard School when she learned of the attack. "We just didn't know if this was going to happen again, why this happened."

She vaguely remembers her father talking about waking up in the middle of the night, though she didn't get into it with him. Jones said her uncle didn't sleep for a long time.

Free became scared of getting on a plane, and said the few times he flew in the past 20 years, he was "Xanaxed out."

"It wasn't so much that I'm scared of flying," he said. "I was looking over my shoulder and wondering who the hell is on the plane with me."

That fear, along with people getting on him to talk to somebody because he was so quiet and stayed to himself, were why he decided to seek therapy several years after 9/11.

Free said the therapist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was in therapy for more than a year and said it was helpful, that "she kind of told me what was going on with me, and she was right."

He has also found it helpful to talk to his friends who are veterans, because it felt more natural.

Free opened up in a 2007 article in The Day about his decision to drive down to volunteer with two other men, from Waterford and Deep River at the time, and what the experience was like.

He keeps a collection of items related to 9/11 — newspaper articles people told him to read, cards he's been sent, photos — in his closet. He said he doesn't look at these items much, maybe once a year, usually in September.

"It's been a long time, so I've come a long way. I don't dwell on it anymore," Free said two weeks ago. He added this week that he's "kind of back to being Ricky," and while it all starts coming back this time of year, he's found a way to put it behind him the rest of the year.

Free is proud of his son, who also is in construction and is working on the State Pier redevelopment, but he hopes Austin will never have to do something like what he did. And a big part of what has helped Free move on is having three granddaughters come into his life. Pezzello's kids are 10, 7 and 3.

"That changes your life," he said, adding, "You get a whole different outlook."

"The girls are definitely happy little girls, so I think just being around them makes you happy," Pezzello said, saying they're the "best kind of medicine."

Industry Wants Fed Help to Tackle Labor Shortages


If you believe the projections, the construction industry could see hundreds of thousands of new jobs as a result of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The industry just needs fed buy-in for skilled worker training while it waits for shovels to hit the dirt on coming infrastructure projects. If that happens, the turnaround could be dramatic.

The massive infrastructure plan, approved by the Senate, is forecast to create nearly a million jobs in construction, engineering and accounting by the year 2030. Doug Holtz-Eakin, former Congressional Budget Office director, speaking with Fox Business said more than 880,000 middle-class jobs could materialize if the bill passes a Sept. 27 vote.

Michael Pugliese, economist of Wells Fargo Securities, told the Associated Press the infrastructure deal would likely have a modest impact on job creation and unemployment. He believes it could help the U.S. jobless rate fall below 4 percent by 2023.

Though Peter Williams, an economist of the investment firm Evercore ISI, said the infrastructure package probably won't start to boost economic growth until 2023, in 2025 and 2026 the extra package would add a healthy one percentage point to the economy's growth rate. According to AP News, Williams estimated infrastructure programs will create up to approximately 775,000 jobs.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, pegged it at 650,000 new jobs, some of which would be in manufacturing. He said pay could average about $70,000 a year.

"Just take a look at a construction site," Zandi said in an interview with marketplace.org. "Those are the kinds of things — manufactured things — that will be needed for these projects. Of course, it takes all kinds of people to produce those types of manufactured goods."

One of the undeniable elephants in the room is the continued demand for skilled construction workers. It's been the bane of the construction industry's existence for years now. The money and opportunities in the infrastructure plan are encouraging, but bringing it all to fruition may be impossible without workers, let alone well trained and qualified workers.

Harry Holzer said the bill's broad range of new construction activity will require a range of skilled construction and manufacturing workers. Holzer is LaFarge Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University and a nonresident senior fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings

He noted that while President Joe Biden proposed $100 billion in new training over eight years, "the summaries of the bipartisan infrastructure bill released to date are mostly silent on the need to train more workers for the jobs it will create."

Speaking with The Hill, he said any major new funding for workforce training would have to be allocated through the upcoming reconciliation bill.

Holzer wants to see "substantial" new job training funds added to the bipartisan bill. Senators who have pushed for workforce training in the past should work again to make funding for workforce training a top priority in the reconciliation bill, he said.

"With the apparent creation of hundreds of thousands of new and well-paying jobs in the United States, and with millions of workers already needing such training, our legislators need to make workforce training the top priority that it deserves to be."

Democrats will push for money to train U.S. workers for infrastructure jobs, Henrietta Treyz with investment firm Veda Partners told marketplace.org. She thinks it'll be hard for members of Congress to vote against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

"You have to focus on things that can get substantial bipartisan support, and infrastructure and job creation is like vanilla ice cream — everybody loves it," Treyz said.

The AGC, which tracks workforce numbers, doesn't love the shortages the construction industry has seen over the years. Earlier this month, the association announced shortages had reached pre-pandemic levels despite the coronavirus and supply-chain disruptions.

"Market conditions are nowhere near as robust as they were prior to the onset of the pandemic," said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. "At the same time, the pandemic and political responses to it are limiting the size of the workforce, leading to labor shortages that are as severe as they were in 2019 when demand for construction was more robust."

Stephen Sandherr, association CEO, said the federal government currently spends only one dollar on career training for every six it puts into college prep.

"Boosting federal investments in career and technical education will help attract and prepare more people into high-paying careers in construction," said Sandherr.

The association supports members efforts to address labor shortages and has launched a digital advertising campaign, "Construction is Essential," to help draw potential workers to the industry. AGC's "Culture of Care" program helps member firms retain newly hired workers.

In July and August, AGC and Autodesk conducted a Workforce Survey to which more than 2,100 firms from across the construction industry responded.

In a presentation on the survey results, Sandherr commented that many of the challenges affecting contractors are being driven by the pandemic and policy responses to it, instead of typical market conditions.

"Once the pandemic wanes and policies that have kept people from seeking employment expire, demand for construction is sure to rebound and the labor pool is likely to expand," said Sandherr.

Simonson cited two main reasons so many firms have trouble finding workers: Available candidates are not qualified to work in the industry due to a lack of skills, failure to pass a drug test, etc., and unemployment insurance supplements are keeping workers away.

Many construction firms reported they are making a concerted effort to address labor shortages.

Thirty-seven percent have engaged with career-building programs at the high school, collegiate or career and technical levels, while 31 percent have added online strategies like Instagram to better connect with younger applicants.

And about a quarter have partnered with government workforce development or unemployment agencies, or have used software to track vacancies and job applications.

Almost one-third have increased spending on training and professional development while 26 percent have lowered hiring standards and 24 percent have increased the use of virtual learning programs to supplement training efforts.

Most firms have increased base pay rates during the past year. And just over one-third have provided hiring bonuses or incentives. Many firms have turned to new technologies and new techniques to create more efficient operations.

Allison Scott of Autodesk said despite the labor shortages it's promising to see the industry branching out in new ways and investing in hiring, training, professional development and technology.

"I think it indicates a cultural shift in construction that can pay dividends in the long run," said Scott.

She noted that 57 percent of respondents in this year's survey said the rate of technology adoption at their firms has increased over the past 12 months. Nearly 60 percent anticipate technology adoption to further increase over the next 12 months.

Sandherr said member firms are taking a range of steps to address these workforce shortages, including raising pay, investing more in training and taking a more active role in workforce development.

"Even as they work to address labor shortages, firms are also changing the way they operate to be able to perform work more efficiently and mitigate the impacts of labor shortages."

He called for public officials to take steps as well to address the industry's current challenges. "This includes boosting demand for construction to offset current market uncertainties."

The best way to do that, said Sandherr, is to enact the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed in the Senate.

"Meanwhile, Congress and the Biden administration must work together to increase investments in career and technical education and other workforce development measures."

The federal government currently spends $120 billion a year for colleges and only $20 billion a year for career training, despite the fact only that one in three jobs requires a full college degree, he said.

"This funding gap for career training is one of the main reasons so many contractors have a low opinion of the current pipeline for preparing new craft construction professionals."

Boosting federal investments in career and technical education will help attract and prepare more people for high-paying careers in construction, said Sandherr.

Federal officials must avoid harming current labor shortages by imposing unwise policies, he said, adding that tariffs on key construction materials are a significant reason for price increases and shortages of key components.

"Federal officials must also avoid imposing labor and regulatory measures that exclude workers."

He cited government mandated project labor agreements for federal projects that he said limit who can participate in public infrastructure work.

He also urged the feds to drop efforts to pass the PRO Act, which he said would impose a host of measures designed to discriminate against workers who choose not to join a union.

"And state and local officials should avoid restrictive measures, such as local hire requirements, that exclude workers based on geography while absolving local officials from the need to invest in workforce development measures."

AGC is supporting members' efforts to address labor shortages, said Sandherr. "At the same time, we are working to encourage federal officials to do their part."

The association urges House officials to quickly pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

"And we lead the effort on Capitol Hill to boost funding for career and technical education programs and other measures designed to expose more Americans to career opportunities in construction," he added.

AGC also is engaged in efforts to prevent federal officials from imposing counterproductive measures so that contractors to have plenty of work and plenty of qualified workers to keep pace with that demand.

"Doing so will require overcoming an awful pandemic and bad policies. But we are optimistic that we can do both." CEG