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CT Construction Digest Monday August 1, 2022

CT bond panel OKs $850M in finance, including $60M for local projects

Keith M. Phaneuf

With the autumn stretch of Connecticut’s election season less than two months away, the State Bond Commission approved more than $850 million in financing Friday, including more than $60 million for dozens of projects in lawmakers’ home districts.

The projects endorsed by the 10-member panel, chaired by Gov. Ned Lamont, include a major $490 million investment in highways, bridges, local roads and transportation safety measures. 

The panel also approved financing for several housing projects, economic development initiatives and more than $150 million for renovations and equipment upgrades for state buildings and parks.

“We’ve tried really hard over the last 3 1/2 years to hold the line on our fixed costs,” said Lamont, who challenged the legislature to curtail borrowing and embrace a debt diet when he took office in January 2019. “I think we’ve done that pretty effectively.”

Connecticut’s bonded debt has grown just 4% during Lamont’s first biennial budget cycle. But with more than $27 billion in bonded debt, Connecticut still ranks among the most indebted states, per capita, in the nation.

“Today, I think, you’re going to see … what we’re doing in terms of quality of life, what we’re doing in terms of, you know, those investments in our towns that make an enormous difference,” Lamont added.

The commission traditionally approves a significant amount of financing for local projects during the summer or fall in state election years, spread among Democratic and Republican-controlled districts.

All items endorsed Friday passed unanimously.

Connecticut’s largest cities again fared well.

A total of $7 million was approved for the city of Hartford, including $2 million for brownfield remediation, $1.5 million to plan a walking and cycling park between the capital city and Bloomfield, $1 million for the Elizabeth Park Conservancy and another $1 million for capital improvements to various city-owned properties.

The Northside Neighborhood Alliance, the YMCA of Greater Hartford and the Boys & Girls Club chapter for Hartford each were slated to receive $500,000.

The commission approved $2.6 million in financing for renovations to the Institute Library of New Haven and to relocate the New Haven Trowbridge Youth Center, along with another $6.8 million to support affordable and senior housing projects.

Bridgeport was slated to receive $200,000 to reconstruct Ellsworth Park Field.

The state reserved nearly $1.35 million to replace an emergency generator at Griffin Hospital in Derby, almost $900,000 to upgrade community and school auditoriums in East Hartford, $500,000 to renovate Greenwich’s volunteer fire house, $3 million to upgrade a residential care home in Norwich and $1 million to rehabilitate sports fields in Stamford.

Lamont said these and other investments in Connecticut’s communities would accelerate the state’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, help generate activity in municipal downtown areas and help economic growth.

To complement these community investments, the bond commission approved nearly $70 million in financing for various housing projects — most involving affordable units — and another $70 million for small business supports and other economic development initiatives.

The largest investments approved Friday involved $490 million earmarked for transportation, including $143 million for bus and railway equipment and other enhancements, $64 million for local road improvement grants and $20 million for new systems on state highways to detect and deter wrong-way driving.

Large-scale industrial, apartment developments clear East Hartford’s wetlands board

Michael Puffer

East Hartford’s Inland Wetlands Commission signed off Tuesday on two major developments that are seen as key pieces to the revival of the long-declining Silver Lane commercial and retail corridor.

The commission approved a massive industrial development on 300 acres of Rentschler Field and a 470-unit apartment complex at the former Showcase Cinema site. The Rentschler Field development was approved with standard conditions.

Wetlands commission members imposed additional conditions for the development at the former cinema, including requiring more detail as one of the proposed buildings will avoid wetlands impacts.

New Britain-based Jasko Development and Zelman Real Estate of West Hartford are partnered on plans to acquire the 25.1- acre cinema site from the town, then build eight apartment buildings, a clubhouse, mail facilities and a maintenance building, along with several enclosed garages and carports.

National Development, operating as ND Acquisitions LLC, plans to build a 1.2-million-square-foot logistics building, 1.3-million-square-foot logistics building, and two 100,000-square-foot buildings. ND Acquisitions has previously stated the smaller buildings will be used for high-tech manufacturing and research and development.

Now that National Development and the Jasko-Zelman partnership have wetlands approval, they can submit for needed site plan approval from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The developments also need sign-offs from the Office of the State Traffic Administration.

National Development expects a 12-month construction schedule, with completion at the end of 2023, according to Eileen Buckheit, East Hartford’s director of development. Construction of the Jasko-Zelman apartment development is expected to take up to two years, she said. 

Stamford’s deteriorating West Main Street bridge now too dangerous to use, officials say

Verónica Del Valle

STAMFORD — Children born the year Stamford's West Main Street Bridge closed are college-aged now: For more than two decades, Stamford officials have restricted movement on the once-purple bridge.

That won't change anytime soon, but the city is nearing a new era in the West Main Street Bridge conversation regardless.

City engineers are poised to install a new, pre-fabricated pedestrian bridge next to the 134-year-old structure, head engineer Lou Casolo told the Zoning Board this past week. At the same time, the existing bridge — which has been closed to cars since 2002 — will remain intact.

"I'll be so happy not to have to cross the bridge," board member Rosanne McManus said during the meeting, "But as a citizen of Stanford, I am disgusted that it has taken this long."

Casolo showed the board pictures of the "highly deteriorated" current structure to emphasize just how necessary getting people off the bridge is. The deck is collapsing, he said, causing large gaps in the floor beams. Sunlight pokes through them.

The stone abutments and piers underneath show similar signs of wear; masonry has started to fall into the river. Because of the damage, pedestrians can only walk on very specific parts of the structure.

The bridge's future has divided Stamford's residents and lawmakers politically for as long as it has been closed.

The city, in years past, has attempted to make the Purple Bridge pedestrian-only permanently, to the chagrin of some. Longtime West Side residents and their city representatives say that a bridge closed to cars cuts the neighborhood off from the rest of the city and increases emergency service response times on the way to Stamford Hospital.

Representatives for the city and Mill River Park, which the bridge abuts, have consistently argued that cars would interrupt the largest pedestrian path in Downtown Stamford and create a five-way intersection on the West Side.

The new bridge won't put an end to those disagreements.

The administration wants to discuss options for what could come next for the historic bridge, including replacement of the existing structure and rehabilitation. The administration must also decide whether the permanent replacement will be open to pedestrians and emergency traffic only or to all road users.

"Those decisions haven't yet been concluded, but all those options are being deliberated," he told the board.

Since the West Main Street Bridge is in a coastal area, city engineers needed Zoning Board approval to move forward. The board voted unanimously to authorize the bridge.

Though the second bridge is entirely new, it evokes the iron bridges built throughout the United States in the mid-1800s. The arched shape is said to look like a bow-and-arrow, whereas the structural supports on the current West Main Street Bridge are lens-shaped. The new structure will go five feet north of the existing one, will be 10 feet wide and will span the 142-feet across the river, with no piers in the water.

City documents show that 51 companies have applied to install the pre-fabricated bridge. The bidding process will remain open until Aug. 3.

During the construction period, the city will detour pedestrians looking to get from Downtown to Stamford's West Side. Instead, people looking to cross must go down Clinton Avenue and Tresser Boulevard to reach West Main Street.

New London approves site plan for recreation center at Fort Trumbull

Greg Smith

New London — The city’s planned $30 million community recreation center at Fort Trumbull reached another milestone earlier this month when the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a site development plan for the project.

The plan presented to the commission at its July 21 meeting outlines the placement of the building and parking lot , storm water drainage plans and landscaping. Construction is expected to start later this year.

With the approval, Felix Reyes, the director of the city’s Office of Planning and Development, said the project can continue to move forward as planned.

“The next phase is to put together bid packages and get a better understanding of costs, material availability and lead times on major infrastructure components - all things everyone can imagine with any construction project going on right now.” Reyes said.

The City Council has approved $30 million for the project though officials are hoping construction estimates come in lower. The latest design for the facility, developed by Silver/Petrucelli + Associates and presented publicly in March, slightly downsized the facility and replaced the initially planned steel building with a brick and concrete structure to keep costs in check.

The design calls for a two-story, 58,000-square foot facility with a 100-space parking lot separated from the building by an existing road. The center will have a two-court gymnasium, eight-lane pool, indoor track, workout and game rooms and a wing dedicated to the city’s Recreation Department and programs. There will be a community lounge, classroom space for an early childhood program, instructional kitchen and other amenities.

The facility will be located on two- city-owned parcels totaling about 7 acres on the Fort Trumbull peninsula, adjacent to a planned 104-unit residential development and extended stay hotel.

Jim Rossman, representing New London-based Stadia Engineering Associates, noted during the Planning & Zoning Commission’s July 21 meeting that plans call for parking lot with a permeable surface as opposed to typical pavement. The surface is porous and allows water to percolate through the pavement into the ground. It reduces the amount of stormwater runoff, he said.

“Yes, it is a little unique for a city like the city of New London to have a permeable parking lot of this size,” he said. “It should serve as an example to other developers in the area (who could) mimic this type of LID (Low Impact Development)”

The plan raised questions among commission members about the maintenance of the surface by the city. Rossman said the only restriction is that sand cannot be used. The use of sand will clog the porous surface and require vacuuming.

“It’s a different management regime over time but just as durable as normal pavement,” he said.

Reyes said the city continues to seek funding to chip away at debt costs and ease the burden for taxpayers. The Office of Development and Planning recently submitted an application for a $25 million grant from the state’s Community Investment Fund program, which is designed to bolster economic or community development in underserved communities.

Reyes said the request is ambitious but he feels the community center is what the grant was intended for.

“A project that encompasses community wellness, recreation, youth and senior engagement and amenities that improve the quality of life for all of our residents,” he said. We feel this is the right investment for our city and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

The city has already obtained a $1.2 million grant through the state’s Brownfield Remediation program towards the cost of cleaning up any environmental contamination at the site. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy on Friday announced inclusion of $2 million for construction as part of an appropriations bill being considered by Congress.

The future cost for maintaining the building is estimated to be more than $2 million per year and dependent on revenue from memberships, rental fees for the facility and providing income-based memberships to residents. City officials have said the plan is to have revenues outpace operational costs by year four.

Public hearing Monday on proposed $385 million Norwich school construction project

Claire Bessette

Norwich — The City Council will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposed $385 million school construction project that would build four new elementary schools, renovate one middle school and move both central offices and adult education into one of the vacated school buildings.

But at the same time, three council members will introduce a $255 million alternative plan that would place priority on building the four new elementary schools. A proposed $99 million complete renovation of the Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Middle School and a $25 million renovation of the Samuel Huntington School for adult education and central offices would be delayed for two years.

Monday’s 7:30 p.m. City Council meeting will be held at the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School auditorium, 25 Mahan Drive, because the City Hall elevator is out of order. The public hearing on three ordinances, including the $385 million school plan, will be held at the start of the meeting.

A public hearing on the proposed alternative plan, sponsored by Mayor Peter Nystrom, Council President Pro Tempore Joseph DeLucia and Alderwoman Stacy Gould, would be held Monday, Aug. 15.

The full, $385 million plan to be considered Monday, endorsed by the School Building Committee, calls for building new schools on the grounds of the John B. Stanton, Uncas and John Moriarty elementary schools and one at the site of the former Greeneville School and other contiguous land owned by the city.

Once the new schools are completed, students would move in, and the old buildings would be demolished. Then sports fields and playgrounds displaced by the construction project would be built where the old buildings stood. Huntington, Veterans’ Memorial, Wequonnoc and Mahan elementary schools would be closed, though Wequonnoc could become a virtual learning center.

Teachers’ Memorial would undergo a complete, $99 million renovation in the costliest portion of the overall project, and Huntington School would become the adult education and central office building, with additional use as a community recreation center.

Nystrom said the $385 million price tag for the entire school construction project is “a big ask” of city voters at a time when inflation is in full swing and anticipated high winter fuel costs will be on the horizon by the Nov. 8 election.

He said he would rather prioritize the elementary school projects, building all four schools at once, rather than the phased plan being considered. Nystrom pledged that the city would bring back the Teachers’ Memorial project and the Huntington School renovations for central office and adult ed in two years.

Nystrom said he was concerned that if the school projects referendum fails in fall, the city would face spending millions of dollars on necessary repairs on school buildings that ultimately must be closed and discontinued.

Mark Bettencourt, chairman of the School Building Committee and former council president pro tempore, conceded that funding decisions for new schools is up to the City Council. But he said putting off part of the project means the city’s middle school students at Teachers’ Memorial would be left behind for years longer. Kelly Middle School was renovated several years ago.

“I don’t think it’s the way to go, because you run the risk of having an inferior middle school compared to the rest of the district,” Bettencourt said. “But I think it’s something we have to consider.”

School Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said in an email comment on the alternative plan that there’s no doubt that the entire project is needed, “for the health, safety and academic success of the students in our city.”

She said it is up to the City Council to decide how to proceed with the plan.

“I believe they will map out a plan that the community will be able to support,” Stringfellow said in the email.

After growing up in town, developer helps lead Windsor downtown revitalization

Emily DiSalvo

WINDSOR — Greg Vaca grew up in town and is now spearheading a new downtown development. He attended the high school down the road, fell in love with the center of town and he came back after college hoping to rejuvenate the area that was once bustling.

“I grew up near Windsor Center,” Vaca said. “We would ride our bikes into town, and we'd go to the baseball card shop and we go to the ice cream shop. We had a Baskin-Robbins — there was all this stuff to do. The drugstore felt like more of a community center, right? And all of that is gone.”

Vaca is the founder of Grava Properties and he plans to convert the Windsor Center Plaza into a three-story building with apartments above first-floor retail space.

The existing building is set back from the road, but Vaca plans to change that with this project.

“We're going to rebuild the street line, and with very traditional architecture, so that the town of Windsor now again, has the three walls to their room, which is like the town green,” Vaca said. “We're basically going to put the the historic street wall back to where it was.”

Grava Properties plans to own and operate the buildings under an agreement with the Mastriani family, who owns the Windsor Center Plaza.

The property is within walking distance of the Windsor CT Rail and Amtrak station, making it part of the town’s transit-oriented development district. The project will be funded with $2.5 million in federal money.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will vote on the future of the project in September. Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Anita Mips said the project is a great way to bring people back downtown, but declined to say whether the panel will be inclined to vote in favor of it.

If approved, the construction will occur in tandem with a $1.2 million “road diet” project funded by state bonding on Broad Street (Route 159). State Rep. Jane Garibay, D-Windsor, has supported the project from her role in the legislature and co-executive director of the First Town Downtown organization in Windsor.

“We have actively been working for the last 10 years to get a plan of what people want to see in their town,” said Garibay, who lives on Broad Street. “I love smart streets. I want to be able to walk our town.”

Part of the research First Town Downtown has been doing revealed that 70 percent of people who drive downtown use the road as a through-way and do not stop at any businesses. She hopes the updates will attract and retain young people.

“(Young people) want walkability,” Garibay said. “They want services, shops and restaurants. It’s a certain style of living.”

The road diet would decrease the number of lanes from four to two with a center turning lane on Broad Street in the downtown area.

“The road design will slow that traffic down,” Garibay said. “People will learn that traffic slows down in downtown and will stay on the highway. It’s a whole different way of thinking of it.”

Most of the concerns about the project relate to traffic, according to Vaca. He said a traffic study indicated it would not adversely impact the area, particularly since the goal of the project is to increase foot traffic.

“We are the perfect town for this type of development,” Garibay said.

Downtown Hartford’s North Crossing redevelopment was decades in the making. Here’s what it looks like so far and how much it would cost to live there.

Kenneth R. Gosselin

HARTFORD — The first apartment building in the North Crossing development around Hartford’s Dunkin’ Donuts Park is pumping up the amenities for urban dwellers: a fitness center on steroids, a rooftop lounge and cabanas around a pool.

Yes, cabanas around a pool in downtown Hartford.

An enclosed outdoor courtyard with the pool, grilling stations, bluestone walkways and an amphitheater built into the property’s sloping terrain is at the heart of the $50 million development of 270 rentals, the first of what could be as many as 1,000 apartments that could be built on around the ballpark in the coming years.

“This is really our signature place where we expect people to be gathering,” developer Randy Salvatore, said, pointing to the courtyard during a tour of the building.

The apartments, named “The Pennant,” a nod to the ballpark across Trumbull Street, are still being finished, work that is expected to wrap up in November. But the first 19 tenants have moved in, and leasing has been strong with 104 units — 40% of the total — now rented and demand exceeding leasing projections, Salvatore, of RMS Cos. of Stamford, said.

“We’re leasing them as fast as we can build them, it’s that simple,” Salvatore said. “If it continues, I’m going to say another six months and we’re going to be done.”

Salvatore is already looking ahead to the next phase of mixed-use development, across from the main entrance to the ballpark. But the original developers of the ballpark and the land around it — fired from the job in 2016 — are seeking in court to regain control of the property Salvatore was subsequently chosen to develop — part of a much larger legal battle over the termination.

“The lawyers are all talking, but from my understanding, we are going ahead,” Salvatore said. “I can’t control what the courts say or do, but unless someone tells us otherwise, we are planning on starting in September. And clearly, the market warrants it. If we were bullish before, we are more bullish now.”

New era of redevelopment

North Crossing marks a new phase in Hartford’s redevelopment. In the last decade, apartment projects have focused largely on converting older, often vacant, commercial buildings into residential rentals. The efforts seek to boost long-elusive 24/7 vibrancy in the city and give a much needed lift to the city’s tax coffers.

Since 2014, 2,800 apartments have either been added or are now in construction in and around downtown Hartford, the majority of them partly financed with low-cost, state-taxpayer-backed loans from the Capital Region Development Authority. The financing for the first phase of North Crossing includes a $12 million, low-cost loan from CRDA.

The new, from the ground up, mixed-used construction near the ballpark is aimed at constructing a new neighborhood. North Crossing could be followed by similar development in “Bushnell South” on parking lots east of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts along Capitol Avenue and elsewhere in the city.

In apartment projects with CRDA financing, occupancy has remained resilient coming out of the worst of the pandemic, after dipping in 2020, according to the quasi-public agency.

Salvatore said 75% of the tenants who have signed leases so far are moving in from outside Hartford or another state, evidence, he said, that North Crossing is attracting people new to the city. Leasing, Salvatore said, is not solely a game of musical chairs with apartment landlords trying to attract tenants who already live in rentals in the downtown area.

Strong apartment demand has pushed rents higher in Hartford, throughout Connecticut and across the country. A recent report from rent.com showed the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Hartford rose 14% from a year ago, to $1,747 a month.

Starting rents at The Pennant range from $1,500 for a studio to $2,200 for a two-bedroom unit. The sizes range from 537 square feet for the studios to 1,228 square feet for the two-bedrooms. There also are two three-bedroom apartments at 1,379 square feet, starting at $3,300 a month.

But those price points don’t include a $50 monthly amenity fee, and parking adds another $100 a month per car in the 328-space parking garage connected to the apartment building.

The city of Hartford also has agreed to help support affordable units in the first phase through federal funding, contributing up to $900,000 over 20 years.

In a development where the majority of apartments are market-rate, the addition of affordable units became crucial to winning neighborhood backing. An agreement calls for a minimum of 10% affordable rentals, including 5% for families earning up to 80% of the area’s median income.

Salvatore said he has just begun marketing the ground floor storefront space of 3,500 square feet.

Salvatore, also a major developer in New Haven and a partner in the conversion of the top floors of downtown Hartford’s Hilton into rentals, is upbeat about long-term leasing trends. But Salvatore also said he is keeping a close eye on economic conditions, especially as growth has slowed and concerns about a recession deepen.

“It would be foolish not to be watching what is happening there,” Salvatore said. “So I do think we’re probably going to go into a recession, but I am taking a very long-term approach to all of it. In past recessions, we have built right through them. We have to be a little more careful and have to make sure financially the whole thing is set up accordingly so we can weather it.”

‘A grocery store will do well here’

Completion of the first of four phases of North Crossing also is notable because it represents a major step forward in decades-long hopes for reconnecting downtown Hartford with city neighborhoods to the north.

The construction of I-84 in the early 1970s tore them apart and eventually became an expanse of desolate parking lots, a physical and psychological barrier. The mixed-use redevelopment planned nearby at Main Street and Albany Avenue also seeks to strengthen the connection.

North Crossing’s second phase on so-called “Parcel B” would have 532 rentals and a 541-space garage, plus 10,000 square feet of storefront space, at a cost of $120 million. The development would be split into two parts. The first to be worked on would include 228 apartments and the parking garage. The balance of the rentals would be completed in the second half.

As Salvatore pushes ahead, he said he is still actively pursuing a full-service grocery store for the development. The grocery store is a top priority for the city to address the “food desert” in the area, made more dire by the recent fire that destroyed the Sigourney Market in neighboring Asylum Hill.

“We all believe there is a need here, and a grocery store will do well here, but the grocer needs to see the success and momentum of the development,” Salvatore said. “It’s one thing for them to see renderings of what we’re doing, and it’s another thing for them to see the actual building and people living in the building who will be future customers.”

And that there will be hundreds more in the next phase, he said.

Salvatore said the best probable location for the grocery store is on “Parcel A” near the city’s public safety complex. He said it could be built at the same time as the second phase on “Parcel B” or after.

On a recent tour, Salvatore showed off model apartments and amenities. Dining areas in one-bedroom units that can double as work-at-home spaces separated from kitchens with pocket doors to provide a less distracting backdrop in virtual meetings. In studios, pocket doors can separate beds from living areas.

The Pennant will be showcased on Oct. 13 when the building hosts the annual “Big Mo’” event. The event is typically held at a development project that is a sign of revitalization in city, with “Mo’” short for momentum.

The rooftop lounge isn’t yet cleared for visitors, but Salvatore points out the two-lane bowling alley and a multisport simulator. Clear garage-style doors open from the first floor lounge with its billiards and foosball tables to the courtyard, spaces also intended as an alternative for tenants who are working in their apartments and want a less formal place than the building’s co-working space.

“Maybe they are going to sit by the pool with a laptop in a lounge chair during the day and be working,” Salvatore said.

Middletown luxury apartment developers seek tax deal for small businesses

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — A $65 million luxury apartment complex proposed near the Cromwell line is seeking a tax stabilization agreement from the city to allow project leaders to set aside $1 million for economically disadvantaged business owners.

The housing complex, to be built on the grassy field at the rear of 494 Newfield St., would consist of 414-unit one- and two-bedroom apartments constructed with eco-friendly and energy-efficient materials, and include a community garden that waters itself with rainwater collected from the rooftop. Other amenities will be included.

A construction timeline has not yet been determined, according to Landmark Investment Group project liaison Alan Marshall.

There will also be electric bikes and car-charging stations, access to public transportation, trash recycling and hydrodynamic separators to keep pollution out of nearby wetlands, he explained.

“We really took a lot of time and effort to make sure we had green-friendly tax policies related to this project, and make sure the project is green for our city — one of the things that was crucial for us,” said Marshall, referring to the site owned by Landmark developer Glen Russo.

When Russo approached Marshall, who has served on the Middlesex United Way Racial Equity and Inclusion impact team about being a consultant on the project, he pitched an idea to make it stand out from others.

“We should include a socially and economically disadvantaged option for minority contractors,” Marshall said, which would include historically underserved populations, including women and LGBTQ+ individuals.

The minority set-aside is a federal standard and form of affirmative action.

Marshall surmises there are a number of reasons why socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners have not been able to secure such jobs in the past. “Maybe it’s the history of the country … or the opportunities (and resources) to bid on projects this massive.

“There are so many reasons why people have been disenfranchised from putting their bids in. For me, it’s a matter of giving (them) a shot and convincing our investors to do so as well,” he added.

The project is estimated to have a $55.8 million economic impact in the first phase, Marshall said. Over the 100-year life of the endeavor, the developer expects to generate $1.52 billion dollars of local economic activity.

During the first two phases, as many as 629 contractor jobs would be created, said Marshall, who hopes this will set a precedent for these types of developments. “It gives so much back to our city,” he said.

Marshall called the proposal a “monumentally progressive deal for the city that incentivizes businesses and minority contractors” at the July 14 council meeting.

“That’s something that no private developer has ever done in Middletown to provide equity to minority communities,” Marshall explained.

Russo already has a tax stabilization agreement with the city, however, he is proposing it be transferred to Newfield Residential, a newly created limited liability company, Acting Director of Economic and Community Development Bobbye Knoll Peterson said.

Robert Dale of Rye, N.H., Jeffrey Albert of Princeton, N.J., and James O’Donnell of Moorestown, N.J., are partners at Newfield Residential. Their past projects include Kensett in Darien, Woodside Trumbull, Evan’s Mill in Cherry Hill, N.J., Palmer Hill in Stamford and Kingfield in Rye Brook, N.Y.

Landmark also developed the apartments on George Street, off Route 66. “This will be double that,” Marshall said.

In an April 28 letter to Mayor Ben Florsheim, Russo wrote that he purchased the land in 2002 when the tax rate was 32.8, including fire services.

Now, the combined rate is 44.2 — a 34.7 percent increase, Russo wrote. The rate is higher than comparable towns, such as Glastonbury, Avon and Farmington, which “command substantially higher rental rates while offering lower property taxes.”

Tax incentives, Russo said, are “a critical step forward.”

Another unique feature is an effort to draw tenants downtown with a “Discover Middletown” program. The developer will purchase $100,000 worth of Downtown Business District gift cards to encourage support for small local proprietors, Marshall said.

As part of these housing developments, new tenants are given a “luxury” gift basket with chocolate, champagne, local maps and other items as a welcome gift.

Attorney Natasha Ortiz spoke in favor of the more-than-year-long project proposal at the council meeting. “It is definitely needed for the minority contractors whose interest (in the project) has only grown exponentially,” she said.

Ortiz asked for the application to be treated with “critical urgency.”

Marshall told councilors the proposal would be a big boon for the city. “The one thing to think about is the economy is down. We’re nearing an economic crisis and things couldn’t look more bleak for our country — even for our city,” he explained.

“It’s been reported that households are now losing $6,000 a year out of their income because of rising costs,” Middletown Ministerial Alliance liaison Deborah Hopkins said at the meeting.

She’s concerned about the “ripple effect,” asking rhetorically, “what is it going to look like down the road?”

Contractor Jerome Holley, who owns Middletown-based Holley Electric; and city native, Xavier High School alumnus, and former Detroit Lions starting safety Amari Spievey lent their voices to the plan.

“I’m very proud to be a part of it, and I hope we can get it going,” Spievey told councilors.

“They have a product that has shown to be successful in other communities. It’s something we’re excited to do,” Peterson said this week.

“What we can see is what this development group has created and how it looks. It’s a very high-quality product that will last this community for many, many years,” she explained.

The council will consider the tax measure at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.