Login to Portal

Forgot your password? Click here.

Don’t have an account? Click here.


CT Construction Digest Monday June 22, 2020

Developer proposes 132 apartments in downtown Stratford
Ethan Fry
STRATFORD — A developer wants to put a five-story apartment building and several town homes on the former Center School property on Sutton Avenue.
The answer to the question of what to do with the roughly three-acre property in the heart of downtown — off Sutton Avenue and across Interstate 95 from the Stratford train station — has proven elusive since the school, which opened in 1970, was decommissioned in 2005 and sat empty until it was demolished in 2018.
After months of talks, the chairman of the Redevelopment Agency, George Perham, unveiled Bedford, N.Y.-based Xenolith Partners as the town’s preferred developers.
The firm’s plan for the property is called “Stratford Walk,” and is designed to encourage a pedestrian-friendly environment with usable open space that complements the town’s “Complete Streets” plan.
Xenolith’s Andrea Kretchmer and Terri Belkas-Mitchell said they estimated costs at roughly $31 million with the hope that the apartments could be online in 2024.
They said the company is familiar dealing with historic and public properties, pointing to projects in New Britain and Schenectady, N.Y.
“Public involvement is critical to our work,” Belkas-Mitchell said. “We prioritize it in a way that our partners tend to appreciate and it creates better buildings for communities, we think.”
Most of the apartments — 67 to 80 units — would be in a five-story mid-rise building at the part of the property closest to I-95.
Another 18 units would be in four low-rise buildings fronting Sutton Avenue. A dozen units are planned for the building currently housing Board of Education offices and two units are planned for a historic building on East Broadway.
Plans showed a total of 128 parking spaces. On-site retail was not considered because of proximity to other commercial developments nearby, Perham said.
As part of the deal, the company is asking the town to sell the property for $1 and a partial 17-year property tax abatement, with a full abatement during the project’s two-year construction period.
Rents for 80 percent of the units would be between $1,078 for studios to $1,386 for two-bedrooms to qualify for workforce housing development tax credits. The developers estimated market-rate rents for the remaining units at $1,450 to $2,100.
Town Council Chairman Chris Pia asked residents to check out the plans on the town’s website at http://www.townofstratford.com/centerschool and share their thoughts.
Mayor Laura Hoydick on Friday said the presentation is “a community talking point.”
Last September, the town asked for “transit-oriented” proposals from the three companies, which came back Oct. 3 “Of the submissions we got, this was the most viable,” she said. “The RDA needs to take the temperature of the community and the temperature of the council on this project.”

Ansonia signs over downtown properties for Bella Vista development
Michael P. Mayko
ANSONIA —The redevelopment of five downtown buildings into what is expected to be a retail and residential development called Bella Vista took a step closer to reality when the city signed over four of the properties this week to Shaw Growth Ventures of Berne, N.Y.
“This is going to be a big boost to our downtown,” said Mayor David Cassetti after signing the documents that give Shaw the Ansonia Technology Park, 497 East Main St.; the Palmer building, 153 Main St., which currently houses the senior center; a factory building near 65 Main St. which is connected to the former Farrel Process Lab at 501 East Main St., and the former Wells Fargo bank drive-thru at 165 Main St. Shaw already owned the Process Lab which it obtained through a foreclosure.
“We haven’t collected taxes on ATP and Palmer in over 40 years,” Cassetti said. “Instead, we’ve been paying $60,000 a year in utility and maintenance costs. I’m sure the residents will be happy when they see this completed.”
The buildings have been mired in delays and failed partnerships with two other developers dating back to 2013.
Shaw’s Joseph Gega has said he will be using Tener Contracting LLC and Green US Builders of Greenwich for the $14 million Bella Vista renovation downtown.
The project’s developers discussed possible site plans with the Planning and Zoning Commission during a public hearing this week. Current plans call for 9,500 square feet of retail and 44 residential units in the Palmer building. There would be 17 units on both the second and third floor and 14 on the fourth. They are still working out the number of one and two bedroom apartments, planning members were told.
Jared Heon, the commission’s chairman, suggested the developers look at what is happening in Shelton where downtown apartments are being marketed as one-bedroom residences with a home office.
He said that could be leasing tool now that many companies are experiencing the benefits of employees working from home in this COVID-19 era.
Shaw developers also said the Ansonia Technology Park building, which will be combined with the 165 Main St. property containing the former Wells Fargo Bank drive-thru, would be turned into 51 apartments: 13 each on the third, fourth and fifth floors and 12 on the second floor. The combined buildings have at least 6,000 square feet of retail space, planning members were told.
The city is planning to create additional parking on East Main Street to comply with renter’s needs, the plan shows.
Documents filed in City Hall call for the renovations to be completed in stages ranging from two to five years once Shaw receives all the necessary permits and approvals from the city’s land use boards and commissions. The ATP and Palmer building must be completed in two years once those approvals are received. The city gave Shaw five years to renovate the Farrel Process Lab.
Shaw must begin work within 60 days of receiving all the necessary approvals.
Corporation Counsel John P. Marini said ownership of the city’s properties could revert to Ansonia if the timetable is not met and extensions are not granted.
On Thursday, Paul Rodriguez, president of Green US Builders, said the company’s workers were preparing to board the outside windows of Ansonia Technology Park and change the locks.
“They want to start interior demolition soon,” added Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director.
To help Shaw with cleaning up and redeveloping the former factories, the city is exempting the buildings from taxes for six years followed by five years of stable property taxes based on the current assessments. The next five years will involve property taxes based on assessments that will increase by 5 percent annually.
“We have had a lot of starts and stops with developers over the years,” said Marini. “This was not a fire sale. It’s very difficult to put a For Sale sign on a factory building and hope someone buys it. This is an example of the city working with a developer and offering incentives to keep them on track.”
As a parallel project, the city needs aldermanic approval to bond an extra $3 million to complete the renovation of the former Farrel Corporate headquarters at 65 Main St.
The city purchased the building from Shaw after seizing it in eminent domain for use as the new police station. The money will be used to renovate a vacant second floor for a new senior center, build a community room and pay for the construction of a tower with a public elevator.
The city is asking the Aldermen to bond the $3 million by using Gov. Ned Lamont’s April 1 COVID19 emergency orders rather than conduct a referendum during the Presidential election in November. Since Banton Construction of North Haven already is on site doing the police renovation, it would be cheaper to give them the additional work then let them leave, rebid the project and possibly bring in a new construction company, city officials were told.
“We’ll be getting a new police station, a new senior center, a community room and more for $15 million,” Marini said. “Other municipalities are spending $18 million just to build a police station.”
Tarek Raslan, a second ward alderman who ran against Cassetti for mayor in 2017, expressed concerns during both April and May aldermanic meetings about the expense, saying the city knew about the extra needed money months earlier but only released the information in April. He also pointed out bonding the extra money would increase the city’s debt service expenses annually over the next 10 years.
Once Bella Vista’s paperwork is done, Cassetti said he is focused on the future of the 60-acre former Anaconda American Brass Co., also known as Ansonia Copper and Brass. The city is seeking grants to build a road from the Woodlot to the former Molto Bene restaurant on Wakelee Avenue to make the site more attractive to buyers.
“I’d like to get Amazon interested in that site,” Cassetti said. “Once we build the road, they’ll have direct access to Route 8 and be minutes from I-84. It’d be perfect for one of their warehouses or distribution centers.”
The Board of Education has a week until it files a grant application to the state Department of Education regarding the $159.8 million Torrington High School building project proposal.
Some school board members raised concerns last week after learning about the project’s education specifications from representatives of Kaestle Boos Associates, a New Britain-based architectural firm that the board has worked with on forming the project’s vision since last June.
Brian Solywoda, a principal at Kaestle Boos, told the school board during last week’s meeting that the school’s baseball and softball programs would have to be played off campus for at least three years during building construction.
The review of the education specifications came after Mayor Elinor C. Carbone last Monday advanced the project to referendum, which is scheduled to appear on the presidential election ballot on Nov. 3.
School board member Jess Richardson explained the baseball and softball programs may face a tricky situation if forced to find fields off campus. Future’s Field and Torrington Middle School are possible locations the baseball program could move to, but they’d be competing with other teams for field use and the middle school field has no lights, she said.
“I personally wish some of these factors had been considered before we got to this point, not just specific to this,” Richardson said, “but specific to a lot of these trickle-down effects that we haven’t talked about yet.”Board member Ellen Hoehne said the Toro Sports Complex could possibly host the softball program since one of its fields is barely used.
Business Director Ed Arum said the district wouldn’t need to pay the Parks and Recreation Department for off-campus field use after board member Molly Spino raised concerns about costs.
“We have to get through the referendum first to figure it out,” Superintendent Susan Lubomski said on the field plan. “In the meantime, we can develop plans – A, B and C – to figure out what is the best for a particular sport within the community, so we don’t lose those spots because it is competitive. We want to make sure we have something for our students.”Solywoda said the building’s four-story high school wing would be constructed first, starting in the spring of 2022, before the three-story middle school wing would get underway that summer since a portion of the middle school’s wing is overlapping a portion of the existing high school.
A temporary parking lot on some field areas would also be formed, Solywoda said.
“The site is kind of fluid for a couple years,” he said. “We’re going to be moving some things around. All in all, this was the best scenario that came out because of the duration of construction.”
If approved in November, the project would cost the city $74.5 million, while the state would cover 62.5% of the $159.8 million total cost through an $85 million reimbursement.
The school board voted in favor of the education specifications, but Spino said there’s a lot to be figured out before community forums are held in the coming months.
“I’m hoping as we move forward with our building committee that we can discuss all the different possibilities that may come up during this project,” she said.