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CT Construction Digest Monday October 16, 2021

Manafort Drive will be closed for four weeks as construction begins at CCSU campus

Jeniece Roman

NEW BRITAIN – Manafort Drive will be closed to traffic for four weeks while construction begins at the Central Connecticut State University campus.

The State of Connecticut Department of Administrative Services Friday that Manafort Drive will remain closed from Monday, Oct. 18 until Friday Nov. 12. due to construction at Willard DiLoreto Parking Garage. When the parking garage is complete, it will provide an additional 600 parking spaces to serve the CCSU community.

The State of Connecticut Department of Administrative Services stated that the decision to close the road for an extended amount of time was essential to operations and safety of the construction jobsite and campus community. Based on project conditions and weather, the schedule is subject to change.

Police officers will be present on site throughout the four weeks to direct traffic as needed. Manfort Drive will have directional signage located at every outlet and barriers will be placed to direct traffic to East Street.

Detour route signage, barricades, and police vehicles on the roadway are set to ensure the safety of pedestrian and vehicular access in this area. Members of the CCSU community will be able to access the WD Lot, James Lot, Vance Garage and Copernicus Garage, which will all be maintained.

Norwalk elementary school expected to welcome students back next fall

Emily Morgan

NORWALK — The sounds of children playing in and around Jefferson Elementary School will return next fall as renovations to the building remain on schedule.

Construction is expected to be completed by June 15 on the $33 million project, according to Newfield Construction. The district will then be able to move in new furniture, and teachers can come set up their new classroom spaces. The school should be ready to welcome back students to start the 2022-23 academic year.

District leaders and several Board of Education members had the opportunity on Thursday to tour the elementary school which is undergoing heavy construction to make improvements to educational spaces and heating and electrical systems, as well as revisions to the bus loops and student drop-off lanes, locating them in two separate areas.

Construction also includes the addition of a new gymnasium, a new roof structure, playground areas, and lobby space on the first floor of the building. The project will add more than 6,000 square feet of building space and renovate nearly 55,000 square feet of the facility.

Jefferson Elementary students are currently attending classes at Ponus Ridge Middle School.

Construction begins on apartments at Westfield Trumbull mall

Eddy Martinez

TRUMBULL — Standing in a dirt field strewn with construction equipment, developer Scott Loventhal si already picturing a bustling residential community rising between Westfield Trumbull mall and Main Street.

“We certainly are confident that this development will be a success,” he said.

Loventhal, a partner at Garden Communities, was at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Residences at Main, at 5085 Main St., on Friday morning. The 260-unit luxury apartment complex is located between the Merritt Parkway and the mall, about 500 feet from each.

The developers are Garden Homes Development and Rose Equities.

First Selectwoman Vicki Tesoro said the apartments are just the beginning of a major development project.

“The planning study that we will be engaging in, we will transform this entire area,” she said. “We know this is a catalyst to that development.”

The $60 million project was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission in 2020. Construction is expected to take 18 months, according to Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar. The five apartment buildings in the complex will be four stories tall and will include a mix of one- and two-bedroom units.

Leonard Glickman, who is the co-founder of Rose Equities, said the apartments would cater to what he calls, “renters by choice” instead of need. Glickman said the perception that renters are people who can’t afford to buy a house leaves out a lot of nuance. Some renters prefer to live in units with amenities nearby, he said.

Young professionals, untethered from their desks as a result of advancements in telecommunications, are no longer limited by location, he said.

“The creative classes, the young people who are making $150-$160,000, they can go anywhere, as we know. They can work almost anywhere right?” he said. “So they choose to live somewhere, not because they need to.”

That somewhere he said, is Trumbull. The location is convenient to shopping and highways. The complex will also include garages, storage rooms, a clubhouse, an outdoor pool, co-working space and a community room,” he said.

Bakalar said the developer also is committed to maintaining a permanent presence in the town.

“They want to become members of the community, because they’re going to own for generations,” she said. “They’re not building this to sell it off to somebody else.”

Developer, tribe file wetlands application for RV park in Preston

Brian Hallenbeck 

Preston — Plans for an RV park along Route 2 have been filed with the town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, which officially will receive them when it meets Tuesday night.

Blue Water Development Corp. of Ocean City, Md., and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe are seeking an inland wetlands permit to develop tribe-owned property at the intersection of routes 2 and 164 near Avery Pond. The property, just north of the tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino, is listed as 451, 455 and 495 Route 2.

The proposed RV park was unveiled publicly in June, drawing objections from residents concerned about its potential impact on the environment and the traffic it might generate. Blue Water officials hosted a public forum on the plan at the Poquetanuck fire station.

Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said the wetlands commission will review the plans at a future meeting. If it approves the permit application, the Planning and Zoning Commission would next consider the project, which would be located in a resort commercial zone, Warzecha said.

The planning commission would decide whether to issue a special exception permit, a process that requires a public hearing, she said.

In a news release, Blue Water said the proposed RV park would resemble “many of the successful campground resorts” the company has designed and developed over the past 20 years. Blue Water has completed eight projects of similar size and scope across states from Maine to Florida and has partnerships with such brands as KOA (Kampgrounds of America) and Jellystone Parks, as well as private brands liked Massey’s Landing.

The Preston proposal calls for more than 300 camping sites, a pool, a waterslide and a splash pad; tennis and volleyball courts; a camp store and a pavilion. According to Blue Water, the campground would be serviced by a water supply and a sanitary sewer discharge system maintained by the Mashantucket tribe.

Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ president and chief executive officer, acknowledged in an interview posted online that the tribe was moving forward with the project by seeking local approvals. He said Foxwoods has long sought to provide casino patrons with a “high-end RV option.”

He used the term “glamping,” meaning a form of camping that provides access to amenities and luxurious facilities.

Developers turn hotels into apartments as pandemic batters hospitality industry

Terry Corcoran

The pandemic has significantly slowed business travel, which has battered the hospitality industry, especially hotels.

And with business travel not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025, many hotels continue to experience near record-low or below-average occupancy rates, forcing some to close.

But developers who see opportunity where others see despair are snatching up shuttered hotels and converting them into apartments.

Although the practice began a few years ago, it blossomed during the pandemic.

Numerous conversion projects are proposed or underway in Connecticut, including hotels in Hartford, Farmington, Manchester and Meriden. In addition, a Stamford developer recently converted a Stratford hotel into luxury apartments complete with a dog park.

A hotel conversion is much cheaper than building an apartment complex from the ground up — about $60,000 to $70,000 per unit compared to $150,000 to $200,000 per unit in a metropolitan area, according to BBG Real Estate Services.

Although the converted Connecticut apartments will rent at market rate, the practice in other states addresses housing needs by creating affordable living spaces in areas where rents are high.

Hartford conversion

In Hartford, the Axela Group of Waterbury partnered with Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC, the city’s largest commercial property owner, on converting the former Red Lion Hotel at 50 Morgan St., into luxury apartments overlooking Dunkin’ Donuts Park.

The Axela-Shelbourne partners paid $22 million for the Morgan Street property and are investing another $8 million in the 18-story building. The previous owner renovated the top eight floors into 96 units, over 80% of which are rented. One-bedroom units rent from $1,375 to $1,450.

Yitz Rabinowitz, vice president at Axela, said they are focusing on the building’s amenities and common areas so they can showcase them to prospective tenants before renovating apartments on the remaining floors. There is a gym and pool. They’re also creating a common work space area and working on getting a restaurant/bar for the facility.

“The biggest challenge is that the size of a hotel room can be 275 to 400 square feet and you can’t just have all studio apartments. You need a healthy mix of units,” Rabinowitz said.

He said most hotel conversions involve buildings from the 1960s to 1980s, which require code compliance updates.

But older buildings also have their advantages, he said.

“Older hotels like this have very good bones,” Rabinowitz said. “A lot of multifamily and commercial buildings built in the 1970s are built very well.”

Homewood Suites, the former Hotel Bond on Asylum Street in Hartford, is also being converted into apartments.

Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality industry and the demand for housing are fueling the conversions.

“There is a national ‘re-think’ as to how to proceed with many of these properties and the conversion to housing is high on the chart,” Freimuth said. “In part, this is because the multifamily market is the strongest sector of the real estate industry now. But also, under-performing hotels can be relatively economical to convert to alternative uses like residential that may even allow a switch back at some future date.”

Challenges a developer faces in a hotel conversion include deciding whether the structure allows for it, determining if it makes financial sense, and clearing any legal hurdles, including land-use regulations.

Luxury conversion

Empire Residential of Stamford converted an old hotel in Stratford into luxury apartments complete with a fitness center, indoor pool and outdoor dog lounge. The units rent at market rate, from $1,400 to around $2,000.

Anthony Kolich, principal and co-founder of Empire Residential, said some aspects of a hotel conversion are expensive but that, generally, the buildings make great apartments.

“The biggest challenge is the separation of utilities. You must do that so tenants can be responsible for their own electric bills,” Kolich said. “But having the amenities of a hotel is a huge plus for an apartment complex.”

The Stratford complex, dubbed Empire 225, is located at 225 Lordship Blvd., close to Interstate 95.

Kolich and his partner Jamie Heffernan purchased the property for around $4 million, part of a $14 million investment in converting 149 hotel rooms into 69 apartments.

“There are a lot of advantages to acquiring a hotel in the suburbs,” Kolich said. “Typically, the hotels are on large parcels that can be subdivided and used for other purposes.”

He said leasing slowed during the pandemic but is going so well they’re considering adding a second apartment building to the property. They already built a 120,000-square-foot self-storage facility behind the apartments.

Other projects

In Farmington, developer Jason Schlesinger of CLP Farmington LLC is converting the former Farmington Marriott hotel at 15 Farm Springs Road into a mixed-use apartment complex. Schlesinger plans to transform 381 rooms into 225 luxury apartments ranging from studios to three bedrooms. CLP Farmington paid $10.5 million for the property while borrowing $20 million for the purchase and renovation.

Like most developers, Schlesinger will make use of hotel amenities as plans call for renovating the hotel’s pools, fitness center, courtyard and event spaces. He’ll also add a new coffee shop and restaurant that will be open to the public.

Schlesinger declined to discuss the status of his project, which has already received town zoning approval and met no opposition from town residents.

In Meriden, a developer proposed earlier this year to convert the former Baymont by Wyndham hotel at 275 Research Parkway into apartments. It has 110,000 square feet and was built in 1985.

The developer, Adam Haston of New Haven, said earlier this year a majority of the 150 guest rooms would be converted into smaller 300-square-foot apartments with a few larger one-bedroom units.

Community spaces would include a coworking office, library, indoor pool, gymnasium, basketball courts and game room. It will also have a coffee shop and restaurant-microbrewery open to the public. The apartments would rent from $950 to $1,100 a month.

A limited liability company Haston controls purchased the former hotel in August for $5.6 million but it was unclear when he would submit development plans. Neither Haston nor Meriden planning officials responded to requests for comment.

In Manchester, Paredim Partners of Elmsford, N.Y., recently received permission to convert the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham hotel at 191 Spencer St., into apartments. That project may be easier for the developer than a typical hotel conversion because it consists of efficiency units in six separate buildings. David Parisier of Paredim said his firm received approval for up to 110 units. He declined to say how much the company is investing.

Helping homeless

While the projects in Connecticut seek to convert hotels into luxury apartments, elsewhere the conversions are being considered to address homelessness.

In Williston, Vermont, a housing group plans to turn a hotel into 72 affordable housing units. In Dallas, the Gateway Hotel Dallas is being converted into 180 efficiency units for the homeless, and New York City mayoral candidate Eric Adams has called for converting failing city hotels into housing for the homeless.

There are two types of hotel-to-apartment conversions, according to Elan Gordon of SHIR Capital of Austin, Texas, which has done several of them.

Converting an extended-stay hotel, like the one in Manchester, is cheaper, he said.

“Those look and feel like a multifamily development when you walk in,” Gordon said. “It’s more of a renovation than a construction project.”

But regular hotel rooms without a kitchen require complete overhauls, he said.

“These are small hotel rooms that become small studio apartments with full appliances,” Gordon said.

The conversions allow people who otherwise could not afford an apartment to get one, Gordon said.

“It happens to be market driven and solves a few issues at once: empty hotel rooms and shortage of apartments,” he said. “A new apartment building might take two to three years. Our conversion takes one year from the time we purchase to the time we deliver.”

A dam problem in New Milford has officials wondering whether to repair the structure or tear it down

Currie Engel

NEW MILFORD — New Milford has a dam problem.

The 17-foot dam has been around since 1900, when Town Farm Brook was stopped to create a recreational area. That year, the first car appeared in town, and New Milford had only 4,804 residents.

One hundred and twenty one years later, New Milford is facing one of two choices with the structure: demolition or extensive repairs.

Reservoir No. 4 Dam has a valve dating back to around 1918 that won’t shut, disjointed overflow pipes, spots in the wall where water seeps through, mortar issues on the spillway, and sloughing off the back of the dam.

“The weeping is not good, it’s showing that water is coming through the dam itself,” Jack Healy, director of the Public Works Department, told the Town Council. And problems with the old valve mean the town can’t control the dam’s water level.

The significant amounts of rain dumped on the region this year have not helped things, either.

Bass said due to climate change, the town has noticed more significant storms to the point where the dam has become “a little more stressed.”

The concerns were big enough that the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, which provides the town’s municipal risk financing, to initially balked at the prospect of insuring the dam.

“It was that bad,” New Milford Mayor Pete Bass told the council.

Chuck Lee, assistant director of water planning and management for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, reported that a few smaller dams have failed this year after heavy rainfall but no larger dams.

According to DEEP, the dam is marked as a “significant hazard,” which is the second highest hazard classification. As such, the owner — in this case, the town — is required to file an emergency plan that mitigates property and life loss if the dam fails or operates incorrectly.

A “significant hazard” classification means that a malfunctioning dam is expected to result in “no probable loss of human life but can cause economic loss, environment damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, or impact other concerns,” the US National Dams website explains.

If the dam breaks, Healy said there could be a “significant amount of water coming down and going from us, going into Bridgewater.”

Healy said he doesn’t believe the dam will “catastrophically” fail any time soon, but said the issue needs attention.

Weighing the costs

Both options — repairs and demolition — are costly.

At a recent meeting, the New Milford Town Council debated using American Rescue Plan funds to deal with the problem. Repairs are estimated to cost around $1.2 million. Demolition would run in the same price range.

While Bass is in favor of repairing the dam to preserve the recreational area, other council members want to better understand all options before making a decision and spending a chunk of federal funds on the project.

Bass wants to use the federal relief funds to deal with the dam.

“We can do this all in one shot, it would have this dam up to date for the next 50 to 100 years, and it fits within the American Rescue fund guidelines,” Bass said.

But council member Mary Jane Lundgren, a Democrat, said she was opposed using the relief funds for this project. She said the funds should be used to help residents affected by COVID-19.

The issue has cropped up in two recent council meetings on Sept. 27 and Oct. 12.

Lundgren hasn’t yet made up her mind about whether she’s in favor of repairing or removing the dam.

“I think we need a lot more information,” she said. “I want to see what all the sides look like.”

David Lawson, another Democrat, also wanted more information before voting to allocate funds for repairs.

“I would like to explore our options a little bit more,” said Lawson during the Oct. 12 meeting. “That’s a pretty big, hefty price tag.”

Dam owners decide

Several other Connecticut towns are deciding whether to tear their dams down.

“Our dams are getting older and our storms are getting bigger,” said Tom Morgart, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We saw this year how much rainfall Connecticut got, and those large rain events are what cause dams to fail.”

Just last month, the Dana Dam in Wilton came down, allowing the Norwalk River to flow freely after roughly 80 years. Local environmental experts said the dam was filled with contaminated sediment that could cause the dam to overflow, and that it was also disrupting the movement of fish upstream from the Long Island Sound.

The removal of a dam can help the landscape resettle into its natural state and bring environmental benefits.

In 2019, The Nature Conservancy decided to remove its first dam in Litchfield County, the Old Papermill Pond Dam, to restore the ecosystem and natural habitat.

“It’s really the dam owner’s decision, but we do point out that for connectivity of that aquatic resource and to relieve them of the responsibility of maintaining that dam, they may consider removing that dam,” said Lee.

In Ridgefield, another potential dam decommissioning on the Norwalk River caused backlash from residents. The dam was initially constructed in the 1970s as a flood-control measure. However, in 2004, the dam moved from a significant hazard classification to high hazard, the most dangerous hazard classification. If the dam were to fail, a hydrologic study estimate suggested that up to 24 people could be killed downstream.

This marked the first time in Connecticut that the state Natural Resources Conservation Service has recommended that a dam be decommissioned, according to Morgart.

Asset vs. cost

At an upcoming meeting, the Town Council will hear the benefits and drawbacks of both decisions before choosing one. The council will also have a public hearing to give residents a chance to voice their opinion.

“I’m very much in favor of keeping the dam,” said Bass, who pointed out the dam’s “wonderful recreational use.”

“I think it’s a beautiful asset the town has had for decades.”

But repairs also come with added maintenance costs down the road and would take about six months to complete.

Either way, the town is going to have to deal with their dam before it becomes unstable.

“It’s time to spend the money,” Healy told the council.