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CT Construction Digest Thursday April 14, 2022

CT lawmakers tout funds for infrastructure: It’s about roads, bridges, airports, jobs — and faster trains with 5G

Abigail Brone

GUILFORD — In his first public appearance since testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Gov. Ned Lamont teamed with part of the state’s Congressional delegation to tout the $250 million the state will receive each year, for the next five years, as part last year’s historic infrastructure bill.

“Look, we’re an old state, and I’m old. I’ve been hearing about infrastructure since Ike,” Lamont said, referring to President Dwight Eisenhower. “Everybody talks about it; they don’t get it done. President Joe Biden and our delegation, and a bipartisan group in the Congress has got it done. And this is going to be transformative for our state.”

Lamont gathered Wednesday outside the Guilford train station with state Transportation Commissioner Joe Giulietti, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and U.S. Reps. John Larson (D-1st), Joe Courtney (D-2nd), Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd) and Jim Himes (D-4th).

Planned improvements to the state’s rail system will shave 15 minutes off travel time from New Haven and Stamford to New York, Lamont said. Additionally, $20 million was set aside for the addition of 5G on the state’s trains.

“So, you’ll be able to use the train just as fast and the same type of internet connections as you have in your office,” Lamont said.

Blumenthal called the investment in the state’s infrastructure “a game-changer” and “in the immortal words of Joe Biden, it is a big friggin’ deal.”

In total, the state will receive $5.4 billion from the infrastructure bill, to benefit all aspects of the state’s transportation systems.

“We know what the infrastructure bill is, that’s $5.4 billion to our state, which is about roads, it’s about bridges, it’s about modernizing airports, it is about jobs, and it’s going to make us more productive as a state, which means that we are going to grow,” DeLauro said.

The increase in annual funding will allow the state to build necessary connections and fill in gaps in infrastructure across the state, in turn encouraging more residents and companies to move into Connecticut, Courtney said.

“The overall package is the largest transportation infrastructure bill since the Eisenhower administration,” Courtney said. “The $250 million that was announced for Connecticut in terms of mass transit, public transit, again, just to underscore the point, it’s $50 million higher than last year, 2021. … This is going to be a recurring appropriation in funding.”

The $250 million amounts to a 25 percent increase from the 2021 infrastructure funding for the state, Courtney said.

Under the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year, Connecticut will get $250 million each year for the next five years, Giulietti said.

“It’s sustainable and it goes forward for five years,” Giulietti said. “What they’ve done is, they’ve set the benchmark and allowed us to plan out those five years, so the projects you were afraid to go and take on because you didn’t know if the funding would be there is now sustainable through those five years.”

Wednesday’s discussion was centered around the planned improvements for the state’s trains and buses, including upgrades to the state’s public buses to be electric vehicles.

“We’re gearing up to put all the federal transportation dollars coming our way to work. These critical resources will help advance Governor Lamont’s vision of improving the region’s rail network, putting equity, safety and sustainability on the forefront of all our efforts,” Giulietti said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have gotten federal money in several of our cities to advance that as we’ve come up with a plan to make sure all of the buses that we operate as a state for the state of Connecticut are going to be electrified within the next 10 years.”

Among the existing projects whose timelines were expedited by the additional $5 billion are replacing the bridge over Metro-North Railroad in West Haven, which is expected to cost about $85 million, reconfiguring the Route 17 entrance ramp in Middletown and installing and replacing various traffic control signals in districts one and two, according to DOT documents.

The projects whose timelines were impacted by the additional funding will cost about $255.5 million but is not directly related to the $250 million to be put toward trains and buses, DOT spokesperson Josh Morgan said.

The infrastructure funding will also allow for expanded projects not currently budgeted for, such as bridge preservation, highway drainage improvements, the roundabout program and the new bus rapid transit program, according to the DOT documents.

By Joseph Villanova, Journal Inquirer

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing Wednesday night on a plan to develop 300 acres of the former Rentschler airfield.

Pratt & Whitney agreed to sell the parcel to Boston-based National Development in November 2021. The developers filed applications for a zone change to the Design Development District where the property lies on March 2.

At a special Town Council meeting on Feb. 8, developers said their proposal would split up the lot into two major areas — a smaller “gateway” mixed-use zone closer to Silver Lane, and a larger “logistics center” further south.

The submitted master plan for the site divides the area into five parcels.

Two larger parcels designated for “light industrial-logistics,” totaling approximately 263 acres, would include 2.5 million square feet of warehouse space split between two buildings. A smaller 2.36-acre parcel is designated for a service and repair facility.

An 18.35-acre parcel, currently occupied by Cabela’s, is proposed for non-specific retail and mixed-use developments, and a 17.58-acre parcel would have two 100,000 square-foot buildings for “high-tech manufacturing and research/development.”

No potential tenants or specific uses have been provided for the proposed buildings.

The developers’ proposed changes to the Design Development District include specifying one passenger vehicle parking space per 5,000 square feet for the logistics facilities, and one per 1,000 square feet for the high-tech manufacturing and research buildings.

The two warehouses would require at least 500 passenger vehicle parking spaces, and the two high-tech buildings would need 200.

Tractor-trailer parking spaces are shown on the master plan for the two warehouses, but the number of trailer spaces required is not specified in the master plan.

The developers said at the Feb. 8 Town Council meeting that the project would create about 2,000 permanent jobs and generate over $4 million in tax revenue to the town, as well as spurring new development and redevelopment.

Positions generated by the logistics warehouses would pay $20 an hour or more and provide benefits to employees; positions for the high-tech facilities are typically higher pay, officials said.

The PZC on Wednesday will also hold a public hearing on a proposed Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen restaurant on Main Street, a zone change to convert a building occupied by YMCA into a childcare center, and a text amendment to establish provisions for accessory dwelling units.

The 2,300-square-foot Popeye’s restaurant, to be located at 317 Main St. next to the Shell gas station, would feature a drive-thru.

The application for the YMCA building states that the zone change would allow the organization to move their childcare center from 70A Canterbury St. to 770 Main St., next to Town Hall, placing it on the town’s main bus line and allowing for facility upgrades.

The text amendment, proposed by the PZC, would define regulations for the construction of accessory dwelling units, a separate dwelling unit built attached to, or on the lot of an existing single-family home.

Michael Puffer

A114,860-square-foot industrial building in Plainville that has long housed Walker Crane & Rigging Corp. sold for $11.2 million in a deal recorded by the town March 14.

Royal Realty LLC sold the building and associated 11.1-acre property at 50 Farmington Valley Drive to Fifty F V D Industrial LTD, of Texas.

Royal Realty’s principal is Edward James Roy, of New Hartford. He is also president of Walker Crane & Rigging Corp. According to its website, the company dates to 1883 and currently employs 40 full-time staff, providing crane service, rigging, machinery moving, warehousing and heavy hauling throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The buying company formed Feb. 24, according to state business records and traces back through two limited liability companies to BWC Willhurst LLC, whose principal is Joel Collier of Bryan, Texas.

Attempts to reach Roy and Collier were not immediately successful.

Plainville Town Planner Mark DeVoe said Roy informed him he was selling the business with plans to retire. The business would sell to one buyer, the property another. DeVoe said Roy told him the new owner of Walker Crane would lease the property and continue operations. Roy planned to continue with the company for “some time” to ensure a smooth transition, DeVoe said.

“The business will remain unchanged, and the clients will remain the same,” DeVoe said. 

Verónica Del Valle

STAMFORD — For one proposed building on Stamford's East Side, third time may be the charm.

Developer Wellbuilt on Monday pitched an updated plan for turning a block of East Main Street into an apartment complex with potential retail space lining the street.

"They asked me what the community needed," East Side city Rep. James Grunburger, D-18, said during the public hearing before touting the board's "opportunity to usher in young developers that really care about our community."

Zoning board members have weighed the East Main Street project twice before. Wellbuilt pitched the first iteration in 2018, and the project has grown since then, as the developer purchased more of the abutting property. The latest version incorporates one final piece of Lafayette Street not included in prior approvals.

Including the new addition, the developer expects the final building to include 130 new apartments — 18 of which are designated for low-income residents — and approximately 3,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. The previous version planned for 85 one- and two-bedroom apartments, with 10 set as affordable.

According to city zoning regulations, the developer must provide more affordable housing units than traditionally required for new projects because it demolishes pre-existing housing. Since the plan is to raze 17 apartments with rents below market rate, the company must build an additional deed-restricted unit affordable to someone making 65 percent of Stamford's median income for every two it removes.

The developer offered to build five studio, eight one-bedroom and five two-bedroom apartments on-site to fulfill the affordability requirement; the zoning board must approve any alternate mix of affordable apartments before they are built.

Residents who commented on the plan during the hearing were in favor of it. Despite the public endorsements, the zoning board probed the developer's land-use consultant Raymond Mazzeo on everything from building materials to flooding. East Main Street is particularly challenged by stormwater runoff, and neighbors have expressed fears over development and flooding at meetings past.

Even still, a handful of community members from across the city have thrown their support behind the proposed project, even at its bigger scale. A potential plan to redesign the land under Interstate-95 directly behind the project and turn it into a public amenity space drew enthusiasm from Grunburger, who heads the neighborhood nonprofit East Side Partnership, in particular.

"They wanted to get people out of their cars, they care about the carbon footprint ... and I'm very encouraged that they're exploring the 'under-the-overpass' movement," Grunburger said.

One resident of the developer's other Stamford project, The Stillwater on the West Side, praised the company's commitment to the neighborhood during the hearing.

"I came here November of last year, and I'm truly blessed with the building," Doreen Harrison told the board. "And we need more like this."

West Side activist Cynthia Bowser — who has become a fixture of zoning board meetings in recent years — echoed Harrison's remarks. Bowser emphasized that The Stillwater has not exacerbated any of her neighborhood's parking problems, something residents often cite as a concern when developers propose projects.

"When things work well, we need to say they work well," she said.

If approved, development "would likely begin in fall of 2022 with an 18-month construction schedule to be completed by the spring of 2024," according to documents submitted by the developer.

The board will revisit the East Main Street project at its next meeting, scheduled for April 25.

New Haven to realign lower State Street with ‘game-changer’ $5.35 million state grant

Mark Zaretsky

NEW HAVEN — The city will use a $5.35 million state grant to realign and redevelop lower State Street from Audubon Street to George Street and open several existing parking lots for transit-oriented, mixed-use development, Mayor Justin Elicker announced, calling it “truly a game-changer.”

The project has the potential to add 652,000 square feet of development to downtown, including 447 new residential units and 80,000 square feet of retail, Elicker said at a news conference adjacent to the entrance to the State Street rail station at the northwest corner of State and Chapel streets.

Any housing that gets built within the corridor will have affordable housing included as a component, Elicker and state Department of Community and Economic Development Deputy Commissioner Alexandra Daum both said.

“This multimillion-dollar investment is a game-changer for lower State Street in the Downtown and Wooster Square neighborhoods,” Elicker said in a subsequent release.

“The realignment of State Street in this critical commercial and transit hub will help jump-start new opportunities for inclusive growth and housing, generate new tax revenue to pay for essential city services, improve safety for residents through traffic-calming measures, and improve connections to the Farmington Canal greenway,” he said.

The city “is grateful to Gov. (Ned) Lamont and (DECD) Commissioner (David) Lehman for their ongoing support of New Haven,” Elicker said. “My gratitude also extends to the leadership of Sen. (Martin) Looney, Rep. (Roland) Lemar, Alder (Eli) Sabin and the community that came together to develop the Wooster Square Planning Study, which recommended new growth on these very underused parking lots.”

Lamont’s office created the Connecticut Communities Challenge Grant Program last year to fund a wide range of revitalization projects that improve the livability and vibrancy of communities throughout the state, with the goal of creating approximately 3,000 new jobs.

Lamont announced last week that the state would award $45 million to 12 cities and towns, including the State Street project in New Haven.

Other grants were awarded for projects in Hartford, Middletown, Stamford, Norwalk, East Hartford, Killingly, Mansfield, Middletown, New London, Norwich, Winchester and Windsor.

“With a few adjustments to the flow of traffic on State Street, this part of New Haven has the potential to be redeveloped into a bustling neighborhood that is active with retail space in a walkable community with lots of new housing,” Lamont said in the release.

“I am glad the state can partner with the city and Mayor Elicker to help this proposed project become a reality,” he said.

As part of the project, the city will work with existing stakeholders in and around the eight-block stretch of State Street, including the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen and Liberty Safe Haven, as well as existing small businesses such as Cafe Nine and Sharon Joy Salon, the release said.

“Projects like the one in New Haven demonstrate how important public-private partnerships are to driving local economic development and community revitalization efforts,” said Daum. “I firmly believe collaborative planning and investment leads to more impactful proposals and results.

“When complete, these 12 projects will expand Connecticut’s housing stock, create jobs, boost the vibrancy of our downtowns and generally make Connecticut communities even greater places to live, work, and play,” she said.

Beyond that, the project in New Haven will put “more feet on the street,” she said.

The alders present were pleased to see the project move forward.

“I am very excited to work with my Downtown and Wooster Square neighbors, Mayor Elicker and his team and my colleagues on the Board of Alders to bring our community together and make this crucial stretch of State Street safer and more vibrant for everyone,” said Sabin, in whose 7th Ward much of the area involved is located.

“I am very grateful to our state partners for providing the funding we need to make it a reality” Sabin said. “This project will help us achieve the goals of our Downtown for All plan of building affordable housing, creating good jobs, bringing in tax revenue, improving public safety, and reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Hill Alder Carmen Rodriguez, D-6, said during the new conference that “we’re very excited to be able to work with Alder Sabin ... to make it a downtown for all,” according to a video recording posted on Facebook by the New Haven Independent.

“We want people to be able to walk” and “we want inclusivity,” Rodriguez said. “We want inclusivity. We want people to walk from Dwight, from the Hill, and come here, shop, eat and enjoy ... with safety measures put in place” so they can feel safe while walking or riding their bicycles, she said.

The planned redesign would support additional commuters using the State Street Station, which sits in the middle of the planned project area and provides thousands of rail and transit connections to jobs all over Connecticut, said New Haven Parking Authority Executive Director Doug Hausladen.

“The New Haven Parking Authority will continue to support the redevelopment of our surface parking lots by partnering with developers in the corridor at our recently renovated State Street Garage at 270 State St.,” Hausladen said.

Litchfield’s Bantam School project priced at $10M


LITCHFIELD – An overhaul of the former Bantam School that would allow the building to be used for municipal purposes for years to come likely would cost about $10 million, the Board of Finance learned Monday.

Word of the potential cost came from finance member Samuel Olmstead, chairman of the town facilities review committee that is preparing to recommend a renovation to the Board of Selectmen.

Olmstead’s committee has spent months considering options for the former school that was designed by famed modernist architect Marcel Breuer, built in the 1950s, and houses several town offices and the Bantam post office.

The committee, Olmstead said, is ready to issue a request for proposal from architects and engineers who would be charged with evaluating the building and determining how much a renovation would cost. A study, Olmstead said, would cost in the range of $200,000.

Olmstead put the projected cost of a renovation at “upward of $10 million.” The estimate appeared to shock at least two members of the finance board.

“There is absolutely no way that I can see voters under the current economic circumstances supporting that,” Richard Quay said. “I don’t see the Board of Finance approving it either.”

Finance member James Stedronsky, replying to Olmstead’s claim the Breuer building is “gracious,” said other Breuer buildings in town, such as Litchfield High School/Middle School, have been disasters because of their flat roofs and poor insulation.

“They are not well-suited for New England,” Stedronsky said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in that building. It’s far from gracious.”

Most town residents, “could care less about Marcel Breuer and this mid-century modernist stuff,” Quay said.

The facilities review committee should first conduct a cost and benefit analysis of what a renovated building would provide for the town, Stedronsky said.

“The idea of spending $200,000 (on architectural and engineering consultants) is nutty to me,” he added.

The facilities review committee, Olmstead said, supports hiring consultants.

“I think there’s a benefit to the town and so does the committee,” he said.

The former school lacks insulation in its concrete block walls, has single-pane windows and has mechanical systems that are on their last legs, not to mention a flat roof. An upgrade of the building is necessary if the town is going to maintain its use, Selectman Jeffrey Zullo told the finance board.

“If we’re going to keep it, we can’t keep it as it is,” said Zullo, who serves on the facilities review committee. “It’s on the precipice of disaster.”

Zullo said he, too, was shocked by the $10 million estimate.

“I’m not sold on the number,” he said.