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CT Construction Digest Thursday August 5, 2021

$13 million solar project backed by Danbury advisory group, promising $700K in yearly energy savings

Rob Ryser

DANBURY - An advisory group of city leaders backed a $13 million solar panel project expected to save taxpayers $700,000 annually in long term energy costs.

The unanimous backing by the advisory group clears the way for the City Council to approve the contract as soon as September to install solar panels on the roofs of five schools and Danbury Library.

Danbury Mayor Joe Cavo is behind the project because of its “tremendous savings going forward.”

Under the plan, the city would be reimbursed $8 million in state construction grants to put solar panels on Broadview, Rogers Park and Westside middle schools, King Street Primary School, and Danbury High School.

The city would pay $5 million to put solar panels on Danbury Library - a cost that is expected to be made up in electric savings over nine years.

Ellsworth Avenue and Park Avenue elementary schools already have solar panels. Other schools with older roofs that need to be replaced are not thought to be good candidates, city officials said.

During a discussion by the advisory group in July, Aaron Alibro, a representative from consultant Johnson Controls, Inc., told members that “the energy production savings is guaranteed with a 25-year warranty.”

The city would start enjoying its energy savings after the project was paid off, said David St. Hilaire, the city’s finance director, during the July advisory group meeting.

The project could be completed by next summer.

The idea got its start from discussions between city officials, school board members and a consultant about “a project that would be energy efficient and cost effective,” Hilaire said.

Hilaire added that the discussion could lead to similar initiatives.

“We’re not looking at this as a one-time thing,” Hilaire told The News-Times earlier this month.

Torrington council moves housing project forward despite objections

Emily M. Olson

TORRINGTON — A row of old mill buildings on Water and Church streets could become a new housing development with underground parking, walking trails and a swimming pool.

A development group led by Paul Janerico, owner of Water’s Way and Paydirt LLC, presented the City Council with a concept design of the properties at 199 Water St., formerly known as the Hotchkiss Bros. factory, north to 229 Church St., formerly known as the Minetto building.

“We’re going to build something with a lot of respect to what’s there,” Janerico said. “We’re very excited. We bought the first property in 2017, and bought the Church Street property in 2018.”

The plan calls for 155 apartments, ranging from studios tofour-bedroom units. The project will include razing some of the more damaged sections of the buildings and restoring others that can be saved, Janerico said.

The project proposes having a retail store area, restaurants, and amenities for the tenants such as dog-washing stations, a gym, a community room, a swimming pool and hot tub, according to the concept drawings.

“We’ve assembled a strong, knowledgeable team of professionals to do this design, and we’ve worked with Mark McEachern from the Torrington Historical Society, because it’s got quite a history, dating back to the mill days,” Janerico said. “Our vision is to rehab the mill buildings, remove areas that are in unsafe conditions, and save some of the key elements of the Minetto building.”

Mayor Elinor Carbone, who has been working with Water’s Way on the preliminary plans, reminded the council that Janerico’s proposal is not affordable housing, but will be sold at market value. She also said the existing properties collect little tax revenue, and that the project is a way to continue the city’s mission to revitalize the city and provide better housing for people seeking a home in Torrington.

“The current tax revenue is $15,183, and with a cost analysis, to retain some semblance of safety, those costs far exceed $15,000,” the mayor said. “A market analysis we did asked us where we wanted to focus our investments, and the analysis shows there is a demand for multifamily housing, and that people supported the need for 288 additional apartments in Torrington — not single-family housing, but apartments.

“We also learned that during the pandemic, according to a New York Times study, that we were the third community for relocation from New York City.

“Everything we’ve learned indicates that people are looking for housing first, and then the jobs will follow,” the mayor said. “Here we are, post-pandemic, and the state Department of Labor says that in our area, there are 1,563 unfilled jobs. Broken down by industry, there are jobs in health care, retail, tourism, food service, construction. ... Clearly, jobs exist here, and housing is a desperate need. How do we keep young families here or bring them here with a quality of life. ... If we do this, we will become a destination.”

Architect Paolo Campos reviewed the concept plan with the council. “Our wheelhouse is historic preservation, so this is a sweet spot for us,” he said.

“We don’t want a cookie-cutter approach to this housing, because it doesn’t fit,” he said. “The units are diverse; some are on the rooftop, with terraces overlooking the Naugatuck River. We also want this to be environmentally sustainable ... it will be all electric, with generators for emergency power. It’s a trend the building industry is heading in.”

Councilors, BOE chairman object

Despite the developers’ enthusiasm, there were many objections. Board of Education Chairwoman Fiona Cappabianca wanted to know how the project would affect the schools population, and council members Sharon Waagner and Paul Cavagnero said the mayor should have included the council in her discussions beforehand.

“Why were there so many discussions on this before the City Council heard about it?” Cavagnero said. “If this model goes south, can this plan be changed to affordable housing? What if the investors pull out? ... We should table this. .... There’s no way I’m going to support any Memorandum of Understanding from the council.”

Waagner said she received a number of phone calls from concerned residents about the proposal, which was previewed in an area news outlet last week. “My phone started ringing,” she said. “I didn’t know about it.”

Cappabianca pointed to the ongoing Pennrose housing project on Franklin Street, which will have 60 apartments. “Water’s Way came a few years ago about this, and I was against it because of its impact to the schools. When Pennrose was proposed, I spoke about the impact on schools, and we are now considering 155 units on a 3.2-acre parcel,” she said.

“This will become a liability to Torrington when (our) resources exceed what the city has coming in,” Cappabianca said, referring to the number of students that could join the school district and increase costs, including special education.

“Public transportation will also be needed,” she said, referring to a statement from Janerico that residents at the new housing would be able to walk to work. “What jobs are they walking to?” she asked. “What investment will be required for public transportation?”

Carbone defended the city’s work with Water’s Way, and said the project was a way to save a historic property and bring revenue to the city. “I met with Water’s Way in 2019, we saw what they were proposing, and we were interested,” she said. “Then the pandemic hit, and this year, when they contacted us, they said they were ready to sit with the City Council, but that they needed assurance that the city was going to back them up. This is the first phase of this.

“If we don’t work with the developer now to save this property, it will be too late,” the mayor said. “I have concerns of this property surviving another winter. ... I believe this will improve the city’s tax revenue, long term.”

Carbone said she has also joined the Northwest Transit District, to make the city’s needs known regarding public transportation.

The next step

Water’s Way has not filed any permits with the city’s planning office. Campos said it is ready to begin that process after securing the MOU with the City Council.

City Council member Ann Ruwet was supportive. “I for one am very excited. Thanks for your interest in Torrington,” she said. “(Ths property has) been an eyesore for years. It’s very much needed.”

The council approved the MOU request 3-2, with Ruwet, Frank Rubino and Drake Waldron voting yes, and Cavagnero and Waagner voting no. The MOU is in place for 24 months. If it hasn’t progressed within that time, the developer will have to discuss the plan with the council again.

“I will vote continuously against this project until my questions are answered,” Cavagnero said.

New Haven residents cry foul on planned massive Wooster Square development

Mark Zaretsky

NEW HAVEN — Not so fast.

That’s the plea from members of the Downtown Wooster Square Community Management Team and others in the community about the proposed 186-unit apartment project off Fair and Union streets on the edge of Wooster Square.

A group of leaders that includes Ian Dunn, chairman of the management team, Anstress Farwell of the New Haven Urban Design League and community members Chris Ozyck and Claudette Kidd are calling for the Board of Zoning Appeals to reopen its public hearing on the project and allow more discussion to be entered on the record.

“It looks like this might soon be the densest neighborhood in New Haven,” with 155 units per acre, Dunn said Tuesday. “Our executive board met on this yesterday.”

He said that while “management teams don’t have any legal right to be involved ... we think that the community deserves to be part of the process, in its initial stages.”

Farwell said her concerns are “pretty numerous and pretty universal. There isn’t one measure of what’s being proposed, from its design to its density, that is in keeping with the community, she said.

“What we’re trying to do is reopen the hearing at BZA, which can be done,” Farwell said. “They can choose to do this. This developer wants to increase (density) by 33 percent and he’s offering nothing,” she said, “and he’s offering no reason for it except it’s what they want to do.”

Epimoni Corp., led by principal Darren Seid, currently is building Olive and Wooster — 299 luxury apartments bound by 44 Olive St. and 87 Union St. and intersected by Wooster Street. They are scheduled for a soft opening in November.

The new proposal is for a new, seven-story, 186-unit, 157,895-square-foot, mixed-use structure at 20 and 34 Fair St. with 1,106 square feet dedicated to retail space 6,709 square feet dedicated to common amenity space, 29,371 square feet dedicated to parking and utility space, 8,686 square feet dedicated to courtyards and 150,080 square feet dedicated to residential space, according to a City Plan document.

It would feature a public plaza greenway along a reclaimed Fair Street that the developer would give to the city through a long-term easement.

Those calling for more input — who don’t call it a greenway — spelled out what they’re seeking.

“Community leaders are requesting that the New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals reopen the hearing on the project,” they said in a release, calling it “massive and uncharacteristic of the area at 155 units per acre.”

“The development abandons long-held plans and community expectations for rebuilding a strong and efficient system of complete streets in the area,” it said.

The project with its “enormous increase in housing density and parking expansion in the area,” was tied to plans to reconnect the abandoned section of Fair Street into the public street network, it said.

Seid, of New York City-based Epimoni Corp., said much of what the community members are seeking in terms additional public input “is customarily done in the site plan approval process, and we intend to do that during the course of the process.”

The project will go back to the City Plan Commission for site plan approval.

“I’m pretty certain all of these items are addressed through the remainder of the process,” Seid said. “There is opportunity for a public hearing. There is a traffic study that will be done. We’re happy to involve them in the next phases. There is going to be plenty of opportunity for the public to get involved.”

Seid said in a statement that he appreciates the work done by Alder Carmen Rodriguez, D-6, the surrounding wards’ alders, the Hill South Community Management Team, Downtown Wooster Square Community Management Team, local business owners and residents, who “have all participated in the planning & zoning process of 20 and 34 Fair Street thus far.”

Rodriguez “met with us on site for a tour of the prospective project and was shown conceptual plans and renderings. Subsequently a special community meeting ... was arranged with this project as the only presentation.”

He then met with the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team in a 2-hour Zoom forum June 17, Seid said. The BZA then held a public hearing July 13, closing the hearing at the end of it, he said.

Beyond the planning process, “we are extremely excited to be in a position to bring the Fair Street Greenway to Wooster Square,” Seid said. “We believe this will foster a much needed connection between Wooster Square, The Hill, and Downtown for all of us to enjoy now and for many future generations.

“We feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful achievement for the City of New Haven,” he said.

But what people in the neighborhood see is that “this is a tons of units without a lot of parking,” said Dunn. “Wooster Square has a fairly unique character ... all of these income levels living right next to one another ... and the neighborhood is starting to change.”

He said it’s disheartening “to see it breezing through City Plan and BZA ... It looks like they’re proposing Fair Street to become a vehicular lane” while calling it a “greenway,” he said.

In addition to seeking to reopen the public hearing, community members want to know “what the Greenway does, how they’re going to deal with traffic and parking, and how this kind of fits in with city,” Dunn said.

To him, the greenway “looks like a driveway,” he said.

“If we’re giving a developer relief from zoning, you have to assume that there’s a public good that we’re getting out of it, and what we’re seeing is a lot of hardship for the neighborhood from a business that’s looking to create wealth for private investors,” Dunn said.

Farwell said that according to the plan, “They say there’s going to provide 3/4 of an acre of open space,” but “it took us two weeks” to figure out where it is because “they’re including a travel lane as open space, and it’s not even a greenway according to the standard definitions of a greenway.”

She said the project “seems to be marketed to transient people ... not the typical New Haven people who might have a family and kids.”

“It’s just another giant block of housing,” Farwell said. “It just isn’t the kind of building that the city should be building.”

However, Michael Piscitelli, the city’s acting director of economic development, said, “The Epimoni plan is consistent with the Wooster Square Planning Study, both in terms of the land use and the longstanding effort to reopen Fair Street as a connection between Wooster Square and Downtown.

“While there is no mechanism to reopen the public hearing, we are all committed to ongoing collaboration with the neighborhood as this project still needs several plan approvals,” Piscitelli said. “As a more general point, this is a long-term partnership with the developer who will continue to be very responsive to the community.”

City Plan Director Aicha Woods told Dunn in a recent email that “robust and early community input can help any development project best serve the community it is located in.” But the BZA’s public hearing — and the record — was closed before BZA referred the matter to the City Plan Commission to issue and advisory report.

“The City Plan Commission reviewed the matter, approved the advisory report ... and the matter will be back at BZA for a vote, taking into account the applicant’s presentation, the public hearing record and the CPC advisory report,” Woods said.

If approved by the BZA, “the site plan and design will be back before the City Plan Commission in the near future for Site Plan Review,” Woods said. “While Site Plan Review does not typically have a public hearing, members of the public can request a public hearing for compelling reasons.

“Another avenue for input might be to have another community meeting with the development team to hear neighbor concerns prior to Site Plan Review,” she said. “This would give neighbors an opportunity to weigh in (non-binding) prior to detail site plans being fully developed for Site Plan Review.”

Historic Middletown factory receives $1 million revitalization grant

Adam Hushin

MIDDLETOWN — U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Middletown officials toured the R.M. Keating Historical Enterprise Park Wednesday to celebrate $1 million in federal funding to be used to continue the property’s revitalization.

The former North End Remington Rand typewriter factory is located at 180 Johnson St.

DeLauro, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the rest of the House of Representatives passed seven government spending bills with funding for community projects nationwide.

The bills still have to pass through the Senate, but DeLauro emphasized they have bipartisan support. She expects that to happen sometime between October and the end of the year.

“The momentum is now very much with it, and this is a big push in the right direction,” DeLauro said.

Middletown Director of Planning, Conservation and Development Joe Samolis said that the money will be used to make more of the building accessible. This includes window, roofing and electricity repairs, as well as the installation of a new elevator.

“With this additional funding, we’ll be able to fix some existing issues and expand,” Samolis said.

The building houses close to 20 businesses with over 100 total employees, including a gym, two breweries, cidery, construction contractors, manufacturers and more, Samolis said. The $1 million will allow at least six more tenants to potentially move in, including food vendors, he said.

The project will bring new jobs and commerce to the area, which pleased Mayor Ben Florsheim. “I think this is a huge win for residents,” he said.

No taxpayer money will be used for the project, he said.

“The hope is that now that Washington [D.C.] is covering more investment locally, then that’s less money the taxpayers have to spend,” Florsheim said. “That money can now be spent where it’s needed elsewhere.”

Samolis said that with this particular building, no taxpayer money has been used in the revitalization process, dating back to when the city acquired the property in 1999. Since then, the city has made around $75,000 annually from the property.

“Really, it’s been a work in progress since that time,” he said.

Florsheim said that Middletown’s revitalization of this property has served as an example for the rest of the state in repurposing old, vacant manufacturing buildings.

“It was kind of radical at the time, but has probably led the way for similar projects in the state,” Florsheim said.

This is just one of many projects in DeLauro’s district that will receive funding from the community project bills that recently passed through the House.

DeLauro said that nine other projects will be funded in her district, including a $3,412,455 allotment for the town of Durham to supply clean drinking water to areas that have experienced contamination.

“The whole point was to work with communities to do what they’ve wanted to do, but couldn’t afford to,” DeLauro said.

Samolis said the city is currently working on preparing engineering specifics so that they are ready to go out to bid when the funding does become available.