CT Construction Digest Thursday July 16, 2020
Looks like the bond commission agenda shorts DOT’s request by $95 million. This is money that the Department needs for design, right of way, and modifications to keep the project pipeline going. It looks like all of the funding to keep the project pipeline moving has been cut by OPM. This will not affect construction that is underway, but if the Department falls behind in project development, we are going to take a reduction at some point.
Bristol City Council approves property tax agreement for DoubleTree, hotel plans to expand
BRIAN M. JOHNSON
BRISTOL - The City Council voted to unanimously approve a real property tax assessment fixing agreement for the DoubleTree by Hilton at its meeting Tuesday. The hotel plans to expand with a $25 million project, adding “Home2 Suites” and a “Bristol Event Center” conference center.
The project encompasses all or a portion of four properties on Century Drive in Bristol, including a portion of the existing DoubleTree hotel site. The parcels have been cleared of vegetation and the 18-month development project is underway. The project will be privately funded by the owners responsible for the 2013 expansion and renovations of the DoubleTree Hotel. The whole project has been approved by the planning and zoning board.
Prior to the vote Justin Malley, executive director of the Economic and Community Development Department, gave the council a presentation detailing the project and the agreement.
“We have been working for two years on this project,” Malley said. “All local land use approvals, such as Planning and Zoning, have been secured and construction on the site has begun. They are clearing the land now. The abatement was approved by the Economic and Community Development Board before it was forwarded to the city council for approval. This particular type of incentive can really help to get projects of this magnitude off the ground. The taxpaying schedule was done in a way which was respectful and which was a good compromise.”
Also there for the presentation were James Frenis, CEO of prestige hospitality group which provides oversight for the hotel, William Mascetti, general contractor with ACG North America whose office is located in Bristol and Lynn Dell, general manager of DoubleTree by Hilton, who will also oversee the Bristol Events Center complex upon its completion.
Frenis said the expansion represents a commitment to “first class accommodations and events” in Bristol. He thanked Malley who he said was “instrumental” in guiding them through the process of making the project a reality.
“Every time I called he was right there,” Frenis said.
Frenis also thanked Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, whom he said met with him several times and gave him the confidence that “Bristol is open for business.”
Dell said that she has had a “great experience” in Bristol for the past eight years.
“I have seen our business grow and evolve and I have seen what it was capable of,” she said. “You have all been so supportive and I’m very excited to see this project move forward. Last year we finished the year in the top 10 of hotels in the U.S.”
Mascetti said the project is based on feedback of customers in the region. It comes out of a desire to build on the success DoubleTree has had in Bristol. It includes the construction of a 93-suite “Home 2 Suites by Hilton” hotel.
“One of the fastest growing brands in Hilton’s history, it will feature all-suite stylish accommodations with flexible guest room configurations and inspired amenities,” Mascetti said.
The conference and event center will be 50,000 square feet. It will include two hospitality suites, a ballroom and outside seating. It will be able to accommodate up to 750 people for a conference style meeting of 450 people for sit-down dinner events or weddings.
“The innovative and chic space, combined with sophisticated high-tech audio/visual capabilities, is currently unmatched in central Connecticut,” Mascetti said.
The construction will also include an underground parking garage and pedestrian walkways, which will connect the two new hospitality venues with the existing DoubleTree hotel.
“Elegant and expansive outdoor gathering areas will complement the indoor venues, providing relaxing fresh-air options for individuals and small groups, private parties and photographs,” Mascetti said.
Mascetti concluded that the project will have a “beautiful presence” on Century Drive.
“We’re very thankful and proud to be bringing out next jewel to the city,” he said.
Zoppo-Sassu thanked the presenters for their commitment to the project.
“DoubleTree has been a major part of our local economy,” she said. “It is a great testament to everyone working together to grow our grand list.”
Newly-built Newington Town Hall and Community Center riddled with problems, yet to be cleared
NEWINGTON – As town staff planned to begin their official move into the newly-built Town Hall and Community Center this week, they learned the facility is riddled with problems and has yet to be cleared for occupancy.
Code compliance issues, a generator that powers less than a quarter of the building, water damage from recent rainstorms, along with improperly placed security cameras have all been reported.
“This is a very expensive building; it should be perfect and it’s not by any standpoint,” said town manager Keith Chapman, joined by Mark Schweitzer, project manager with Colliers International.
The elevator has not been certified for operation and other areas are not up to code, they told councilors.
“The certificate of occupancy was scheduled to be done this week; that’s what they’re working to achieve,” Schweitzer said.
Newington Human Services’ Food Bank and Newington Public Schools were going to be the first to move into their new offices. Chapman asked the building inspector and fire marshal to sign off on the facility being “substantially complete” before town and school employees can begin working inside of it. That has not happened yet.
“If we don’t move into the new building as scheduled we stand to lose $40 to $50,000 a month,” Chapman said.
Among the outstanding issues are the electrical systems, including a large generator that tests at 25 percent capacity and wireless access points and security cameras in the wrong locations. Wet floors and carpeting pose a different challenge altogether, with the potential for mold and compromised air quality in the future.
“Working as an owners’ rep and a contractor, I wouldn’t accept a building unless it was perfectly clean and unmarred,” councilor Chris Miner said.
Additionally, the pandemic has delayed the arrival of wall partitions and gym equipment, due to the shutdown of manufacturers out west.
“The new gym won’t be ready to use by August,” Chapman said. “We are supposed to move the town’s archive records into the basement storage areas. Depending on how bad water damage becomes, there could be potential damage to records that are supposed to be kept safe and secure.”
Construction broke ground in April 2019 and has continued on time for a scheduled completion date this July. Phase II – the abatement of contaminants at the existing town hall site and demolition of the old building, was supposed to begin by August and wrap up in December.
This week, as the architect, fire marshal and building inspector made their ‘punch lists’ of outstanding repairs and incomplete work items not conforming to contract specifications – officials were brought up to speed with the problems.
“It’s not normal to be scurrying around at the end of a construction project getting odds and ends done, but it did happen here,” Schweitzer said, going on to add that “the plans that went out to bid are the ones being built.”
The project was designed by architect Quisenberry-Arcari-Malik and approved by voters in a 2017 referendum. Downes Construction and sub-contractors have carried out construction according to the architect’s plans, which officials surmise may be where the problems originated.
Town officials are now considering their options and consulting with the town attorney from a legal standpoint.
“The town is being backed into a corner here by no fault of its own,” Chapman said. “I think we have to look at who was there since the beginning and who is responsible for the end result. All among the original cast of characters are gone except for the architect.”
The project was approved and broke ground under the leadership of Newington’s former facilities manager Dave Langdon and former town manager Tanya Lane, both of whom are no longer working for the town.
Langdon resigned last year and Lane was eliminated and replaced by Chapman at the start of this year.
Bond Commission to vote on $7 million to finish Preston Norwich Hospital cleanup
Preston — The state Bond Commission is expected to vote next week on the $7 million needed to finish cleaning up the former Norwich Hospital property, four months after the General Assembly approved the funding on the eve of the state shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding was requested by Preston town officials after environmental crews discovered extensive coal ash contamination throughout the property. The state decades ago had used ash from a coal-burning power plant beneath roadbeds, parking lots and building foundations.
Once the property is cleaned, the town will transfer ownership to Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, which plans a major development with commercial, recreational, residential and retail elements.
The General Assembly approved the grant on March 11 and Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill two days later. Mohegan tribal leaders were preparing to receive proposed development plans for the 393-acre property when the coronavirus hit Connecticut and disrupted government and closed both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, has led the push for the funding. Preston is not in Osten’s Senate district, but she said the former Norwich Hospital development is critical as an “economic development driver” for the entire southeastern Connecticut region.
“This bonding could not come at a better time,” Osten said Tuesday. “The region’s economy has been battered with unemployment, and tourism is at a standstill thanks to the coronavirus. This funding, which I have been seeking for more than a year, is the linchpin to private-sector development which is going to grow jobs and will be a regional engine for the economy once this pandemic has passed.”
If approved at the special Bond Commission teleconference meeting at 11 a.m. July 21, the $7 million would be provided through the state Department of Economic and Community Development and held in escrow to be used for pending remediation work “after a cost-efficient remediation plan is instituted,” the Bond Commission agenda states.
“Great news,” Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent said, “and we look forward to working with DECD to finalize the agreement documentation. Once that is done, we can begin the work again.”
The final remaining cleanup is expected to cost $9 million, including the $7 million state grant through the Bond Commission and the town’s preapproved, low-interest state loan for $2 million. Nugent said the final funding will allow environmental crews to clean up most of the development parcels on the property to residential development standards, and at least one parcel to commercial development standards.
Once the cleanup is done, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection would have to verify the cleanup was done to meet those standards, Nugent said, “at which time we can then convey the property to the tribe.”
"The Mohegan Tribal Council is excited to move forward on this regional development project once the site is ready for us," Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff for the Mohegan tribe, said in an email statement. "We appreciate the leadership by Governor Lamont that recognizes that we all stand to benefit by this moving forward."
In early March, Mohegan tribal officials said the tribe was expecting to receive a plan from a consultant to solidify the tribe’s conceptual plan for a $400 million to $600 million development on the property. The initial concept plan included sports complexes, a marina, recreation, hotels, upscale camping and senior housing. The tribe also is exploring a way to cross the river — such as a seasonal ferry, gondolas or a tram.
Osten thanked the Mohegan tribe for its “vision, commitment and patience,” and Gov. Lamont for recognizing the importance of the project and that it was the state’s responsibility to clean up the site.
“It’s always a win-win when we can clean up the environment and get a valuable, unused piece of land back on the local tax rolls, and back into private-sector development, with the ultimate benefit of more jobs for eastern Connecticut,” Osten said.
Siting Council hears revised plan, environmental concerns on proposed Waterford solar facility
Waterford — The Connecticut Siting Council held a virtual public hearing and evidentiary session Tuesday for a petition to build a solar facility in town.
Originally proposed by Greenskies Clean Energy in 2018, the company’s application was denied by the Siting Council after Waterford and Save the River-Save the Hills raised concerns ranging from the potential impact on wildlife to clear-cutting dozens of acres of forest. The developer, GRE Gacrux LLC, says the revised site plan has addressed those concerns.
Greenskies, a Connecticut company co-founded by former state Sen. Art Linares, a Republican from Westbrook, was acquired in December 2017 by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Clean Focus Yield Limited. Greenskies submitted a request to reopen the effort to build the facility in late January, as well as a new petition outlining details of the project.
Rather than the original 98 acres, the project now would cover 75 acres of space, which is part of a larger 152-acre site owned by Rosalie Irene Maguire and Todd Carl Willis between the Oil Mill and Stony brooks. The developer hired VHB, an engineering firm from Massachusetts, to rework the application to decrease its impact on wildlife and improve the stormwater management design.
The new plan also proposes to decrease the size of the project from 55,692 solar panels to 45,976. According to Greenskies Vice President of Marketing Jeff Hintzke, the project would generate 16 megawatts of energy, which can power more than 3,000 homes, helping Connecticut meet its emissions-reduction targets of 45% below 2001 levels by 2030. Developers are now providing for 10 acre-feet of basin storage instead of the initial 2.8 acre-feet. The site would use Eversource Energy’s existing substation at 325 Waterford Parkway North.
On Tuesday, VHB Project Engineer Steve Kochis and Greenskies representatives fielded questions from Siting Council members, the town of Waterford and Save the River-Save the Hills about developers’ plans to ensure construction would abide by stormwater management guidelines and avoid harming wetlands and rare species.
Kochis admitted Tuesday that the site design could be altered in the future. Town Planner Abby Piersall acknowledged Wednesday that since the site plan is subject to change, town officials are waiting to see if all their questions are answered before weighing in further.
“We’re looking at a sensitive site in a sensitive area, and the watershed, within the context of our plan of conservation and development while keeping in mind the surrounding infrastructure,” Piersall said Wednesday. “Our comments to the Council focus on those issues and raise red flags that we thought warranted further consideration.”
Kochis said no stormwater basin is within 3,000 feet of Oil Mill Brook, and the portion of the project that drained to the brook has been removed. He said developers have taken precautions to protect Stony Brook.
Both brooks are considered “critically important” to maintaining the health and functions of the surrounding watershed area, according to STR-STH and the town, as they drain into the Niantic River.
Save the River-Save the Hills Vice President Deb Moshier-Dunn has argued that Greenskies has “a bad track record” when it comes to developing solar projects, pointing to an East Lyme project developed by a company subsidiary in 2014. Because of a deficient stormwater management system, resident John Bialowans Jr. alleges his property, which sits downstream from the Walnut Hill Road development, was damaged by large amounts of stormwater runoff, destroying stream habitats for trout.
Bialowans sued in New London Superior Court in 2017 but a judge dismissed the case last December.
Moshier-Dunn has said she is worried what a potentially ill-planned stormwater management system and clear-cutting dozens of acres of land could mean for the health of the brooks and the river, which lies just 4,000 feet downstream from the proposed development.
On Wednesday, Moshier-Dunn said she was pleased that council members asked questions related to stormwater design, which she said is lacking. She said Save the River-Save the Hills is advocating for "stringent stormwater management," and that the organization became involved in Greenskies' attempt to build the solar facility as a way of trying to ensure low-impact development.
Steve Trinkaus, a civil engineer hired by the conservation organization, has said he does not believe Greenskies has adequately calculated the amount of stormwater runoff that would be generated by the development.
GRE Gacrux attorney Lee Hoffman wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to Siting Council Executive Director Melanie Bachman that Save the River-Save the Hills' claims are baseless and “troubling.”
“The vast majority of the statements made in its February 12, 2020, letter are unsupported and in many instances are incorrect,” Hoffman wrote.
Some commenters during the public hearing echoed Save the River-Save the Hills' concerns, such as lifelong East Lyme resident Michelle Williams.
“I am a supporter of clean energy and I live in a home with solar panels,” Williams said. “I care a lot about the environment, I care about clean energy, but I also care about the health of the river, and how the Niantic River’s health further impacts the health of Niantic Bay and Long Island Sound.”
Williams said she feared what may happen if runoff mitigation efforts were not maintained.
“While I oppose this application due to its location and the forest cover that it will remove from the watershed, I ask that if the siting council chooses to grant this application that a lifetime stormwater and runoff maintenance agreement be developed with firm goals, objectives and penalties,” she concluded.
Some concurred with Williams, but other commenters supported the developer's efforts because of the added solar power.
June comments from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were included for the Siting Council’s consideration. DEEP is in favor of solar power but recognizes the possible environmental impact of development.
“Bringing grid-scale renewable energy projects online is an important step forward towards a cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy future for the ratepayers of Connecticut as we move to decarbonize our electric grid,” DEEP’s letter reads. As a result of DEEP staff recommendations, “the petitioner has pulled construction away from the property boundaries and proposes to install 15 stormwater management basins throughout the project. The site plans indicate that spillways, energy dissipaters, and level spreaders will be used to slow the velocity of stormwater and eliminate point discharge.”
The Siting Council will continue the evidentiary session on Aug. 4 at 1 p.m. via Zoom.
Lamont won’t back $330M trash plant subsidy
Gov. Ned Lamont has made it crystal clear that $330 million in taxpayer funds won’t be forthcoming to help finance an overhaul of the state’s largest waste incinerator.
Unable to garner needed commitments from municipalities that use the Mid-Connecticut plant, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) voted in late May to end its effort to negotiate a redevelopment agreement with a private operator unless the state made a financial commitment by August, warning that it would have to ship trash to out-of-state landfills.
In a statement Tuesday, Lamont rejected the $330 million needed capital investment as well as shifting the state’s waste management strategy to exporting.
“I cannot support sending hundreds of millions of state taxpayer or electric ratepayer dollars to MIRA to attempt to keep a failing decades-old facility running, right here in Hartford where it impacts our vulnerable residents,” Lamont said. “A permanent trash export operation is also a nonstarter. It’s time for new ideas.”
Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, wrote to MIRA’s board on Tuesday, rejecting an alternative plan to transform the plant into a massive transfer station for shipping waste out of state.
“This alternative is inconsistent with MIRA’s statutory requirements,” Dykes wrote. “It is unclear whether DEEP will be able to issue the necessary permits without statutory changes authorizing MIRA to conduct activities that are contrary to the [state materials management strategy.]”
Dykes asked MIRA to draft, by Sept. 15, an operating plan that considers alternative mechanisms for keeping the state’s waste management system self-sufficient, with predictable costs.
Dykes said that might include unit-based pricing for solid waste disposal, greater promotion of recycling and separation of food waste for composting.
Dykes also wrote that such a plan could “arguably conform” with the state’s current waste strategy “by providing for transfer of [waste] on a time- or quantity-limited basis” so long as it was coupled with other innovative or environmentally friendly measures.