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CT Construction Digest Thursday September 8, 2022

West Haven looks to reopen Water Street amid doubts over The Haven mall project

Brian Zahn

WEST HAVEN — The West Haven Board of Police Commissioners voted to approve the reopening of Water Street Tuesday night, the latest indication that city officials no longer are counting on developers of a stalled shoreline development project to move their project forward.

Commission Chairman Raymond Collins III said the approval to reopen the street was conditional upon city and police traffic division officials determining the street is “travel-worthy.”

The closure of Water Street was intended to aid development of a proposed upscale outlet mall development — The Haven — that first would have required demolition of several buildings over several blocks. Water Street has been enclosed in a chain-link fence as part of that process.

Following an unproductive May meeting between local officials and Simon Group — developer for project alongside First Avenue that surrounds Water Street on both sides — Mayor Nancy Rossi had indicated that reopening the street, which was closed roughly two years ago for construction, was one of several tools she was considering in order to “get aggressive” to push along the development.

Rossi, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, said she hoped that reopening the street would ease traffic for drivers entering the city off the highway, which often can become backed-up near the beach, especially in the summer months.

Although Rossi said Simon has applied to demolish several buildings on the property, numerous rotted and blighted buildings remain standing near First Avenue.

State Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, said she believes reopening the street is “a good move to loosen up traffic,” and she hoped that if Simon were to decide to sell the site that the city is able to communicate to potential buyers that the street can be closed again if it’s appropriate to do so.

However, she said there also are downsides.

“The caveat is that by opening up the street you are opening up access to the abandoned buildings,” she said. “With a history of issues prior to the street closing, the area would need to be heavily monitored.”

Christine Gallo, chairwoman of the city’s Economic Development Commission, said she expected the decision to have a more immediate effect on traffic than on economic development.

“I can’t see what it will do economically, because there’s nothing there,” she said.

Although Rossi has remained impartial about whether The Haven outlet mall project will come to pass, saying her immediate focus is in seeing the developer pay to demolish the blighted buildings on the site, others have declared the project officially dead — including Borer and Gallo.

“You can’t sugarcoat this: they are leaving. They’re not stalled. They’re not delayed. They’re not,” Borer said in August.

Simon Group did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Bridgeport’s Steelpointe project gets Midwestern backer

Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — An Indianapolis-based company has partnered with Steelpointe’s father/son RCI development team to build and manage a previously announced luxury apartment complex there.

Flaherty & Collins Properties, according to its website, is the “Midwest's largest and most experienced” developer of multi-family properties, with over $2 billion in projects completed and a half-billion in development.

The company’s portfolio is mostly dominated by Midwestern locations, with just a few outside of that region in Washington D.C. and Florida. Steelpointe, the vision of RCI’s Robert Christoph Sr. and Robert Christoph Jr., would be Flaherty & Collins’ first project in Connecticut.

Steelpointe has been in the works for a few decades and through several mayoral administrations. Anchor tenant Bass Pro Shops outdoor superstore opened there in November, 2015. The redevelopment also boasts a new marina, the Boca oyster bar and seafood restaurant, a Starbucks coffee shop and a Chipotle Mexican fast food establishment.

The Christophs last winter obtained a 12-year tax cut from the city to build as many as 1,500 high-end apartments, and a $990,000 grant from the state in January to remediate the property. A power plant was once located on the land.

In a joint statement Tuesday with RCI, Ryan Cronk, Flaherty’s principal, said, “This is a truly unique and exciting project and partnership for us. Between the City of Bridgeport and RCI, we’re really building off something transformative ... where the project is already set-up for success through all the hard work and solid foundation in place.”

The first phase of construction — 420 new rental apartments and 10,000 square feet of commercial retail space - represents a $200 million investment by RCI and Flaherty, according to the partners.

In a brief interview Tuesday afternoon, Adam Wood, a representative for the Christophs, clarified that Flaherty is not only helping to build the apartments but will manage them once open.

“This is an enormous investment to build this phase of the project so they’re (RCI) happy to have a partner and a partner that has a lot of experience building quality housing and retail,” Wood said.

As for the actual groundbreaking, Wood said that has been delayed because of the continued environmental remediation. He said cleanup had begun but there are a few outstanding testing issues.

“We’re actively working with (federal) Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to provide that testing,” Wood said.

Norwich City Council allows DOT to continue designing controversial Route 82 roundabouts

Claire Bessette

Norwich ― Despite strong opposition voiced by residents and business owners, the City Council Tuesday night voted 4-3 along party lines ― Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed ― to allow state transportation engineers to continue designing the controversial plan to reconstruct Route 82 with six roundabouts.

The split council approved two resolutions that drew the ire of residents and business owners along the West Main Street strip. Speakers pleaded with the City Council and state Department of Transportation officials at Tuesday’s meeting to scrap the plan.

About 50 people attended the meeting, and all but one of the 17 speakers opposed the project. Several speakers offered alternatives, including lower speed limits, a median divider with U-turn lanes at certain traffic lights, better police enforcement and fixing the steep slopes at driveways that require cars to slow to a crawl while turning to avoid scraping the bottom of their cars.

The project is divided into two phases to create six roundabouts from Asylum Street to New London Turnpike, install a median divider to prevent left turns and eliminate seven traffic lights.

Tuesday’s discussion and council votes pertained to Phase 1, which calls for three single-lane roundabouts and one temporary red light at the Dunham Street intersection. The road would have a single lane of traffic in each direction with a 5-foot-wide bicycle lane each way. Construction of Phase 1 is planned to start in spring of 2025 and be completed in fall of 2026. Phase 2 would begin in 2027.

Resolutions approved by the council Tuesday call for the city to agree to take on maintenance and care of the new sidewalks, one bus shelter, landscaping at the roundabouts and painted stripes for the bicycle lanes. The city also would pay for the electricity for the lighting and maintain the lights.

The second resolution, also approved 4-3, calls for short Crane Avenue, a private road between Westgate Plaza and Goldblatt Bokoff LLC accounting office, to become a city street once the project is completed. A roundabout is planned at the site, where Osgood Road intersects Route 82.

Approval of the resolutions allows the Department of Transportation to continue designs and begin property acquisition negotiations with owners.

Several business owners slated to lose all or part of their properties to the project railed against it, anticipating any offers from the state would not adequately compensate them for decades of efforts to build up their businesses and devotion to their livelihoods.

David McDowell, owner of Sign Professionals at the corner of Asylum and West Main streets, said he has invested 30 years of effort and money into his business and questioned how DOT could compensate him for that.

“The state will pay fair market value, however they will not tell me what that is; that is until you sign off on this project,” McDowell said. “I don’t have a clue. What is that number? I don’t want to leave my building. I don’t want to leave Norwich and I certainly don’t want a business I have given my life to build to be out of business.”

He said the state puts “no value” in its calculation of fair market value on the sacrifices, extra work on nights and weekends to build “a great business.”

McDowell countered comments by Democratic City Council Pro Tempore Joseph DeLucia last week that displaced businesses could relocate to other vacant properties on West Main Street. McDowell said any such move would cost way more than his current location.

Mark Grader, owner of Grader Jewelers at 561 W. Main St. across from Dunham Street, where a roundabout is planned, called the proposed six roundabouts “totally excessive,” and agreed with Mayor Peter Nystrom that the city was being used as a guinea pig for an experiment, testing roundabouts for the busy strip. Grader likened it to the New London plan of the early 1970s to turn State Street into pedestrian Captain’s Walk.

“My building was built to my parents’ specific design plans,” Grader said. “It was a culmination of 60 years of doing business in Norwich. That’s six-zero. This is a slap in the face. It is our legacy. Pardon the pun, our crown jewel.”

During council discussion, Nystrom and the two Republican aldermen repeatedly said the project is excessive and the taking of businesses and disruption to others during construction would be too costly for the city.

Democrats repeatedly used the strip’s nickname, “Crash Alley,” and said the council has a responsibility to improve the safety of the strip. DOT officials said the stretch has an average of 100 vehicle crashes per year, 40 with injuries. There are an average of 15 bicycle or pedestrian crashes.

Democratic aldermen DeLucia, Tracey Burto and Swaranjit Singh Khalsa all said they had been rear-ended on the street. DeLucia said both he and his daughter, who was in the car, continue to have painful lingering effects years later. Mayor Nystrom said his son had been rear-ended as well.

The Democrats said they do empathize with the business owners. They called on Norwich Community Development Corp. President Kevin Brown to work with business owners to minimize impacts and assist with relocation where necessary.

“I drive that road every single day,” DeLucia said. “And almost as often as I drive that road, there is at least a near miss if not an accident. Up and down that road, at least once a day. The word is criminal. It is critical that we do something about this road.”

Developer seeking next approval for Windsor Center mixed-use apartment project

Hanna Snyder Gambini

Developer Greg Vaca is bringing more detailed plans to the town Planning and Zoning Commission next week for his Windsor Center Plaza project.

Vaca in June presented the commission with conceptual plans, which were approved. He is now presenting his final plan for design development to the board at the next regular meeting Tuesday where members could vote to approve.

His multi-phase project would turn an outdated strip mall at 144 Broad St., into a mixed-use residential development.

Phase one, for which Vaca is seeking approval, calls for a large new building in front of the existing strip mall, with 6,000 square feet of commercial storefronts for four or five tenants, and a new street on Poquonock Avenue. 

The building will have up to 60 apartments — six studios, 44 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units – as well as outdoor pet and other leisure areas, and parking.

According to town officials, the plan calls for 20% affordable units and the rest for median income. The project also offers 25% of ground-floor units as handicapped accessible. 

The 2.65-acre site is located at the junction of routes 75, 159 and 305, “a highly visible and central location within the Center Design Development District adjacent to major mass transit nodes,” the application reads.

Further, it intends to fulfill the town’s vision in the 2012 Plan of Conservation and Development and 2014 Transit Oriented Development Master Plan and Redevelopment Strategy by enhancing walkability; providing much-needed and high-quality housing near mass transit; creating a mix of uses like retail, offices and wellness amenities to promote vibrancy and inclusion; and supporting climate goals through electric and solar energy options, according to the application.

Town officials have said that projects such as this aim to revitalize the town center and support the state’s investments in transit-oriented improvements.

Vaca will get a $3.2 million state grant from the Connecticut Communities Challenge program that supports transit-oriented development projects that revitalize existing properties, and provide community space and areas for walking and biking.

Phase two features 36 one-bedroom apartments in a new building on the north side of the property.

Information on attending the meeting is available on the town website, townofwindsorct.com.