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CT Construction Digest Tuesday August 30, 2022

Big Y would spend $22 million on new Middletown store, create 150 jobs

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — A traffic study, drainage and landscaping plans and other documents have been filed with the land use office to support a proposed $22 million, 51,892-square-foot Big Y World Class Market to be built in the south end of the city.

The grocery store would be located at 550 Highland Ave. on a combined 7.31 acres between 502 and 550 Highland Ave., and South Main Street/Route 17. The triangular plot is located on the east side of South Main Street/Route 17 and west side of Highland Avenue.

The request is to fill 983 square feet of wetlands and mitigate a 6,079 square-foot wetland area for the commercial development. It would be built on the former Frontier Communications and adjoining lot near the Durham line.

An Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency public hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 7.

The Springfield, Mass.-based chain would create about 150 new jobs (50 full-time and 100 part-time), and “substantially increase” the tax base in Middletown, according to the application.

If inland wetlands were to approve the plan, a special zoning exception would be considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission, according to Director of Land Use Marek Kozikowski.

The current building that would be demolished, formerly occupied by Frontier Communications, is 40,000 square feet in size. South Main Investors of Middletown owns the plot, and the developer is Mike Stone of Stone Point Properties.

The triangular plot is located on the east side of South Main Street/Route 17 and west side of Highland Avenue. A single-family home at 502 Highland is expected to be demolished to make way for construction, according to land use documents.

An application for a sanitary sewer easement on another area of the property was submitted to the land use department Aug. 22. The easement, obtained in 1959, was between the city and former Southern New England Telephone Co., the predecessor to Frontier Communications, documents show.

A large number of street trees would be planted on Highland and South Main, Kozikowski said. The Urban Forestry Commission will be making recommendations.

The state Department of Transportation concluded the projected site traffic volumes and analysis indicate there is “sufficient excess capacity” to accommodate the store. The agency recommended that Route 17 be widened at the Big Y driveway to provide a dedicated left-turn lane going southbound, and a traffic signal installed.

The traffic study, based on DOT records from December, indicates that Route 17 carries an average daily volume of 11,200 vehicles, with peak-hour volumes of 779 in the morning hours, and 1,002 during the late afternoon rush hour.

To gauge traffic, the DOT installed automatic traffic volume counters on Route 17 and Highland Avenue, as well as manual turning movement counts at Route 17 at Ward Street, Highland Avenue, Randolph Road/Route 155, Wesleyan Hills Road, Route 155 at Highland Avenue and Ridge Road.

Traffic incident data, collected by the University of Connecticut, between June 1, 2019, and May 31 of this year, shows there were 37 crashes involving 74 vehicles on Route 17, according to DOT data, the report said.

Of those, 13 occurred at the intersection of Route 115, and 15 at the intersection of Highland, with nine occurring at the Ward Street intersection.

The main access would be moved from Highland Avenue to South Main Street, documents show.

In all, 256 parking spaces would be created, including 16 accessible spaces, and 10 electric vehicle spaces with Volta fast-charging stations, according to the documents.

The issue of bringing the national grocery chain to Middletown has prompted conversations on social media for and against the proposal.

More than 100 people recently shared their opinions on the What’s Happening in Middletown (Connecticut) Facebook page.

Many brought up traffic issues. They range from traffic “nightmares” where Price Chopper is on Washington Street — compared to what the store might incur on Highland Avenue. One person said the plot is small considering a full-size grocery store plus parking would be put in “unless you pave every square inch.”

There also was a good deal of support and excitement for the Big Y, including one person who said the drive to a “decent” grocery store is more than 6 miles from their home, “and the folks in Durham have to go much further. A good grocery is needed on this end of town.”

Durham also is considering bringing a grocery market to town. The Economic Development Commission has created a survey asking respondents to identify what type of grocery store they want in town.

The list of options are Big Y, Whole Foods, Roberts, or a store similar in size to the Durham Market. Respondents also can select “none of the above” and input a separate choice.

For information, visit middletownct.gov

Darien Finds Safety Concerns with Hanson Road Bridge

Gregory Stroud, Emilia Otte

DARIEN – The town of Darien announced via Instagram on Monday.that they found deficiencies in the condition of a local bridge. 

According to a Darien Department of Public Works press release, the town detected defects on the Hanson Road Bridge during routine maintenance checks. The bridge sits across Stony Brook River, about 1.1 miles from Darien High School

The department said the town is in the process of determining repairs, but the concrete bridge is “safe to travel over and is being monitored on a regular basis.” 

Darien’s consultant recommended that the town place barricades along the north side of the bridge where the deficiency was noted, restricting the width from both sides. The department advises drivers to use caution and take alternate routes if possible.

According to the state Department of Transportation’s Eligible Bridge List, Hanson Road Bridge was last inspected in 1991. As of March, the structural deficiencies of the bridge were unknown, but it is eligible for state rehabilitation/replacement.

The Western Connecticut Council of Governments added an action to Darien’s 2021 Hazard Mitigation Plan to identify and upgrade bridges known to be having adverse impacts on drainage, flooding, navigation, safety and environmental quality. WestCOG assigned the action as a low priority. It is anticipated to cost more than $1 million and could take until 2026 to complete.

Darien town officials did not respond to queries by CT Examiner in time for publication of this story.

Federal Funding Rejected for Old Lyme Sewer Costs, New Meetings With Officials Raise Hope

Cate Hewitt

OLD LYME — The sewer project, estimated now in $55 million range, may be in jeopardy because an $11.2 million request for federal funding has been turned down.

At Saturday’s public presentation of the sewer project, Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee did not approve the request. 

“Unfortunately the number of applications for earmarks doubled this year and this one was unsuccessful. The process begins again… and we’re prepared again to seek federal funding for this very worthwhile goal,” said Blumenthal via a zoom feed that was streamed to the middle school auditorium where more than 100 residents attended the sewer presentation. 

The three beach communities and the town had requested $14 million in federal funds toward shared infrastructure costs estimated at $16.5 million. The four communities have a total of 909 homes and the infrastructure costs will be paid proportionately by the number of homes in each community. 

One of the next steps is to “pursue additional grants and subsidies from state and federal programs” and to “investigate other opportunities for cost mitigation,” according to the presentation, which is available for download here

However, the project’s “interim funding obligations” to pay for project design are due January 31, 2023, the date to which the obligations have been deferred. Each beach “may hold a referendum to reauthorize projects with updated cost and funding information,” according to the presentation.

At the dais in the auditorium State Sen. Paul Formica told the audience that he spoken with Mark Boughton, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services, about using funds from the $5 billion in infrastructure money coming to the state of Connecticut. 

“We’ve outlined the project, we know that adding the sewers is a huge cost to each individual homeowner. We’re trying our best to provide some of those infrastructure dollars, should the decision be made to go with sewers, to offset the cost of accessibility to sewers, and any fees associated with that,” he said. 

Formica said Boughton “is a fan of the project moving forward, if that’s what the decision of the community is.”

The lengthy presentation emphasized objectives of complying with a longtime state consent order as well as remediating pollution in Long Island Sound. Officials from the town and the three beach associations — Miami Beach, Old Lyme Shores, and Old Colony Beach — updated residents on the estimated costs per household in each community.  

First Selectman Tim Griswold told the audience that there would not be a typical question and answer period after the presentation because questions were to be submitted in advance. 

“Some of the questions will be answered in the slides you will see and then some that were not [answered] will be addressed by the group at the end. Members of the panel will be available after the program if you wish to speak with them,” Griswold said. 

Frank Pappalardo, chair of the Sound View Sewer Coalition, told CT Examiner via email that the coalition “was not asked to participate in the meeting.”

Before the meeting, coalition members stood outside of the middle school and handed out a list of 10 questions that members wanted answered at the presentation. The group describes themselves as representing “a majority of homeowners in Sound View and Area B, who do not believe sewers are the most practical or cost-effective solution for this area.”

In his email, Pappalardo said he was “disappointed that not a single one of the questions [that the coalition] submitted were answered at today’s meeting… The only questions answered appeared to support the position that sewers were the answer.”

Among the coalition’s questions, which included a range of topics and concerns, was a request for current data proving that Old Lyme is polluting Long Island Sound. 

Pappalardo said the coalition supports updated testing and analysis, and pointed out that Hawk’s Nest Beach — which, so far, has been excluded from the project along with White Sands Beach — has had testing done. 

He said that much has changed since the original data — done in 2010 — was used to justify sewers.

“Old Lyme adopted a mandatory 7-year septic pump-out ordinance and animal waste mitigation. Many residents have also repaired failing systems or replaced them with new engineered systems. Why not see if these actions have had an impact before embarking on a 50+ million dollar project?” Pappalardo said. 

On Monday, Rich Prendergast, chair of the Old Lyme Water Pollution Control Authority, told CT Examiner that meetings with Senators Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro have been set up in the coming few weeks — and that the process has become easier than before. 

“There’s additional meetings. We don’t know when we don’t know the content… It could be that they’re just trying to understand the situation and or it could be that they’re trying to explain to us that you don’t get the money right away,” he said. “We don’t really know but before it was difficult getting meetings with the politicians.”

Scott Boulanger, chair of the Miami Beach Water Pollution Control Authority, said Monday that the beach association members understand the importance of the project and that it will minimize contributing to pollution in Long Island Sound. He said the issue is cost — per equivalent dwelling unit, the estimated yearly cost in Miami Beach is $3,600 a year for 20 years, but could be closer to $2,600 a year with grants from the federal government and from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. 

“I think the homeowners want to do the right thing but you’re asking somebody to spend quite a bit of money for something — they just can’t afford $3,000 or $4,000 a year for 20 years,” Boulanger said. “Maybe we made enough noise that now everybody is starting to focus… maybe there’ll be some work being done to try to minimize the impact.”

Doug Whalen, president of Old Colony Beach, said his beach association told residents 10 years ago that the project would cost them about $1,800 a year for 20 years. 

“We’re trying to keep that number there and the $11.2 million brings it there,” Whalen said.

Without the federal funding, the cost is estimated at $2,600 per equivalent dwelling unit per year for 20 years. 

“When we sent this through 10 years ago, the vote was 197 to 12 — the residents were very into this program. Unfortunately because of supply chain issues and COVID, the numbers came in 30 to 40 percent higher. We’re trying to recover that 30 to 40 percent.” 

He said Old Colony Beach was “very active” in pursuing other avenues of federal and state funding. 

“We want to be fiscally responsible to the residents but we also don’t want to stretch it out too far — this was supposed to be flowing back in 2019,” he said. “If we get those funds available, the shovel goes into the ground within the next six months.”

Housing Boom: Backed by employer support, Farmington sees wave of multifamily development

Andrew Larson

With a plethora of stately homes and modest dwellings, both new and old, Farmington’s housing stock includes options for people at different stages of life, at various price points — as long as they’re willing to take out a mortgage.

The dearth of multifamily construction in this town where business is booming has made it difficult for people seeking to relocate without the means or inclination to buy property, developers say.

That’s about to change.

Until recently, the town hadn’t approved a multifamily development since 2013, which developers believe created pent-up demand. Now, there are at least six multifamily proposals underway.

“I think the main issue is that Farmington has been underserved,” said Jacob Reiner, chief operating officer of CSRE, a real estate acquisition and management company based in Lakewood, New Jersey. “There hasn’t really been any new construction. The supply really hasn’t kept up with the demand.”

CSRE is one of the first companies to take advantage of Farmington’s special innovation floating zone. Following an update to the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development in 2018, the Planning and Zoning Commission established the innovation zone to allow higher-density multifamily and retail/commercial development on the same parcel in the UConn Health neighborhood.

CSRE bought the former Hartford Marriott Farmington hotel last year and is converting it into 225 apartments. The first units in the high-end apartment complex, called UpHouse, are expected to open in October.

The 381-room hotel at 15 Farm Springs Road closed early in 2021. Each apartment will comprise about two hotel rooms.

The mixed-use development will include indoor and outdoor pools, yoga rooms, a fitness club along with other resort-style amenities. Non-residents will be able to purchase passes to the amenitized areas.

“There’s very strong demand for Class A-type housing in Farmington and in the Greater Hartford area as well,” Reiner said. “We’re looking to deliver a unicorn type of product that really doesn’t exist.”

Prime real estate along the Route 4 corridor, near UConn Health and Jackson Laboratory, was not available for mixed-use development until recent changes approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which eased residential zoning restrictions.

Zoning change

Farmington Economic Development Director Rose Ponte said the new zoning laws give developers more flexibility and promote the type of housing the town needs — while leaving legislative authority to the commission.

As of 2017, 30.4% of Farmington’s land uses consisted of single-family homes, compared to 4.1% multifamily, according to the Plan of Conservation and Development. Also, more than 72% of Farmington’s housing stock was composed of single-family homes on large lots.

“The lack of smaller, modern and high-quality rental units in Farmington will exacerbate the disproportionately high percentage of persons over 65 when compared to the rest of the state,” the 2018 conservation plan said.

The plan also noted that younger people were opting not to make the long-term commitment of homeownership, sometimes because they didn’t qualify for a mortgage due to poor credit, lacked the ability to make a downpayment or had too much student loan debt.

“(The) aging population coupled with a lack of attractive rental options will become a very significant issue in Farmington,” the conservation plan said. “This will transpire as younger residents move to more urban areas with more rental options.”

Desirable location

Even so, Farmington is a popular place for local employees to live. Ponte said the town is desirable for families and younger people starting their careers, with its relatively low taxes, top-notch schools and thriving economy.

“We have one of the lowest tax rates (29.32 mills) in all the towns that surround us,” Ponte said. “We’re known to be very fiscally responsible, but at the same time, delivering excellent town services. We have wonderful schools, we have safe communities, we’re steeped in history and preservation. We value our open space.”

Those might be some of the reasons Farmington — which has a population of a little more than 25,000 — averages about 32,000 employees who work in town.

“That, in itself, gives demand, because everybody, I think, would rather live closer to their job rather than further away,” Ponte said.

The largest employer, UConn Health, has 4,660 regular payroll employees, with 397 living in Farmington — the town with the second-most UConn Health employees after West Hartford, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit biomedical research institution, employs more than 450 people at its Farmington office, most of whom also live in Farmington or West Hartford.

Employees are attracted to the area’s performing arts centers, museums, restaurants, parks and trails, according to LuAnn Ballesteros, Jackson Laboratory’s vice president of external and government affairs. Many are looking for short-term lodging.

“Currently, our most-pressing need in Connecticut is short-term, temporary housing to accommodate our postdoctoral associates, graduate students, visiting scientists, contract positions and other visitors to JAX,” Ballesteros said.

Jackson Laboratory has a globally competitive workforce and hires people from Connecticut, across the country and worldwide. Employees who relocate to the Farmington area are looking for proximity to the organization’s campus, along with “excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, and diverse, sustainable communities,” Ballesteros said.

As a whole, the town has more than 4 million square feet of office space, Ponte said. Along New Britain Avenue, there’s more than 2 million square feet of industrial space — with about zero vacancies, she noted. The manufacturers range from commercial laundry facilities to the German industrial machine manufacturer Trumpf to aerospace suppliers.

“We are very diversified, whether it’s manufacturing, whether it’s health care, we have financial advisers, we have bankers, we have all sorts of different industries,” Ponte said. “And then we also have very nice independent shop owners, and restaurant choices. So it’s really a nice mix.”

Multifamily projects

More developers are hoping to capitalize on Farmington’s development opportunities, and several multifamily projects are in the pipeline.

The town does not monetarily incentivize or abate any project, Ponte said. Instead, it focuses on keeping the tax rate low by adding to the grand list.

In addition to CSRE’s plan to add 225 rental units, another developer has proposed 199 apartments and more than 54,000 square feet of commercial space in new and rehabilitated buildings at 1371 Farmington Ave.

Located at the midpoint between Unionville and Farmington center, it’s on a 25-acre parcel along the Farmington River. The developer, JRF Management LLC, is also proposing upgrades to the adjacent Farmington Heritage Canal Trail.

Sager Development is proposing 62 mixed-income units, with 80% designated as affordable housing, at 80 South Road. The principal of Sager Development, Geoffrey Sager, is also principal of Metro Realty Group, which has received town approvals to build 146 units on a property near UConn Health at 402 Farmington Ave. Rock blasting for the project has begun.

Meanwhile, Pond LLC has proposed nearly 200 new apartments adjacent to two office buildings near Batterson Park.

In the short term, rising interest rates and inflation have made the rental market even more attractive, Reiner said. The “price-per-pound” of renovating an existing hotel and converting it into apartments is less than new construction, he said, and the turnaround is faster.

UpHouse will target workers who are looking for “a lifestyle-type-of-environment, empty nesters looking for amenities they won’t typically have in another community and obviously millennials who are making amenities their priority,” Reiner explained.

Multifamily projects have not been without controversy. Some residents have complained that large, high-density buildings are incompatible with the town’s quaint and quiet character.

In 2021, residents of Tunxis Village voiced strong opposition to the development at 402 Farmington Ave., calling it “out of scale.”

But Ponte said these projects will help Farmington catch up with other towns like Simsbury and Hartford.

“We’re trying to create these 24-hour communities where young talent may want to relocate — and they can live, work and play all in one area,” she said.

Kent sidewalk construction anything but smooth


KENT — The new sidewalk installation has been generating concerns about the quality and design of the materials being used. Town officials have also been criticized for their lack of communication with the building committee and the business community.

Streetscape Building Committee Chairman Mike Gawel raised concerns about the construction choices being made and the lack of inspection by the engineering firm in the initial weeks of the project. He emailed the selectmen but the issue was not addressed by the board until a special meeting Aug. 22, after the cancellation of the board’s regular meeting on Aug. 18.

Resident Justin Money, a 25-year stone mason working in Kent, shared his expertise by giving an eight-minute presentation to the selectmen with drawings on a whiteboard, explaining his concerns about the granite curbing being used with rough curving edges and a slippery top surface, as well as the lack of adequate packing of the gravel base under the concrete.

Mike Doherty, the project manager from SLR Engineering, acknowledged to the Streetscape Committee on Aug. 12 that work at the beginning of the project had progressed faster than expected and that the engineers had been informed, so as of that date no inspections had been done. Since then, the inspector has been on site multiple times.

Doherty explained at the Aug. 22 meeting that density testing had been done on the compaction of the base material and it met the standard, averaging to 95% density. However, he did say that the contractor has been told to alter the compaction method and he was open to having them soak the material with water due to the drought conditions.

Doherty acknowledged that the installation of small sections of granite curbing, instead of curved granite, would not be acceptable. Gawel and Money explained this is what is installed next to the Morning Star Nursing Home on Bridge Street.

“If there is curbing being put in on a radius that calls for a radius curving that curving will be ripped out,” Doherty said. “There is no chance that I’ll allow them to be putting in segments of curve to make up a radius, so if that has happened that will be corrected.”

Doherty explained that there were granite curbing supply issues that they became aware of during the bidding process and the bid documents were altered. In addition, Mather Corporation was unable to get suppliers in the northeast and had to get the granite from North Carolina. This was an additional $67,000 and the selectmen were aware of the change.

Gawel said his committee had not been informed.

“Nobody in months has contacted me concerning any of the changes,” Gawel said. “Not once was our committee consulted.”

He questioned whether the committee should continue or disband. First Selectman Jean Speck tried to reassure him that his opinion was valued.

Elissa Potts, owner of the Fife ‘n Drum restaurant, also criticized Speck’s lack of communication with the business owners regarding the project.

“…Your office needs to be sensitive to the retail community and keep them informed,” Potts wrote to Speck Aug. 12.

The first email on the sidewalk construction was sent at 3 p.m. Aug. 1 – the same day work had begun.

Speck has promised to get an email out weekly with details on the sidewalk progress and what was planned for the following week.

There is a construction meeting each Thursday. Those emails started Aug. 20 and have what is planned for the next two weeks and a listing of what has been done.