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CT Construction Digest Tuesday March 7, 2023

Evergreen Walk retail center in South Windsor continues to add new tenants

Luther Turmelle

The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year and in the run-up to that milestone, the South Windsor lifestyle center is adding new tenants on almost a monthly basis.

Stamford-based furniture retailer Lovesac opened its fifth Connecticut store in Evergreen Walk in mid-January and was followed a month later by upscale fast food chain Shake Shack in mid-February. The Shake Shack location in South Windsor is the New York City-based chain's sixth restaurant in Connecticut and the first east of the Connecticut River.

Later this spring, The Goddard School, a private, early childhood education center that has 13 Connecticut locations, will open in Evergreen Walk. The school will be joined in its spring opening by an as yet unnamed athletic shoe and leisure clothing retailer, according to officials with Greenwich-based Charter Realty & Development, which manages Evergreen Walk.

The identity new sports shoe and clothing retailer is perhaps the worst kept secret, however. Anyone driving on Evergreen Way, the main street in the retail center can a white and blue covering of one of the store fronts that proudly announces the impending arrival of Nike.

When the Nike store opens in Evergreen Walk by late spring, it will be the Oregon-based brand's third Connecticut store. Nike has factory stores at the Foxwoods Casino's retail complex in Ledyard and at Clinton Premium Outlets.

But perhaps what is the most highly anticipated retail opening at Evergreen Walk is still a year away. Construction of the state's first Whole Foods Market location east of the Connecticut River is well underway. Karen Johnson, Charter Realty's vice president of development, said the 50,000 square foot grocery store won't open until the first quarter of next year.

"The existence of the Whole Foods will add some vibrancy to that end of the center." Johnson said. "The steel shell is up on the building  and it will be fully enclosed soon."

When Whole Foods opens next year, there will be an adjacent space for another retailer, according to Evergreen Walk officials.

In addition to the new stores moving into Evergreen Walk, the retail center is now linked to Costco, which is in another part of Evergreen Walk that previously hadn't been linked to The Promenade Shops section via an internal access roads on the property. That meant shoppers who wanted to go from a store in The Promenade Shops to Costco had to use the very busy Buckland Road to get there.

Wooing retailers that have a limited Connecticut presence, Johnson said, is part of strategy to increase overall foot traffic at Evergreen Walk.

"All of our new tenants are unique to the market," she said referring to northeastern Connecticut, "That allows all of the unit owners to benefit from each others' presence."

But finding unique retailers that can afford long term leases is becoming increasingly more difficult, according to retail experts.

David Cadden, a professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University's School of Business, said retailers like Williams-Sonoma and The Apple Store qualify as unique retailers in Connecticut because even though both have multiple stores in the state, they have exhibited discipline in where they put their new locations. Both retailers have a presence in Evergreen Walk.

"They want make sure they have sufficient traffic going through their store so they retain a certain cachet," Cadden said.

The retail sector "is currently going through a reboot, an ice age that will totally remake the landscape," said Burt Flickinger, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a New York City-based business that does consulting work.

"Typically, most retailers look to have their stores spaced in a three-to-six mile radius," Flickinger said. "But for business like Nike and Shake Shack can draw customers from a 25-to-30 mile radius,"

Flickinger said Evergreen Walk has a strong portfolio of "of A-List tenants."

While Charter Realty doesn't release sales figure for the retail center,  Johnson said The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk "saw an increase in foot traffic in December compared to the same period in the previous year."

Ownership of Evergreen Walk is divided up into sections between 15 property owners, she said. Individual tenants own their property, but are also part of a master association, according to Johnson.

Lowe's and Wayfair warehouses coming to East Hartford's Rentschler Field

Jesse Leavenworth

EAST HARTFORD — Distribution warehouses for Lowe's home improvement and Wayfair home furnishings stores, a total of 2.5 million square feet, will be built on the wide expanse of historic Rentschler Field, officials announced Monday at the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Trucks and heavy equipment rumbled on the 300-acre site as lawmaker gathered in a tent with managers of the devolpment company, Massachusetts-based National Development.

Plans are to complete the first phase — a 1.3-million-square-foot Lowe's building and a 1.2-million-square-foot Wayfair warehouse — in 1 ½ years, National Development managers Ed Marsteiner and Andrew Gallinaro said. The warehouses will be logistic hubs for the stores in New England, they said. Leases will be for 10 to 12 years, the managers said.

The second phase of the planned development is two buildings of 100,000 square feet each to house high-tech and specialty manufacturing tenants. Those plans are in the early stages and no tenants have been announced.

The dual warehouses are expected to create 400 construction jobs and up to 1,000 permanent positions, the developers said. Annual tax revenue for the entire logistics and technology center will be about $4 million, officials said. 

East Hartford Mayor Mike Walsh called the project "a game-changer for East Hartford in terms of jobs, tax revenue and economic development potential." U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, who grew up in East Hartford, said the development "will continue to cement our region as a hub for innovation and economic development."

Several speakers Monday noted the historic ground that will host the logistics and technology center. Dedicated in 1931 and named for aviation pioneer Frederick Rentschler, the site was a military and private airport and a testing site for Pratt & Whitney, welcoming dignitaries who included Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart and presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Construction crews were bringing in extra material to raise the pancake-flat site near the Connecticut River due to the high groundwater table, Marsteiner said. Trucks have unloaded about half of the 500,000 cubic yards of material needed to prepare for building construction, enough to fill nearby Pratt & Whitney Stadium to the brim 1 ¼ times, he said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the site brought to mind the long lines of people receiving donated food there during the coronavirus pandemic. The development, Blumenthal said, marks a turning point for the state, a sign of full-scale recovery from COVID-19 and movement toward economic prosperity.

Walsh said the logistics and technology center is part of the ongoing revitalization of Silver Lane, which includes a planned new apartment building and a revival of the derelict Silver Lane Plaza.

State Rep. Jason Rojas noted that National Development has agreed to a one-time payment of $4 million to the town. The money is to pay for planning, design and construction of part of the East Coast Greenway that runs through East Hartford and for the design and construction of one or more athletic or recreational facilities in town.

Developer withdraws contested application for apartments near Middletown school, wetlands

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — The development firm that proposed two apartment complexes with 148 units near wetlands and Lawrence Elementary School, close to the Cromwell line, has withdrawn its Middletown Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Agency application.

D&V Development of Middletown, located in Wallingford, submitted an application to the Land Use Department detailing a plan to construct housing on city-owned land. The project would involve a land swap with the city.

The 45-acre site comprises 19.2 acres. In all, 4.82 acres of city land would be given to the developer in exchange for 25.63 acres to be deeded to the city to be placed in a conservation easement, according documents from the OCC Group, an engineering, surveying and planning firm.

During two inland wetlands meetings in January and February, several-dozen residents spoke out and wrote emails to city staff opposing the proposed housing. Some were concerned about “the height of the building and how it was going to look in the general area,” city Environmental Planner James Sipperly has said.

Other issues involved the proposal's proximity to wetlands, environmental impacts of the construction, an increase in traffic, and student safety.

D&V Development’s spokesperson David Carson, managing principal at OCC Group, wrote to the agency Feb. 22 saying it had withdrawn its application to address comments from agency members and the city engineer. "Resubmission will provide the opportunity to present additional testimony with regard to the wetland delineation on the site," he wrote.

Carson could not be reached immediately for comment.

Sipperly, staff to the wetlands commission, on Monday characterized the concerns as “minor.”

One issue raised by the public was that there is too much parking for the area, he said, something the developer is addressing. “If they could eliminate a row of parking, they would get the limits of the fill further away from the wetlands, which is what the commission wanted, and move the retaining wall further away from the wetlands,” Sipperly said.

Another worry was whether all of the site’s natural resources were mapped, which the developer will revisit, Sipperly said.

The developer also has proposed relocating the bike trail leading to Lawrence School off school property and onto D&V land, Sipperly said. That multi-use trail eventually will connect to Tuttle Road, he added.

Mike Rogalsky, who has lived nearby, between Lawrence and Keigwin schools, for 50 years, said he was pleased that the application was withdrawn. “I’m glad because I think it was probably one of the most negative places to put apartments,” he said.

The building, he said, would be constructed about 10 feet from school property: “That’s ridiculous.”

Rogalsky’s property has experienced a great deal of flooding over the years, but recently the situation has “calmed down,” Rogalsky said.

By comparison, he added, “they turned down the [Pistol Creek] golf course [proposal] because of these vernal pools,” he said, referencing land on the former 18-hole Highland Country Club Golf Course off Atkins Street and Footit Road.

Since then, Rogalsky said, new houses have been built in the Talia Lane and Ridgewood Road area, “which is fine, however, you start placing houses; you get rain, you’ve eliminated some of the areas where the runoff would go."

He suspects that runoff enters streams close by. Catch basins were installed, Rogalsky said, but the water still overflows. “You’ve taken away a lot of the area that used to absorb [the fluid]," he said.

If the application were to eventually be accepted by inland wetlands, it would move on to the Planning and Zoning Commission. To view application materials, visit bit.ly/3muZdes.

Construction set to start this spring on The Wellington in Madison, an affordable housing project

Susan Braden

MADISON — After nearly five years, construction may begin this spring on The Wellington, a planned 31-unit affordable housing development at 131 Cottage Road.

And it’s none too soon, as one of the nonprofit agencies involved is already getting calls from interested tenants.

The financing is set to be finalized for the $11 million project and a general contractor, Haynes Construction of Seymour, has been hired. The architects are Schadler Selnau Associates of Farmington.

Two nonprofit agencies, Hope Partnership LLC of Essex and the Caleb Group of Boston, the majority owner, are overseeing the project, from garnering financing to construction.

“Right now we are working towards closing on all of our financing,” said Karla Lunquist, executive director of Hope Partnership. “The goal right now is to have construction begin in the spring."

Called a mixed-income development with some higher-end, market-rate units, rent will be charged on a sliding scale based on 30 percent of the tenant’s qualifying income for each tier. Unit sizes will vary, from 600 square feet to 1,145 square feet for one-bedroom units, and two-bedroom units from 721 square feet to 1,207 square feet.

The property will have seven units available for households with incomes up to 25 percent of the area median income, 13 units at 50 percent AMI, four at 60 percent AMI and seven market-rate units. The AMI for Madison is $99,700, according to HUD calculations for 2022.

According to the Caleb Group, financing for the project comes from a mix of tax credits, loans and grants from federal and state agencies: 

• Federal low income tax credits, which equals $5.3 million in equity.

• $2.7 million Connecticut Department of Housing loan.

• Department of Housing National Trust funds of $1.1 million.

• Connecticut Housing Financing Authority grant for $500,000.

• $650,000 from the Federal Housing Finance Agency Affordable Housing and Community Investment Program.

• $230,000 energy rebate.

• $2 million mortgage from Guilford Savings Bank, according to the Caleb Group.

Hope Partnership bought the land and buildings as an unfinished multifamily development in 2018. The Caleb Group joined the effort in 2020.

On the 2.6 -acre site, there is an existing building with four occupied townhouse units, constructed in 2016. Also on the property is the 1808 Henry Josiah Meigs house and barn that will be turned into four one-bedroom apartments. Some of the original interior will be preserved along with the exterior of the historic building.

The new units will be designed to look like typical the “suburban townhouse style” and  “similar to what's already there,” Lindquist said.

As far as the antique structure, Lindquist said, “I think one of the things that's nice is that we're keeping the existing building that was on the parcel. And that sort of maintains some history and some of the visual fabric of the town."

“I think a lot of folks who are from a town like to see … those existing landmarks or those existing buildings kept when possible,” she said.

Lindquist, who is new to Hope Partnership, said her board reported that working with the town was straightforward and “was super smooth.” 

The mixed-income approach to an affordable housing development is “fairly common when you have when you have mostly or all affordable, because it is usually required by lenders to have deeply affordable units,” she said.

Lindquist added, “then, obviously, the project becomes financially viable when you balance that with some of the higher end” units.

Once it’s built and tenants are selected, the nonprofit groups will turn it over to a management group.

Its location will be a big draw for the project, she said.

“It's a fantastic location, it's right across from Hammonasset. There's part of the nature preserve that is over there,” she noted. Another big plus is that it is right off Route 1. Caleb has cited the project’s proximity to schools, shopping, employment opportunities and the fact its on the bus line and near Interstate 95.

“I think Madison is obviously a high-opportunity municipality in in Connecticut. And so it's great to have some affordable units in a town like Madison,” Lindquist said. 

She noted that Madison, like other shoreline towns, has a lack of affordable housing.

“What we see in most of the small towns along the shoreline and some of the interior towns in Middlesex County, is that there's really a disproportion between the average household size, which is usually between one to two people … and then the average house size, or housing unit size, which is usually three to four bedrooms,” Lindquist said.

“And so having smaller units in this case, which are mostly affordable, is really important so that there's a diversity of housing,” she continued. “So you can really get people into homes that are appropriate for their needs and their household size and where they're in their life.” 

Prospective tenants already have expressed interest in The Wellington and Lindquist hopes for more inquiries as the project nears completion.

“We hope we get about two to five inquiries a week for folks looking for housing,” she said. 

At Hope Partnership, she said, “I would say about 50 percent are people calling to ask about Madison at Wellington and ask if they can get on the wait list.” However, Hope Partnership won’t put together a wait list until “construction is definitely underway, so it will still be several months before we do that."

For further updates on the development, visit https://www.hope-ct.org

Potential blasting near Shelton landfill raises methane gas concerns

Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — The proposed development of a 40-unit apartment building on Mohawk Drive, not far from the landfill, has nearby residents concerned about increases of levels of methane in the area. 

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection presently oversees the landfill. The municipal solid waste portion closed in 1999 and the ash and hazardous waste portions closed in 2001. 

“The gaseous ‘burping’ that results from the breakdown of trash has reduced, though still needs to be managed,” said DEEP Director of Communications Will Healey. 

According to a CDC report, landfill gas is flammable in unventilated confined spaces, and exposure to the gas and the odor can trigger symptoms if the gas migrates off site.

At 2 Mohawk Drive, property owners Agim Ismali and Shprza Ismali are seeking approval for a Planned Development District on the site, allowing for development of a four-story 12,000-square-foot structure with 40 apartments with an outdoor parking lot and indoor parking under the building.  

According to the application, the developers would designate 30 percent of the apartments, 12 units total, as affordable under state statute 8-30g.   

The plans call for only one- and two-bedroom apartments on the site, which is located at the corner of Mohawk Drive and River Road. The property is bounded by Mohawk Drive to the east, a developed, residential area to the west, commercial development to the south, and Algonkin Road to the north. The land sits behind Casa Nova Ristorante, located on River Road. 

Dozens of residents appeared at a recent Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing to oppose this apartment application. During the hearing, the developers’ representatives suggested blasting may be necessary during the construction process. 

Regarding any blasting for such an apartment building, Healey said this, or any developer will likely need to evaluate the environmental setting and surrounding land use in the planning process. 

“Methane can migrate through known bedrock fractures at the landfill and in the vicinity of the landfill,” he said. “Blasting could potentially open new migration channels in the bedrock (and could cause some continuation of subsidence at the landfill).” 

According to Healey, this means that this or any developer may need to assess this potential when planning for construction of subsurface structures, such as basements and underground utilities. 

The DEEP Landfill Stewardship Operations Unit cares for this area and other closed regional landfills formerly managed by MIRA, CRRA and others, Healey said. In 2014, per legislative mandate, the post-closure care responsibility of the Shelton Landfill at 866 River Road transferred to DEEP. 

Property management tasks include managing the decomposition gas, methane, Healey said. 

“The methane produced by the decomposition of landfill waste has decreased significantly over the years,” Healey said, “Although the landfill continues to produce low levels of methane which is collected via an engineered system and ultimately burned off by an on-site flare.” 

The methane collection system and flare have been effective at controlling the methane on-site, he said. 

A flare is used because there is not enough methane to generate electricity, as can occur when landfill is first closed. 

“The methane collection system is continuously monitored in real time at the perimeter of the landfill and the flare is equipped with an alert system if the flare should shutdown,” said Healey, adding that DEEP has a contractor on-call to respond to any alarms, if they should occur, and address any disruptions in the flare system. 

The methane collection system is also visually inspected weekly, and routine repairs are made when necessary, he said. 

Technology Levels Playing Field Among Construction Firms


At every opportunity, construction firms large and small are looking to technology to help them become more efficient, streamline processes and improve sustainability.

Technological trends in large firms include building information modeling (BIM), the use of advanced building materials and construction robotics. Small to mid-size firms are embracing a variety of technologies, including drones, 360-degree photography and project management software to improve their efficiency. Safety continues to be at the forefront of the industry no matter the size of the firm, with technological advances in tools such as construction wearables to keep workers safe.

In the view of Michael Zeppieri, vice president, Skanska USA's Emerging Technology Team, some of the more common aspects of technology that improve the function of a job site involve less about specific technologies, and more about understanding how to improve efficiencies among project teams. Technology has not scaled as quickly in construction as it has in other industries, such as automotive or aerospace, but it still has an impact.

"Buildings don't come off assembly lines," Zeppieri said. "You generally don't have continuity from one job to the next. Locations change, teams change, the buildings change. To get to the futurism of technology that everyone is excited about, you must get people to adopt technology in a very pragmatic and real way."

Technologies used to improve the build experience don't have to be futuristic and expensive to have a positive effect. When visiting a job site, Zeppieri sees firsthand how relatively simple technologies, such as the use of QR codes, have a lasting impact on the user. Equally important is accessibility, with mobile-first and platform integration serving as the primary drivers for adoption in the field.

"When I go to a job site, and I see a superintendent get very excited because they can put a QR code on a room, scan it with their mobile device and it brings them to their punch list in one of our core platforms, that simplifies that process for them," he said. "The technology is not that sophisticated, but they get excited about it because it solves a problem."

Skanska USA's Emerging Technology Team is a small group compared with the overall size of the organization. Zeppieri and senior director Danielle O'Connell work with a core group of six people with an extended team of 20 to 30 people throughout the business to lead the integration of technology across the organization and with their clients.

"My biggest epiphany in the last year has been around data," O'Connell said. "It's been enlightening to see our teams start appreciating that they are collecting data whether they know it or not no matter what tool they are using, whether it's sensors like environmental or work wearables, or reality capture tools like 360-degree cameras or laser scanners. We can look at that data to be more proactive rather than reactive."

The question then becomes: how do companies get their employees on board with using technology? Many companies invest in technology and tools that are providing important information whether it is useful for a project today or a similar project in the future.

"An innovation isn't an innovation until it's in someone's hands and they are using that thing or doing that thing differently every day because of it," said Jim Barrett, vice president of Innovation of Turner Construction Company. "We are trying to help the industry with developing new technologies. Construction is laggard in terms of adopting new technology."

According to Barrett, there are many reasons for construction companies of all sizes to adopt technology into every project. In addition to the numerous benefits to the construction process, technology increases the probability of success, and success fosters a better culture.

"There is work associated with innovation," he said. "It's not easy. There are ways to increase the probability of success by creating a better culture and using innovation to create opportunities."

He said that Turner's Innovation team's work supports other divisions within the company.

"Our work is very missional; we try to think about innovation as helping people: we want to reduce waste and inefficiency so they can unlock their greater potential and apply their talents to add value," he said.

Skanska USA and Turner Construction Company are two of the largest construction firms in the United States. They manage thousands of projects each year totaling in the billions of dollars.

What about the small to mid-size firms, whose work is local or regional in scope? What technologies can they begin using now that will reap the rewards of efficiency and cost-savings for them and their clients?

Barrett encourages smaller firms to invest in technology.

"It's incumbent upon the smaller and medium sized companies to be constantly looking at new ways of doing things to support their people, improve their company, grow their business and improve their bottom line," he said.

He goes on to add that technology levels the playing field for small to medium to large companies. There are inexpensive yet effective tools available now that are easy to learn, such as Microsoft's AI Builder software.

"Those tools can be a catalyst to magnify the impact of a smaller firm and what they are capable of, and they can start competing on a performance level with the larger contractors," he said. "You don't need a large IT budget; you can use the tools that are becoming readily available. There is a huge opportunity for small to medium firms to deliver a level of capability and performance that is outsized to the size of their firm. I don't think people are quite aware of them. I encourage smaller companies to find some people in their organization and let them loose; encourage staff to investigate these new solutions."

One mid-size design build firm utilizing different technologies is The Milnes Engineering, Construction and Survey, headquartered in Tunkhannock, Pa., in the heart of northeastern Pennsylvania. They've embraced a variety of technologies including drones, project management software and robotic surveying equipment.

"Drones are a great tool to communicate with a client, to provide progress photos monthly or quarterly," said Earl Thomas, president and chief operating officer who oversees the construction division. "Our guys and the clients love it."

Milnes' chief surveyor, Lindy LaRue, understands the efficiency drones bring to the surveying side of the business, saving the clients not only time and money, but allowing them to make decisions on important details well before construction begins.

"With our initial mapping, we can take the drone and fly a 40-acre site in 20 minutes and have a survey grade photo that you can see down to one pixel per inch or less," said LaRue. "Every half an inch on the ground is one pixel on the screen. We then export that data into billions of points and create an object file out of that."

One of Milnes' clients wanted to build a large warehouse that would be seen from a high traffic road. LaRue's team was able to take the data gathered from the drone, export it into a 3D software program and digitally turn the building at different angles to show the client the best way to position the building for people to see the business' sign. This saved Milnes a great deal of time in the construction planning and their client a great deal of money, knowing with confidence how the building and signage would be positioned long before the first hole was dug.

Milnes' teams work together on projects due to the investments the company has made in various technologies. Robotic surveying equipment, for example, benefits their entire team, not only the survey division.

"Things we use that are newer to us would be robotic survey equipment to lay out building foundations," Thomas said. "Our construction team can take one point or two points and lay out the whole building with this robot. It's more advanced, goes quicker and is more efficient than how we used to do it."

Milnes' construction superintendents all have iPads out in the field. While they still have print blueprints in the office, the project management software loaded on their iPads gives them easy access in the field to every document for a specific project.

"It's very helpful when there are changes to the project on the fly," he said. "Right from the iPad they can send a quick e-mail to me and ask a question about a particular detail. They can highlight an area and send it in an e-mail. We can get that to the engineer or architect, and the super can quickly get their answer."

"From an engineering perspective, we are always looking for ways to streamline a project to get it under construction faster and more economically," said Michael Goodwin, vice president of Engineering. "We utilize OpenSite Designer land development software that is extremely helpful to develop concept plans in live interaction with project owners, contractors and other team members. It allows us to readily develop multiple design alternatives and can even provide high level cost estimating. We have used this tool with great success in recent years as we begin to shape a project from the client's mind to paper and ultimately to the build. Tools like this have really helped cut down the effort to develop civil design plans, and ultimately help to minimize the site development costs."

Technology has changed the construction process from the earliest phases of planning through to a project's completion. Gone are the days of thick binders filled with paperwork that are handed over to the client at the end of a project, only to sit on a shelf and collect dust. The more sophisticated firms deliver those closeout packages digitally now.

"We began to ask what value can we bring a client at the end of a project that is atypical from a standard closeout package," said O'Connell. "They've become more digital of course, but to take it one step further we've developed a closeout dashboard to help clients access all their project's data even faster. This enables them to make quick decisions and to implement preventative maintenance plans and tools to avoid potential catastrophes."

Closeout dashboards are an interactive PDF interface where Skanska USA's team links all the project's closeout information, including contact lists for vendors, warranty information and OEM information, into a digital user interface where all the information is stored and easy to access.

The amount of technology available can be overwhelming. Data collection apps, drones, robots, virtual reality devices and artificial intelligence software all combine to contribute to the efficiency and safety of a job site.

A technology that is right for one construction firm may not be needed by another. How do you know where to start? Construction trade shows and conferences are a great place to learn more about available technologies and speak with manufacturer representatives and current customers.

Requesting a demonstration by a construction software company or drone manufacturer is another way to see exactly how a particular technology can benefit your operation. CEG