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CT Construction Digest Tuesday September 22, 2020

Construction Workers, Contractors & Legislators Protest Amazon’s Irresponsible and Unsafe Labor Practices in Windsor

“The building trades unions represent 30,000 construction families right here in Connecticut,” said Joe Toner, President of the Greater Hartford Building and Construction Trades Council. “Our members and contractors have followed all of the state’s safety guidelines during this pandemic, and follow all laws and regulations set forth by the State of Connecticut in the construction industry. But Amazon’s greed, by bringing in out-of-state unscrupulous contractors, has created an unlevel playing field for local contractors and has put our state’s residents’ health and safety in jeopardy. It’s unfortunate that Amazon would trade safety in order to further pad their pockets.”

 In June of this year, the Windsor Town Council approved an $8.8 million property tax abatement for Amazon to construct a new distribution center called Project Warrior. But despite calls from worker advocates and elected officials, Amazon refused to commit to hiring locally or to guarantee worker protections for the nearly $9M of free tax-payer dollars they are receiving.

 Regardless of the Lamont administration’s vocal support and urging to Amazon officials to utilize a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), the company refused to even entertain negotiating a PLA with the Greater Hartford Building Trades Council.

 A PLA would have set local hiring goals of Connecticut’s construction workforce, would have leveled the playing field for in-state construction firms to compete, and would have mandated the hiring of registered apprentices. It would also have mandated good family-sustaining prevailing wages with access to health insurance coverage and secure retirement benefits. Amazon rejected all of these proposals. According to representatives of state construction workers, this was Amazon’s chance to show Connecticut that they want to be a partner and they failed.

 The whole nation is in the middle of a global pandemic that has cost this state over 4,000 lives and forced over a half a million residents onto unemployment benefits. While this highly contagious virus has a death rate of around 2%, Connecticut has taken great measures to mitigate the effects of the virus and to keep our residents as safe as possible. Despite the pandemic, Amazon has netted record profits in the past few months of over $5 billion. Amazon’s greed, by bringing in hundreds of out-of-state workers from restricted travel states, is putting Connecticut residents in harm’s way. For example, a steel company named A&D Welding, from Georgia, a state that has recorded nearly 300,000 COVID positive cases, has been on site performing steel erection with 28 workers from restricted travel states.

 Sen. Julie Kushner noted that, “This pandemic continues to lay bare the inequities in our economy and workforce. Safety is of paramount importance as is standard of living. And Amazon has failed on both fronts. It’s time for our government to hold them accountable.”

 A&D Welding is just one example of a company working on Amazon’s distribution center that has a history of labor violations. On Tuesday, September 22, 2020, the Connecticut Department of Labor issued a Stop Work Order for the Georgia company’s failure to provide Workmen’s Compensation Insurance for its workers. It is incredibly dangerous to employ construction workers without having enrolled in Workmen’s Compensation, but it is even more shameful to withhold those protections from workers in the middle of a global pandemic. It should come as no surprise that this is not A&D Welding’s first violation. They have been issued three Stop Work orders over the past four years for failure to enroll in Connecticut’s Workmen’s Compensation.

“It is unacceptable that we continue to fight for basic workplace standards,” said State Representative Robyn Porter. “This multi-billion-dollar conglomerate has all the resources to do the right thing. But they made a conscious decision to turn their backs on our state’s working families. Our construction workers deserve better. Plain and simple.”

Developer of housing at Milford mall wants to create ‘live-work-play environment’ 

MILFORD — Regulations changes to allow construction of a large scale apartment building at the Connecticut Post Mall are necessary to stabilize the mall economically, representatives of property owner Centennial Real Estate told the Planning and Zoning Board.

The PZB did not vote on the proposal, instead continuing the public hearing to its Oct. 6 meeting.

If approved, the revised regulations would allow construction of a 300-unit apartment building on a four-acre portion of the mall property at the location now occupied by the closed Sears Auto Center on East Town Road near Interstate 95.The rectangular building with an interior courtyard would have 135 one-bedroom units, 135 two-bedroom units, and 30 three-bedroom units. There is no site plan to accompany the regulation change, only a conceptual map with a drawing of the building. With changes to the zoning regulations, the board is acting in a legislative capacity, giving it full discretion in making a decision.

The board heard a 90-minute presentation from representatives for Centennial, detailing the economic challenges the mall is facing, and who gave reasons why this project is needed to stabilize the mall and ensure its long-term survival. Centennial purchased the mall from Westfield Corp. in 2015. The property is 74.9 acres with 1.75 million square feet of retail space.

Steven Levin, founder and chief executive officer of Centennial, gave a history of the mall, discussing how it started as an open-air shopping center and evolved during the past 60 years into a much larger enclosed structure. Levin said the mall must continue to evolve to stay relevant.

“Today shopping is not the entertainment that it was when these projects were designed and created. Today shopping is one reason that people go to these places. But today they’ve become a shop, a dine, an entertain, a live-work-play environment,” said Levin. “That is the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years of evolution of these projects that are the ones that will be successful in the future. Because of 1,150 malls in America, unfortunately, a majority of those won’t evolve and won’t survive.”

Levin said Centennial spent $200 million to purchase the mall, only to see the retail climate start to deteriorate much faster than expected, including the loss of JC Penney. He said the mall was able to out-compete the Westfield Trumbull Mall for Boscov’s, which he said cost a $20 million investment, and Dave and Busters, which he said cost $5 million to bring to Milford. “We have invested over $30 million in the last five years to make sure the Connecticut Post maintained its relevancy and also maintained (the) tax base,” said Levin.

Jon Meshel, senior vice president of development for Centennial Real Estate, said Centennial is “executing market specific versions of this concept across the country.” Meshel shared two examples on former Sears parcels at malls in Chicago suburbs. One is a 303-unit project at the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois, and the other is 550 units in Vernon Hills, Illinois.Meshel said 25 percent of enclosed malls are expected to close in the next three to five years. He said more than half of department stores are expected to permanently close by 2021. He said 15,000 stores will close permanently in 2020. These closures make it harder to find tenants, said Meshel.

The local mall has lost tenants, including JC Penney, Sears, and 10 others, and has seen a 20 percent drop in visitors in the past five years, said Meshel. He said these trends have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 virus situation.

Donald J. Poland, senior vice president and managing director, urban planning, for Goman + York, Planning and Design of East Hartford, presented the fiscal impact report, which he had prepared.

Poland estimates the project would annually generate $642,974 in net positive tax revenue. This includes the cost to educate the estimated 72 school-age students who would live in the apartments.

Poland also estimates the 300 apartments would create or sustain 372 construction-related jobs in the first year and an additional 117 permanent jobs in the second and following years. He estimates the community would generate a $1.2 million increase in local consumer spending.

Regulations Change

The application filed by Attorney John Knuff is only for the regulation change, which he said is necessary to bring the regulations into alignment with other uses in the zone. This zone change would affect the three properties in the district: the mall, the 47.5-acre Milford Crossing property at 1357 Boston Post Road, and the 10-acre Stop & Shop property at 1360 East Town Road.

Knuff said the existing regulations for multi-family housing in the Shopping Center Design District were adapted from the Residential Multi-Family-16 zone, which he said is a zone that is located near single-family zones.

With these changes, residential buildings could be five stories tall with an 85-foot height limit, instead of the current three-stories with a 35 foot height limitation. He said residential buildings are permitted to be five stories tall in the Corridor Design Development District-5, along Route 1 between Exit 39 and the Orange town line. There is also a change in the wording for how buildings may be spaced.

Another change would allow for recreational buildings and uses accessory to multi-family buildings, including a swimming pool, clubhouse and exercise facilities. The also seeks to reduce the minimum lot requirements for residential properties in the zone from 20 acres to four acres.

The proposal also requests dropping the requirement for a maximum of 40 percent of aggregate floor area be used for dwellings and a minimum of 50 percent of floor area be used for business and/or office uses.

“We believe these changes are fairly modest,” said Knuff.

The proposal also calls for modifying the minimum parking requirements from two spaces for an efficiency or one-bedroom unit and three spaces for a two or three bedroom unit, to 1.5 minimum spaces for any unit from an efficiency unit up to a three-bedroom apartment.

The regulation also seeks to change the mall’s parking requirements from one space for each 250 square feet of gross buildable area to three spaces for each 1,000 square feet of leasable area. The proposal notes that the mall’s parking use typically peaks at 60 percent of available spaces with a peak of 69 percent use during the holidays.

“We have vast amounts of unused parking,” said Knuff. “Most people don’t go to the mall and visit just one retailer. We are getting more than one store out of each space.”

Apartments Appeal

Scott Pollack, principal and architect with Arrowstreet, an architecture and planning firm in Boston, said there is a need for additional apartments in Milford. He said that household size has reduced significantly during the last 50 years. Pollack said the average households had four people from the 1950s to the 1970s and that number has now dropped to two or fewer.

“If you keep the same population, simple math tells you that you need twice as many housing units,” said Pollack. “We have a housing shortage, particularly in the Northeast.”

Pollack said Arrowstreet is doing a series of apartment projects on Long Island. He said there are three populations interested in this housing: younger people who want to stay in the community they grew up in, but cannot afford to purchase a single family home, older couples who are longer interested in maintaining a single family home and want to stay in their community, and single parents who want to stay in the community and keep their children in the same schools, but cannot afford to maintain two households.

He said his father has lived in New Jersey in a single-family house and wants to move into an apartment in the same community, but there are no apartments available for him to move into.

The advantage of mall locations is that “they offer large areas of land that allow rental property to be built without impacting the mature neighborhoods that exist within our communities,” said Pollack.

He said the location by East Town Road and I-95 was chosen to give the project visibility from the highway, while also providing screening with the existing mature trees. Pollack said this location “sets up the redevelopment for that end of the site.” The other goal is to keep the Boston Post Road side the property as commercial use.

Pollack said the future of retail is to provide people with the experiences they want, including going placed with friends, to shop, and going to restaurants and the movies. He said by connecting this retail to the new housing site, people can leave their car at home.

Bill aimed at averting government shutdown would fund two Columbia-class subs

Ana Radelat  Washington — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday unveiled a short-term spending bill that would avert a government shutdown — and allow the Pentagon to move forward with contracts with Electric Boat for two new Columbia-class submarines.

A short-term bill is needed to continue government operations after the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30. But Congress has been deadlocked over the legislation, known as a continuing resolution or CR, that would fund most of the agencies of the federal government at the budget amount approved for this fiscal year through Dec. 11.

The stop-gap measure unveiled by Pelosi does not contain provisions requested by the White House that would ensure that farm aid payments can continue flowing through the Commodity Credit Corporation, which has a borrowing limit of $30 billion. That omission could put the continuing resolution, which is expected to be approved by the Democratic-led House, in jeopardy in the Senate.

“House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tweeted.

Funding the Pentagon at this year’s level would not allow the Navy to move forward as planned on the Columbia-class submarine program. But the CR contains an “anomaly” that would allow the Navy to begin detailed design and construction work on two Columbia-class submarines.

Requested by the White House, the CR would provide $1.6 billion for the Columbia-class program and says the Navy can use “incremental funding” to make further payments under the contracts.

The Columbia-class submarines, which will replace the aging and retiring Ohio-class nuclear ballistic submarines, will be the largest and most expensive in the Navy’s history. Electric Boat in Groton and Virginia’s Newport News Shipbuilding have been chosen to design and build 12 of the new subs at a cost that will likely exceed $110 billion.

The CR would also extend the window for reimbursing government contractors for costs related to COVID-19 through Dec. 11.

Other “anomalies” in the House Democrat’s CR would extend for a year the National Flood Insurance Program to avoid a lapse in authority Oct. 1, when the government would no longer be able to write new policies or renew existing ones and extend funding for community health centers, the National Health Service Corps and other health programs through Dec. 11.