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CT Construction Digest Wednesday April 10, 2024

Pratt & Whitney plans new 313K-square-foot office building, part of multi-year upgrade to East Hartford campus

Michael Puffer

Aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney plans to build a new 313,000-square-foot office building on its East Hartford campus, according to an application before the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

The new building is part of a longer-term renovation to Pratt & Whitney’s headquarters, which includes 4.8 million square feet of manufacturing, warehouse, laboratory, office and other space in several buildings on a 251.2-acre campus at Rentschler Field.

The five-story office building will cover a 16.6-acre portion of the property. It is designed to replace an existing 249,847-square-foot building, which will be demolished. The footprint of the former building will be used for parking after it's torn down.

Between the new building and demolition, this phase of the larger renovation project will result in a net gain of 63,143 square feet of office space for Pratt & Whitney, according to a site plan application submitted by the company in February.

Pratt’s application is consistent with a zone change and master plan approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2005, according to the company and town officials. No public hearing is required for the board to approve the site plan.  

The Planning & Zoning Commission will review the site plan at its meeting Wednesday evening. In addition to the commission’s approval of the site plan, Pratt’s plan requires approval from the Office of the State Traffic Administration and local building permits.

In 1929, a booming Pratt & Whitney moved operations to a new plant on a 1,100-acre site in East Hartford, which included an airfield for testing of engines, according to Connecticuthistory.org.

Portions of the property have since been carved off, most recently with the January 2023 sale of 300 acres to Massachusetts-based National Development for $78.47 million.

National Development has since completed two logistics warehouses with a combined size of 2.5 million square feet, which have been leased to Lowe's Home Improvement and online retailer Wayfair. National Development also has approval to build two smaller research and development buildings on its site. 

State transportation projects need better oversight: DOT audit

Dan Zukowski

The Federal Highway Administration has not completed guidance that state transportation departments need to administer programs supported by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other federal funds, according to an audit released Monday by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General.

Federal regulations generally require surface transportation projects to be included on approved Statewide Transportation Improvement Programs, which include all projects planned for implementation over at least four years. “Lack of complete guidance may increase the risk that IIJA funding will not achieve intended benefits and cause increased project costs,” the OIG said.

The OIG recommended that FHWA complete the outstanding guidance items and manage a list of states’ technical assistance requests in order to fulfill them.

The FHWA oversees approximately $350 billion in funding from the IIJA. The agency provided states with a list of 22 guidance issues in 2022, but as of November 2023 it was still working on four of these items. According to the OIG, FHWA’s review and approval of STIPs is designed to help state transportation departments meet federal requirements including reliable cost estimates and reasonably available funding.

The OIG’s audit sampled state transportation departments in Texas, Virginia and Washington. One unspecified state said it received FHWA guidance after having completed its project delivery plan, which a state transportation official said impacted the analysis and allocation of program funds. Another state was waiting for guidance to make project funding and selection recommendations, and the third said its projects could be delayed depending on the highway administration’s final guidance. 

In one case, the FHWA took up to five months to fulfill two requests for technical assistance from a state transportation department. “Similar delays in other States may increase the risk of adversely affecting the States’ STIP development for IIJA-funded projects, which can be time-sensitive,” the audit says.

The OIG made three recommendations to the FHWA to improve its oversight of STIPs. They include:

Providing state departments of transportation and FHWA division offices with all planned IIJA guidance areas and associated target completion dates.

Identifying outstanding technical assistance requests and fulfilling them.

Developing and implementing a policy requiring FHWA headquarters’ agreement when division offices make revisions to their standard operating procedures for reviewing and approving STIPs.

In response to the report, the highway administration agreed with the first recommendation and provided appropriate actions and completion dates, the OIG said. The FHWA partially concurred with the second two recommendations, providing an action plan for responding to outstanding technical assistance requests but saying it will only require reviews of division office procedural revisions for major changes.

One FHWA official told the OIG that “the Agency emphasized the issuance of IIJA guidance that would best help States make efficient and effective use of Federal-aid highway formula funding,” the report states.

New Haven advances transit oriented development — with extra step for housing

Laura Glesby | New Haven Independent

With climate change in mind, a New Haven aldermanic committee advanced a zoning proposal that would allow as-of-right restaurants, supermarkets, and officesbut not housingalong the Union Station railroad tracks.

City zoning staff and Union Station development boosters appeared before the Board of Alders Legislation Committee on Tuesday night to pitch a new “Transit-Oriented Community” (TOC) zone, allowing both residential and commercial activities, that would be applied to a strip of Union Avenue incorporating the train station and a few adjacent properties.

The vote that followed marked progress in the New Haven Parking Authority’s long-brewing effort to redevelop vacant lots around Union Station, an area currently zoned for “wholesale and distribution” uses. 

It also displayed how climate change has begun to impact New Haven’s housing and economic development policy.

Apartments would still be permitted next to the transit hub under the alder-advanced amended proposal. But residential developers would have to clear one extra bureaucratic hurdle that would not apply to, for example, those looking to build a co-working space or a radio station on that same train station-adjacent site.

As City Plan Director Laura Brown explained to alders, the TOC zone was proposed in line with a national movement for “transit-oriented development”a planning approach that aims to center city life around mass transportation so that residents can more easily live without a car and reduce carbon emissions. The proposed zone would allow taller buildings that could reach 28–34 stories, with parking spaces capped at 85 per acre.

“mixed-use, pedestrian friendly” approachincluding residential buildingsis a key part of the city’s vision with this rezoning proposal, Brown explained. The idea is “not just about high rises next to a train station,” Brown said. “How do we design these places to be oriented toward the people?”

But climate change also seemed to factor into an amendment adopted by the committee, which would add a hurdle for developers seeking to build a truly “mixed-use” building. The amendment, proposed by Westville Alder Adam Marchand, would permit housing in this newly defined zone only if developers secure a special permit from the City Plan Commission (on which Marchand serves as the alders’ representative).

Marchand cited the “prevalence of flooding” in the Long Wharf area, amid the rising sea levels and intensifying storms anticipated as part of climate change, as his motivation for the amendment, which would also require a special permit for hotels, conference centers, and assisted living facilities.

Though the city is working on a stormwater and flood management system for the Long Wharf area and included extra flood safety measures in its proposal, Marchand argued that the City Plan Commission could offer additional oversight to ensure that those safety measures are followed. The move echoed alders’ decisions to require a special permit for housing in the recently-approved Long Wharf “MU” zone adjacent to Union Station.

The committee alders unanimously decided to recommend that their colleagues on the full board rezone the railroad hub accordingly, including the extra regulation for housing and hotel-related uses.

The full Board of Alders will next have the chance to issue a final approval or denial of the zoning legislation.

Higher heights & parking caps

The proposed Transit Oriented Community zone resembles the city’s other business district zones, with a handful of key exceptions.

The TOC zone’s maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR)the total area across all floors of a given building in proportion to the area of the lot itselfwould be 10, compared to an FAR of 6 allowed in other business zones (including the BE zone that currently applies to Union Station). Developers can even increase the FAR to 12 if they incorporate sustainability measures and include public plazas in their design.

The Parking Authority, which manages the day to day operations of the transit hub, estimated that a higher FAR limit could allow for buildings of up to about 34 storiesor about 28 stories without the sustainability and park add-onscompared to the current limit that could theoretically permit a 17-story building.

The zone would also allow for more housing density (in the case of an apartment building). While the city typically caps density at one apartment per 1,000 gross square feet, the TOC zone would lower that requirement to one apartment per 500 gross square feet.

Another feature of the TOC zone would be a cap of 85 parking spots per acre and a special permit required for new above-ground parking spaces. 

“Because the development is transit-oriented, there is no minimum” parking requirement, said New Haven Parking Authority Executive Director Doug Hausladen.

The zone requires a 20-foot distance between the edge of a building and the curb.

It also includes flood safety requirements, including a wheelchair-accessible “dry egress” connected to an area deemed to be less prone to flooding. Emergency vehicles also have to be able to enter and exit new construction safely during a flood.

Legislation Committee alders kept all of these provisions intact as they advanced the proposal.

During the presentation before the committee, architect Karin Patriquin addressed concerns that Marchand had previously expressed over how noise levels from the trains could affect the quality of life in a potential residential development. Patriquin said that noise levels from the train would not be as loud as some other features of city life, and that a combination of state and national building codes would ensure that any structures built alongside those tracks would be resilient to noise.

Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison singled out the higher permitted density, which she deduced could allow for smaller apartment sizes. The idea of 500 square-foot apartments reminded her of “college” or “temporary housing,” she said. “I don’t see families,” she said.

“Is this for people to come here and actually establish roots?” she asked. Or is it just for commuters?

“We want more families,” Hausladen responded. He and other presenters stressed that the density minimum was simply a minimum, and that it didn’t necessarily mean that every apartment built will be 500 square feet in area.

Downtown/East Rock Alder Eli Sabin pointed out that the city’s Inclusionary Zoning ordinance already allows developers who meet certain affordability standards to build at a density of one apartment per 600 square feet.

The committee ultimately left this part of the proposal intact.