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CT Construction Digest Wednesday May 17, 2023

Huge Middletown housing complex offers a 1st: Private money targeted toward minority contractors


With an official construction kickoff Tuesday in Middletown, Springside moved closer to becoming one of the largest new apartment complexes in central Connecticut: Plans call for 414 units.

But more than size sets this project apart, speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony said. Local officials believe this is the first time that a developer has pledged private money to hire minority contractors in Middletown.

“I want you to know you’re witnessing history,” Alan Marshall told a crowd of community leaders gathered under a tent at the 48-acre building site. “For the first time in the city’s history, a private developer has set aside a minimum of $1 million for socially and economically disadvantaged businesses.”

Middletown negotiated two unusual provisions when it granted tax breaks to developers PB Development and Harbor Group International. The companies agreed to earmark $1 million of the construction budget for minority-owned contractors, and also pledged to provide $100,000 in local business gift cards to tenants in the 414 apartments.

“It took years to get this project to where we’re breaking ground. It’s our intention to surpass your expectations, to exceed some of the set-asides,” said Bob Dale, a principal in PB Development. “We expect to surpass them and we expect to deliver a piece of the community that’s vibrant, that fits in Middletown, and that’s going to have long-lasting value for you and your community.”

Marshall, a youth minister with the Shiloh Christian Church, was one of dozens of community members and town officials who spent years trying to coordinate a large-scale residential construction project on the property.

“I’m especially proud and grateful that the investment being made is going to support minority contractors and minority businesses in our community,” Mayor Ben Florsheim said. “It’s something the state of Connecticut has talked about for many, many years as a strategy to better invest in what it means to actually build sustainable economies here and not outsource labor or jobs.”

The developers recruited Marshall to run the set-aside program, and he said Tuesday that Springside is more than housing.

“We’re talking about a public-private partnership that’s completely cash-positive for the city,” Marshall said. “For the first time in the city’s history, Middletown will have a set-aside funded with private money and a Discover Middletown program aimed to incentivize small (local) businesses through the purchase of gift cards.”

The first phase of Springside should take 27 months to complete, and will produce 240 units, Dale said. The second phase will build another 174. Dale said he would like to begin construction on phase two sometime during phase one, but said that could be held off depending on market conditions.

The cost of the first phase has been estimated at $83 million. Dale on Tuesday said the cost of the entire project will be over $100 million, but cited construction inflation as one reason he wouldn’t give a more precise figure.

Springside will be entirely market-rate rentals with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and a mix of three-story garden-style apartments, a four-story building with an elevator, and single-level townhouse-style units.

There will be two large amenities buildings, including a large fitness center, as well as a dog park, outdoor pool and more.

Bridgeport may demolish long-abandoned Warnaco factory

Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — Eight years ago the owner of the former Warnaco clothing factory in the South End received a zoning approval to implement a grand overhaul of the prominent brick eyesore into hundreds of apartments with ground floor retail space.

And then nothing happened.

Now the city, which late last year condemned the long-abandoned site, is threatening to demolish it unless the New York City-based CT Century Gardens LLC, which purchased the property in 2004, makes substantial improvements.

"They (in the past) did do some remediation work on it. Now it's to the point where it's time to do something or the building has to go," Russell Liskov, an attorney for the city, said Monday.

CT Century Gardens, run by Albert Gad, has been fighting the condemnation in state Superior Court since January and also earlier this month placed the factory on the market for $6.5 million. 

An online real estate advertisement, posted May 4 on LoopNet under the address 300 Atlantic Street — the actual address is 330 Myrtle Ave., promotes the site as development-ready based on the 2015 zoning authorization which remains active.

"The approvals consist of a 346 unit, 7-story building with 13,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor," reads the listing. "The second level is designed to include 13,000 plus square feet of amenity space including an entertainment room/lounge, meeting room and fitness center. The site also has an option to accommodate a 'restaurant row' concept boasting a wide variety of dining options with ample parking."

While CT Century Gardens wants $6.5 million, the building has been appraised by the city's tax assessor at $1.9 million.

"Someone's not going to be able to come in there and buy that and rehab it at their price. It wouldn't make economic sense," Bridgeport Economic Development Director Thomas Gill said in an interview late last week. 

Meanwhile a remote court hearing on the condemnation and pending demolition was scheduled for Tuesday. CT Century Gardens had in its January court filing initially claimed Bridgeport did not follow the proper process for condemning Warnaco and for notifying the owner. 

Liskov on Monday said the city acted appropriately.

"It's vacant and it poses a health hazard to the citizens," he said. 

Hearst Connecticut Media late last week forwarded questions to an assistant of Gad's about why CT Century Gardens never built the apartment complex and about the condemnation. On Monday the assistant responded that she was "not authorized to comment."

Liskov admitted it will likely cost the city "millions" of dollars to take the building, which dates back to 1891, down, and that, ideally, the parties would instead reach a resolution improving the property. But he also indicated he is skeptical that will happen given CT Century Gardens' history.

Liskov said he has been told that CT Century Gardens has "a partner" to rehabilitate the structure and is awaiting further details, but added the owner "has told us that story before and nothing has panned out."

"If there is truly a (partner) we'd be more than happy to work with them," Liskov added. “(But) if they don’t have a plan to us shortly there will be no choice but to demolish the building.”

Gill last week accused the entity of sitting for years on the parcel hoping to one day turn a profit. 

"They basically 'land-banked' this," said Gill, who has run the economic development office since mid-2016. "It’s a game of just holding on to the property and saying, 'Somebody will come along and pay us our ridiculous price.' We can’t allow that property to stay like that.”

"Unfortunately," Gill continued, "They don't take care of it and secure it the way they should."

In April 2014, a then-spokesman for Gad, Michael Villani, blamed the national recession from 2007 to 2009 for CT Century Gardens' being unable to have redeveloped the site sooner.

"We tried over and over and over to bring in partners, but the timing was just not right with the financial market. In the last few months, we decided we'd just do it ourselves," Villani said at the time.

Villani could not be reached for comment.

As for the 2015 zoning approval for the apartment complex, that is still in effect. 

Initially CT Century Gardens was required to annually seek an extension of the authorization annually. But, according to the zoning department, because of a recent change in state law that applies to certain land-use approvals granted between July 1, 2011 and March 10, 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Connecticut, those permits were automatically extended for 14 years.

According to the Bridgeport tax collector's online database, which covers 2016 through present, CT Century Gardens has mostly kept up with the tax bill for the property, most recently paying $65,639. But a lien was placed on the site for 2020's tax payment. No additional information was immediately available.

City Councilman Tyler Mack has represented the South End since his election in late 2021. He said Monday he was not aware of either the condemnation of Warnaco nor that it was being marketed for a nearly 300-unit apartment building.

Mack noted how Bridgeport is preparing to break ground on a new Bassick High School in the same neighborhood, and that is a significant change from 2015 that needs to be taken into consideration should Warnaco be redeveloped.

"With Bassick being there, now we have more school buses in that area, more students walking," Mack said. 

Former resident Doug Williams, who used to live in the South End but has since moved out of state, in 2015 submitted testimony to the zoning office in support of CT Century Gardens' plans.

Reached Monday and told that the factory could be torn down, Williams said that would be "a waste."

"The character of those old brick buildings, there's something there to be useful," Williams said. 

Ridgefield to sell sewer treatment facility to developer planning 92 townhouses and apartments

Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — Voters have approved selling a 2.2-acre town-owned property to a developer who plans to construct 92 townhouses and apartments on the site, despite strong opposition from a handful of residents. 

The 877 Ethan Allen Highway property will be sold for $441,000 to the Ridgefield Professional Office Complex, which aims to build 71 townhouses and 21 apartments, including 14 units that will be designated as affordable. The property, also known as the “Village at Ponds Edge,” is home to one of the town’s sewer plants.

The property sale was approved during a May 10 special town meeting, but the development project requires further land use approvals. There is no date yet for construction to begin.

“I’m really pleased that the turnout supported what was going on, that the people supported it,” said Richard Lipton, managing member of Ridgefield Professional Office Complex. “It seemed to me that it was overwhelming support.”

Selectman Sean Connelly said he’s confident “this is a good deal for the town, where we can get back our investment for the land at a fair price.”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the $441,000 will go directly into the account the town had set up for its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.  

Cleaning up the site 

The sewer plant that sits on the property is being decommissioned, and a larger sewage treatment plant is being installed.

“The Water Pollution Control Authority is in the process of updating the town’s sewer district plant… on South Street, that will not only handle the current allocation at that plant but will also be increased in size to handle the filtration… from the Route 7 district (plant),” Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. 

Remediation would be needed to clean up contamination that has collected on the site. The WPCA will cover the cost of all the remediation, Marconi said.

“It’s their responsibility to remediate, demolish, clean up the site,” he said. 

Water, traffic, development concerns

At the meeting, Ridgfield resident John Tartaglia, who said he was against the sale of the property, said he didn’t think adding more housing “without parks, without sidewalks” was a good idea.

“That type of development is probably better… in the main part of town,” he said.

Connelly said the plans assume there’ll be recreational facilities on site. 

Ridgefield resident Lynne Noyes, who also didn’t support the sale, had concerns about water quality and traffic.

Marconi told Hearst Connecticut Media the quality of the water would be improved once the sewer plant is taken offline.

“When you treat sewer water, the discharge from that sewer plant goes into the Norwalk River,” he said. “Decommissioning that sewer plant and pumping everything up into the new filtration, which has state-of-the-art everything — will release a better quality of water.”

Regarding traffic concerns, Lipton said the Route 35 curb cut across from Buck Hill Road will only be for emergency access once construction is completed.

He added owner and visitor access will be “limited to the proposed Route 7 entrance.”

ARPA funds, next steps

Ridgefield resident Greg Kabasakalian, who is on the town’s finance board, said the town will benefit financially from the sale.

The town has an agreement with the Water Pollution Control Authority that if it allocates $2.9 million — the cost of the sewer work — when the sewer plant property is sold to Pond's Edge, LLC, the $441,000 would go back to the town's American Rescue Plan Act account.

“We used ARPA money to push the WPCA project through. So we need that money to be returned to us. That’s our COVID money. These folks want that property to make a better development,” he said.

The town created its ARPA fund account, and the U.S. government approves that the town can move funds into that account, Marconi said.

While the sale of the property has been approved, the town’s Inland Wetlands Board and Planning & Zoning Commission will address the intended use of the property at their next meetings.

The property was on the agenda for the Planning & Zoning Commission's May 16 meeting and the Inland Wetlands Board's May 25 meeting.

Erin Kayata

WILTON — As the Wilton Planning & Zoning Commission considers a proposal for a new four-story hotel on the town's side of the iPark complex, owners of the campus outlined its plans to also build a parking garage and apartments on the Norwalk side.  

The P&Z Commission will continue the public hearing for iPark Hotel, a 120-room hotel proposed for the iPark mixed-use campus on the Wilton-Norwalk border, at its meeting on May 22. The applicant and owner iPark Norwalk II LLC is still working with other town entities, including the Department of Public Works and the Inland Wetlands Commission, to make sure its application meets all the necessary standards.

Plans for the proposed four-story building on Cannondale Way were approved by the Architectural Review Board last November. This would be the first within the town's borders.

Lynne Ward, principal at iPark Norwalk, said at a May 8 meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission the company has already been approved to build a 407-space parking garage later this year at the campus. It then will begin construction on an apartment building on the Norwalk side of the development.

“Then we hope to next attack the hotel construction project in the Wilton area,” she said. “We anticipate many people who stay in the hotel will be visitors of one of the other components.”

The hotel would be built over a level of surface parking; the current design allows for multiple points of entry to this parking area, which would have 96 spaces for the hotel. In addition to 120 rooms, the hotel would also offer amenities on the second floor, including laundry for guests, a fitness center, a library, and a meeting room.

The current renderings for the proposed hotel show an exterior made of red bricks and gray paneling to blend in with the other buildings in the area. Prominent signs would help direct visitors within the park to access the hotel. 

“Our goal for the architecture design was to keep it simple and organized so you can clearly see where the entrance to the building is,” said Luce Rosado, an architect for Lessard Design who worked on the project. 

The campus already contains an LA Fitness and an outpost of Nuvance Health. Ward said they are working with Nuvance and LA Fitness to manage parking and have discussed using stickers and cameras to make sure customers at both establishments are using the proper parking spaces.

The plans for a hotel in Wilton have been in the works for many years. The Planning and Zoning Commission voted in 2016 to allow hotels under the town’s zoning regulations, with this specific project in mind. Wilton currently has no hotels.

Town Planner Michael Wrinn previously said a hotel could be a positive addition to Wilton as the town continues to grow and expand its appeal to a younger generation.

"A diversity of commercial uses is a positive goal for Wilton, and I can see how a new hotel would be very attractive to existing and future corporations and businesses," Wrinn said previously.

Colonel Ledyard School apartment plans presented to Groton commission

Kimberly Drelich

Groton ― An attorney for a developer proposing 65 apartments at the former Colonel Ledyard School property, which is within walking distance of Electric Boat, said Tuesday that creating “attainable housing” is a driving force for the project.

Bill Sweeney, who represents Bellsite Development LLC of Manchester, the developer of the former school site on 120 West Street, said at a public hearing that while the proposed development calls for market-rate housing and not deed-restricted affordable housing, it targets people who are part of a growing workforce in Groton and want to live in the community.

He said the proposed housing ― a mix of one and two bedroom apartments as well as three-unit townhomes — caters to many different types of tenants and creates a diversity in the neighborhood being created on the site.

Bellsite, the developer for the town-owned site located in the city, presented its plans Tuesday to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to convert the former elementary school building into 29 apartments and construct 36 additional apartments on site. William Bellock, principal member of Bellsite Development, has said the development is geared towards Electric Boat and Pfizer employees, as well as to meet the overall demand for housing in Groton.

Bellsite Development was recommended as the developer of the site, after the town issued in 2019 a request for proposals for the 8.32-acre property which houses a 20,378-square-foot, 60-year-old school building that closed in 2008. Bellsite is seeking a special permit and site plan approval from the commission.

Bellock said the project would substantially preserve the original school building. The first phase of the project calls for renovating the school and adding a second story to it. This phase would create 27 one-bedroom units and two 2-bedroom units.

The second phase includes the construction of six attached three-bedroom townhome units to the east of the front parking lot, as well as a 30-unit apartment building — with 20 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom units — to the rear of the school building, he said.

During the public hearing, commission members raised questions, including about traffic from the site and whether a traffic study was done. Sweeney said a study was not done and the traffic impact of a school is higher, but he would provide numbers to the commission.

Sweeney said the plan evolved over the past three and a half years as the developer worked with the city to interpret regulations and avoid impacting wetlands on the rear of the site.

The commission is awaiting a third-party engineering study of the property.

During Tuesday’s meeting, a letter from the Colonel Ledyard Association, an abutting property owner, was read aloud. The association has concerns about tenants crossing the cemetery property to gain access to Mitchell Street and beyond and about children using the cemetery property as a playground and increasing the cemetery’s liability. The cemetery recommended a chain link fence along the property boundary.

Sweeney said he was concerned that installing a fence could require additional permitting due to wetlands, and also did not want to block off access for residents to a walking path, but he said he would reach out to the cemetery association to accommodate its concerns.

Paige Bronk, the town’s economic and community development manager, was the only person who spoke during the public comment section of the meeting. He supported the project on behalf of the town, which owns the property. He said a committee of both town and city representatives jointly had reviewed proposals and selected Bellsite.

He said studies have indicated that the housing demand between now and before 2030 is between 3,000 and 5,000 units.

Bronk said the demand is not simply due to increased hiring at Electric Boat alone as there are also empty-nesters, people looking for a different housing style, and Pfizer employees. He said 82% of jobs in Groton are held by commuters, and with less than a 3% vacancy with its existing housing stock, “we have incredible housing demand.”

He said the project not only provides housing, but would help alleviate parking issues in the city if Electric Boat employees lived there and walked to work.

The public hearing was continued to the commission’s June 21 meeting.

CT Construction Digest Monday May 16, 2023

CT Children’s new $280M patient tower a linchpin in broader financial turnaround, expansion

Harriet Jones

Superhero day has been an annual tradition for the last decade at Connecticut Children’s medical center, and this April, the hospital was able to combine it with a groundbreaking for the most significant expansion in the hospital’s 27-year history.

CEO Jim Shmerling got in on the act, donning a red superhero cape for the accompanying press conference.

The $280 million new tower, adjacent to the hospital’s current Hartford premises, has been in the works for several years. It will house several ambitious new programs, including a fetal surgery center that is expected to make Hartford a national leader in the discipline, a NICU unit with 50 private rooms, and state-of-the-art facilities for bone marrow transplant work and gene therapy.

“There’s so much demand for our services that we’re turning patients away, so we need to expand,” Shmerling said in a recent interview.

The new patient tower is the highest-profile piece of a broader turnaround effort that’s been underway at Connecticut Children’s since Shmerling, a Tennessee native, arrived eight years ago.

At that time, the picture was different than it is today. The hospital had run multimillion-dollar deficits in two of the previous three years.

“The board had approved a deficit. I’ve never seen that before,” Shmerling said of his arrival in October 2015. “The budget when I got here was to lose $8 million, and that was a huge improvement over the previous year. In fact, the board felt like that might be a stretch.”

The legacy financial issues revolved around the hospital’s size and core patient population, he said.

“We’re comparatively small … to other children’s hospitals, so we don’t have the same kind of scale,” said Shmerling. “We have a lot of children who are enrolled in the Medicaid program, and Medicaid does not pay the cost for the care.”

Infrastructure build-out

His approach to fixing those two problems continued a trend begun by his predecessor, Martin Gavin — supporting the hospital’s mission in underserved communities by expanding its overall reach, and thereby tilting its revenue mix toward more sustainable private insurance payments. This strategy was partly achieved by building more outpatient facilities.

“We really didn’t have that many satellites,” he said. “So, we spent a lot of time investing and building out that network across the region.”

Where previously the hospital counted 750,000 children in Connecticut as its core patient population, it has now extended into western Massachusetts and eastern New York, encompassing a potential patient population of 1.2 million children.

And, as it has moved south in Connecticut toward communities in Fairfield County, it has begun to serve more families with access to private insurance, improving the payer mix. The southern Connecticut expansion, not incidentally, also builds Connecticut Children’s brand in part of the state with potential wealthy donors.

Counting affiliate programs as well as its own standalone locations, Connecticut Children’s now operates about 40 satellite facilities in communities that range from Putnam to Poughkeepsie, New York, and South Hadley, Massachusetts to Stamford.

Yale operates the state’s only other children’s hospital.

“He’s had a huge and positive impact on Connecticut Children’s,” said David Roth, who was on the hospital’s board when Shmerling joined, and became board chair shortly thereafter.

“We opened a Danbury specialty care unit, a Westport specialty care center, a Farmington infusion center, an urgent care center in Farmington,” said Roth. “He helped create a clinically integrated network that engages pediatricians from all over the state, which connects us to these doctors and gives them a better understanding of what we can do. And they now refer a lot of their patients to us.”

In addition to the physical infrastructure build-out and new relationships around the state, Shmerling also partnered with peer institutions. Connecticut Children’s now runs the neonatal intensive care units at eight other hospitals in the region, and for some, their pediatric units as well.

As hospital consolidation only gains pace in Connecticut, Shmerling said he sees this as a way of thriving in a changing landscape.

“What we’ve tried to do is be Switzerland,” he smiles. “Children should have access to care regardless of what health system they go to. How do we have access, then, to those systems so that those children have access to our specialists?”

COVID challenges

Connecticut Children’s financial turnaround pre-pandemic was apparent in both top- and bottom-line growth. The medical center saw its operating revenues climb consistently from fiscal years 2015 to 2020, from $311 million in fiscal 2015 to $399 million in fiscal 2020, a 28% increase.

It reported an operating surplus in each of those years, growing from $23.6 million in fiscal 2015 to $27.1 million in fiscal 2020, making it one of the best-performing hospitals in the state.

“This is like a flywheel,” Shmerling said of the hospital’s financial progress. “You’re trying to get that flywheel moving, and that initial point where there’s a lot of inertia takes a lot more effort. But once it starts moving, you start generating revenue and margin, which then we can take and reinvest in additional expansion.”

For the first four years of his tenure, momentum had begun to build, and by 2019, he was presenting plans to the board for the ambitious new patient tower.

It was far from the first time Shmerling had driven forward a major hospital expansion program. He was recruited to Colorado Children’s Hospital in 2006, tasked with planning a relocation of the entire hospital from the downtown Denver building where it had been for 100 years, to a spacious new suburban campus.

He followed that up with a further expansion in 2010: A $230-million, 10-story, 350,000-square-foot addition, to bring the total number of beds at the hospital to 500. That expansion achieved its projected 2012 opening.

In Connecticut, Shmerling’s expansion plans didn’t go as smoothly — they were interrupted by the pandemic.

“As we were hitting our stride, COVID hit, which put us in a tailspin for a brief period of time,” Shmerling said.

Connecticut Children’s furloughed 600 staff during the pandemic lockdowns, and put retirement contributions on hold. Financially, it survived thanks to support from the state of Connecticut and federal government. But, as with most businesses, some work practices were permanently altered.

Telemedicine, which had previously been a negligible part of its business, supported 40% of outpatient consultations through the pandemic. While that percentage has lessened, Shmerling estimates a fifth of visits are still done remotely, and telemedicine has become another arm of the mission to extend the hospital’s geographical reach.

Expansion plan reborn

By June 2022, Shmerling and his team were back at work on the expansion project, submitting the proposal for state and city approvals. At the same time, Connecticut Children’s began to build the clinical programs that will eventually be housed in the new tower.

Shmerling last year recruited one of the nation’s top fetal surgeons, Dr. Timothy M. Crombleholme, to come to Connecticut from Dallas, promising to build a fetal surgery program around him that could potentially attract patients from across the nation to Hartford.

“There may be seven or eight children’s hospitals across the country (that) can do fetal surgery in utero, (that) have a comprehensive program,” said Shmerling. “The closest place to Connecticut is in Philadelphia.”

That focus on the youngest of patients will be continued in the new NICU, which will provide a level of care that’s not currently available at the hospital, including private accommodations for families.

The improvements will also extend to cancer treatment rooms with improved airflow and isolation, and a gene therapy unit. Shmerling said that will mean Connecticut sends fewer really sick patients to Boston for treatment.

It’s a case that has impressed many, including Wall Street investors. New York ratings agency Fitch Ratings recently called Connecticut Children’s planned expansion a “once in a generation transformational project.”

Fitch opined because the hospital is taking on about $112.4 million in bonded debt to help finance the expansion. This marks the first time Connecticut Children’s has gone to market for bond funding.

It received an A+ rating from Fitch and an A3 rating from Moody’s.

“The ‘A+’ rating reflects CT Children’s excellent market position as the only independent children’s hospital in the state of Connecticut, with a 90% market share in its primary service area, which includes Hartford and the surrounding counties, and a growing market share in its secondary service area,” Fitch said.

Board chair Roth said Shmerling has a lot to do with the positive ratings.

“I think a lot of the fact that we got the outstanding bond ratings we just received are based on what he’s done and the confidence that he’s created in our organization,” Roth said.

Connecticut Water Co. investing $60 million in infrastructure improvements this year

Luther Turmelle

The Connecticut Water Co. will invest $60 million this year on more than 100 infrastructure upgrades and improvement projects, officials with the Clinton-based utility have announced.

Connecticut Water, which serves more than 350,000 people in 60 communities in the state, will be replacing components of its distribution network that are between 40-and-100-years old. One of the larger projects is a new $12 million water treatment facility being built in East Windsor to serve customers in north central Connecticut, according to Dan Meaney, a spokesman for the utility

"That's our largest system and the new work is replacing something that went on line in the late 1960s or early 1970s," Meaney said. Work on replacing the water treatment system started last year and will be completed by the end of the summer, he said.

David Peeling, Connecticut Water's vice president if engineering, making investments in the company's distribution network "is costly to ... install, maintain and replace."

"But it is imperative for us to continually make investments in our water systems so that customers and communities served by Connecticut Water can count on high-quality drinking water and reliable service for generations to come," Peeling said. "Aside from maintaining a safe water supply, replacing water mains, treatment systems and storage facilities in a planned and systematic manner costs less than emergency repairs.”

Other improvements being made to the company's distribution network include more than 30 water main replacement projects across the state involving 1,850 miles of piping as well as upgrades to hundreds of other facilities such as pump stations, water treatment and storage tanks. One of those new water main projects got started this week in Chester, where nearly half a mile of new piping will be installed along the Kings Highway at a cost of $1.4 million. 

The new main in Chester will replace existing pipe that was installed in 1969. Three fire hydrants will also be replaced as part of the project, which will be completed by the end of August.

It will take the efforts of about 260 construction workers to complete this year's improvement projects.  A majority of the improvements are being done by outside contractors hired by Connecticut Water, Meaney said.

Connecticut Water is also installing a 275 kilowatt array of solar panels in Clinton to offset the power needs of the company’s Clinton office, as well as the southern region work center and two electric vehicle charging stations, which are need because the utility is electrifying part of its fleet. Work on the solar array got underway last month and will be completed by the end of June.

Company officials said the solar array will keep the utility from having to purchase power from more traditional sources at prices that are subject to fluctuation. That in turn will help Connecticut Water to stabilize the cost of delivering water to customers.

The company already has two other solar arrays serving parts of its network. One is at the utility's Stewart Water Treatment Plant in Naugatuck and the other is in Colchester at the company's Westchester Village system.

Meaney said Connecticut Water will ultimately seek to recover some the costs associated with the system improvement by going before state utility regulators to  seek a rate increase.

"These are increased costs associated with operating and we do file rate cases periodically," he said. "We have a time frame in mind for the filing, but it's not something we are prepared to share at this point."

Connecticut Water improvements to its distribution network come even as the state's other large water company, Aquarion, is in court appealing a rate hike request that was rejected by utility regulators in March.

At that time, the state's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority denied the Bridgeport-based utility's rate hike request increase that could have increased rates by 27 percent over three years. Instead, PURA ordered that Aquarion customers water rates be reduced by about $67 per year.

 Aquarion filed an appeal of the PURA ruling on March 30 in New Britain Superior Court and was granted a temporary stay of the regulatory decision. A hearing in the case was scheduled for Monday.

Meaney said Connecticut Water is following the Aquarion court challenge as it makes its way through the legal system.

"We're looking to interpret their filing in such way that we can improve our own when the time comes," Meaney said of the Aquarion rate case.

Whole Foods Withdraws Old Saybrook Plan, But Officials Say the Project is Moving Forward

OLD SAYBROOK – Plans for a Whole Foods on Boston Post Road are moving forward despite the developers withdrawing an application for a wetlands permit last week, a town official confirmed.

Town Planner Chris Costa said she met with the developer, Rhode Island-based Carpionato Group’s attorney on Monday to discuss setting up a preliminary meeting with the town’s Architectural Review Board to talk about the project – which involved building a 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods and redeveloping the rest of the plaza that now houses NAPA Auto Parts and Alforno Trattoria.

The developers were scheduled to meet with the Inland Wetland Commission on Thursday, but withdrew their application last week to continue work on their plans, said Costa, and because state law sets a 35-day window for public hearings.

The Carpionato Group could not be reached for comment. 

If approved by the town, the store would be the first Whole Foods along I-95 between Milford and Providence. The closest existing Whole Foods stores to Old Saybrook are about 40 minutes away in Milford and Glastonbury.

Costa said that when the developer resubmits its application for the plaza at the corner of Boston Post and Spencer Plain roads, it will need approval from Inland Wetlands, the Architectural Review Board, and a special permit from the Zoning Commission. That process will also involve a traffic review, and will be reviewed by the Planning Commission and town engineer.

Parking was the major question for the project when David Taglianetti, vice president of development for Carpionato Group, met with the Zoning Commission last October to discuss the development. 

Town regulations require a 25-foot setback between the road and parking lot, which Taglianetti said would not be enough to meet Whole Foods’ strict parking requirements, which demand 240 spaces in the lot. 

At the time, the group planned to apply for an exception from the setback requirements, and for approval to expand the plaza by 12,000 square feet to fit a 40,000 square foot Whole Foods. The developers intend to renovate the remaining 25,000 square feet of the plaza into retail, restaurant and a potential medical office space.

South Windsor warehouse moratorium lifted, regulations adjusted

Hanna Snyder Gambini

A year-long temporary moratorium on warehouses and distribution centers will soon be lifted after the South Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission adopted new regulations related to the facilities.

The moratorium, put in place in April 2022, came at the request of a resident and was enacted by the commission to give officials time to review and adjust zoning regulations.

The new regulations, which will go into effect May 28, help better outline buffers for certain facilities. 

Warehouses more than 40,000 square feet in size and all distribution centers must be a minimum of 500 feet from nearby residential areas. 

Fulfillment centers and all bus and truck storage facilities must be at least 750 feet away from residential areas, and freight terminals must be 1,000 feet away, the new regulations read.

The commission was trying to look at use and intensity, how well a project fits in the community and how it will impact the surrounding community, said South Windsor Director of Planning Michele Lipe.

“These changes help protect the community and the neighborhoods from larger facilities being built right next to them, in hopes of minimizing noise and activity levels,” Lipe said.

“But we also have an industrial corridor that’s developable, so we still need opportunities for projects to occur,” she said. Existing businesses are exempted from the buffers and are able to expand under the new regulations.

The town has numerous large warehouse and distribution facilities, including Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Macy’s, Aldi and a future Amazon Last Mile Facility.

Some applications, in addition to submitting a site plan, may also require a special exception, Lipe said, as “another layer” of review and regulation.

Traffic studies may also be required on future development proposals, and the commission can regulate hours of operation.