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CT Construction Digest Wednesday October 13, 2021

Fenn Road Square in Newington, a $10 million development, breaks ground on long-vacant site

Erica Drzewiecki

NEWINGTON - A $10 million development broke ground on a long-vacant parcel of land off Fenn Road this week.

An official groundbreaking ceremony took place Monday at “Fenn Road Square” – the future site of a 9,000 sq. ft. retail complex, 122-room extended stay hotel, four-story, 238-unit apartment complex and car wash.

Elected officials and project developer Hayes-Kaufman Partnership put shovels in the ground to commemorate the new construction.

Mayor Beth DelBuono later told the Herald she and fellow elected officials were very proud their administration was able to bring this long-awaited project to fruition.

“We are very proud that we will be seeing not only this 9,000 square foot retail complex on this corner but also will soon be seeing a car wash, hotel and housing development,” DelBuono said.

The town seized the former National Welding site for unpaid taxes back in the 90s and previous administrations secured funding to demolish and abate contamination at the former factory site. However, efforts to secure a developer were unsuccessful until recently, following the appointment of Town Manager Keith Chapman by the Town Council in Jan. 2020.

Seeing the town’s high mill rate, Chapman made economic development a priority and was able to successfully negotiate an agreement with Hayes-Kaufman for a 10-year, 40% tax abatement to develop the site.

“Mr. Chapman and his economic development team have shared our message that Newington is open for business and we now have numerous projects coming forward,” the mayor said. “All of this means more people coming to Newington to support these new businesses as well as our existing businesses. We look forward to the increased tax revenue and grand list growth helping our community.”

During Monday’s groundbreaking Hayes-Kaufman partner Richard Hayes told the media his father built the Stop & Shop that sits in the plaza to the north.

“I want to thank him for getting us here to begin with,” Hayes said. “My father was the general of the project at that time and was able to get us all down here looking at the town of Newington.”

Construction is expected to continue for the next 18 months.

A man who only identified himself as David, riding his bicycle by the new construction Tuesday, shared his thoughts on the future complex.

“If people can benefit from it then that’s good,” he said. “They transformed this property when they built the busway and that’s when those pad sites first became available. I’m not sure what stores they’re putting in here but if they can be of use to me I’m sure I’ll be shopping there.”

Should Stamford build more affordable housing or build it faster? Developer argues quantity

Verónica Del Valle

STAMFORD — Should the city prioritize building affordable housing quickly, or should it focus on creating more housing in general?

Because of statutory changes over the past two years, Stamford's zoning board found itself debating just that. The question before zoning officials now, in part, comes down to timing.

Sound End developer Building and Land Technology argued at the board's Sept. 27 meeting that more housing was an essential step in solving the local housing crisis.

BLT in 2019 obtained approval from the zoning board to build two high-rise buildings in the Sound End. Less than a year later, in January 2020, the board approved a $5.7 million payment meant to partially cover the developer's affordable housing obligations in the city.

Yet, even with that payment, BLT fell short of fulfilling its affordable housing responsibility. To meet its required threshold for its two upcoming Harbor Point properties, the developer still owed just under $1.9 million to the city or nine affordable housing units at its upcoming buildings, so far known only as P3 and P6.

"We took that to mean, 'don't be afraid to come back if there's another good idea,'" said BLT attorney Bill Hennessey at the last meeting. BLT's good idea involves making a payment to Stamford's Affordable Housing Trust fund, a procedure that is now a standard part of Stamford law.

Before the trust became official, developers who wanted to pay a fee instead of building affordable units had to address the zoning board with projects already in tow, as BLT did with its first $5.7 million allocation. Now, the trust — created in November 2020 — takes care of that option. With the trust, developers who choose to pay instead of building affordable units pass their money on to the fund, and interested parties can make bids and put forth proposals.

According to the trust itself, the end goal is to create more diverse kinds of affordable housing. Most of the housing that Stamford makes exists for people at a particular income level.

Through the local Below Market Rate housing program — which mandates that every apartment building with more than 10 units include dedicated affordable housing — developers regularly create one and two-bedroom apartments for people at 50 percent of Stamford's median income, according to materials from the city.

As of 2021, the median income for a family of four in the Stamford-Norwalk metropolitan area is $151,800. For a single-person household, 50 percent of the median income falls at about $53,000. For a family of four, 50 percent of the median income is $75,900.

Stamford does a good job at helping people at that income level, according to Hennessey. But for people making less money, he argued, the existing affordable housing stock is insufficient.

Talking to the nonprofit world, Hennessey said, the city is aware that housing that costs less “is where we’ve done a poor job so far.

"That is: family-sized units. Large two-bedroom units or three-bedroom units at below 50 percent of AMI, a very hard target to reach," he said.

Although zoning's original approval mandated BLT's money go to "shovel-ready" projects and create housing on a faster timeline, Hennessey emphasized that combined with other funds, a fee-in-lieu payment to the fund could "get a game-changer kind of project going."

Hennessey wasn't the only one to make the argument to board members. The attorney said Stamford's affordable housing coordinator Ellen Bromley confirmed that the nine units BLT would have to provide on-site wouldn't "(hit) the need in the community."

Richard Freedman, president of the nonprofit Garden Homes Fund, made a similar argument.

"There are a lot of goals for affordable housing," Freedman — whose company has received fee-in-lieu money in the past — said. "Where is the housing constructed? Should it be family units? Should it be units for individuals? At what income level? Should it be targeted? Should it be equity? Should the market units be identical to the affordable units? But I actually think the most important goal is quantity."

And significant quantity, he said, was possible through the trust fund.

"The only way to get quantity is to leverage the money," he continued, and the city had already designed the Affordable Housing Trust fund explicitly to create leverage.

Despite Hennessey and Freedman's rationalization, zoning board president David Stein held out on making a verdict.

"Nine units immediately of affordable housing is an opportunity as well," he said.

The board is slated to continue its discussions on BLT's fee-in-lieu payments at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 18.

Milford zoning board denies zone change for CT Post Mall site

Saul Flores

MILFORD — A series of proposed zoning regulation changes at the Connecticut Post Mall brought forth by Centennial, the mall owner, were denied by the planning and zoning board recently.

The zone change application was denied, 7-3, with Peg Kearney, John Mortimer and Chair Jim Quish in favor, and Nancy Austin, Joseph Castignoli, James Kader, Brian Kaligian, Carl Moore, Robert Satti and Marc Zahariades voting against the plan.

“We are disappointed in the P&Z decision, as we feel strongly that it is imperative for a property like Connecticut Post Mall to diversify its offerings to better serve the needs of the community,” Steven Levin, Centennial’s chief executive officer, said.

“The mixed-use plan that we’ve proposed will transform the suburban mall into a place where people come to work, shop, dine, and live, allowing the center to remain a vibrant destination for years to come,” Levin added. “We remain committed to the long term success of the project and will continue to work with the city to find a mutually beneficial solution for all involved.”

Some commissioners expressed concern that a regulation change would have unintended consequences during deliberations held Oct. 5 over the proposal, the public hearing for which was closed at the September meeting.

Centennial’s zone change proposal called for making 5 percent (15 units) of the total 300 planned units state statute 8-30g, or affordable housing, compliant, expanding the types of schools permitted in the zone, explicitly allowing outdoor dining in the zone for all types of food service establishments, and reducing the height of apartment buildings.

Both Castignoli and Kader agreed that housing on-site would compete with the downtown area and be a detriment rather than a positive impact.

Mortimer said housing is already allowed on-site and asked the board what material change was before them.

“I don’t think it is alarming,” he said. “It is just a change to the format of the already-permitted housing use.”

City Planner David Sulkis said the proposed regulation would allow mixed-use with commercial and residential in the same building, and the applicant is asking for a height reduction.

“Right now, buildings can go up to 120 feet, but the request would limit these new mixed buildings to 85 feet,” he said. “Another proposed change is making the minimum lot size 4 acres to permit ownership subdivision like what is used by Target.”

Sulkis added the smaller lot sizes still function as part of the mall, and the proposed parking change would not base calculations on gross square footage but would section off areas of the mall based on use, such as retail, warehouse, or residential.

John Knuff, representing Centennial, told the board during the Sept. 21 meeting that the proposed changes were in the best interest of Centennial and the city for the mall to thrive since neither side wanted the property to be vacant.

“While this application is a very modest first step, it opens the next step in taking the next bigger step together,” he said. “We want to do something (that makes) the center productive, makes the city proud, adds vitality to the center.”

Knuff said the changes are modest tweaks to the regulation, and it will have a critical impact at the mall whether the P&Z approves or denies the application.

“But in terms of the application itself,” said Knuff to the board on Sept. 21. “In the overall scale and context of the existing shopping center and design and regulations, it is a very modest request we are making.”

The redevelopment project of the Connecticut Post Mall is planned to be completed in phases. Phase 1 would include about 300 apartments around a central plaza in the area formerly occupied by Sears Auto Service. Phase 2 includes demolishing the entire wing of the mall formerly occupied by Sears, which would free up 450,000 square feet of commercial space.

Kearney said after listening to the previous proceedings four or five times, she wished she had voted for the original plan that features housing being more distinct from the mall area.

“I would prefer to see a new tenant in the Sears building that would bring jobs, possibly a tech company, and add housing in the rear,” she said.

Quish said the mall is a gateway to the city.

“I have become convinced that the mall owner wants highest and best use of the property for the city,” Quish said. “If their proposed solution to re-imagining the mall doesn't work for Milford, it won’t work for them either.

“The relationship between the city, board and mall is symbiotic,” he added. “And I don’t think there will be much of a downside to implementing the regulation change.”

'Difficult decisions' as Biden, Democrats shrink plan to $2T

LISA MASCARO, AP Congressional Correspondent’

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the calendar slipping toward a new deadline, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is warning that “difficult decisions must be made” to trim President Joe Biden’s expansive plans for reimagining the nation’s social service programs and tackling climate change.

Democrats are laboring to chisel the $3.5 trillion package to about $2 trillion, a still massive proposal that would be paid for with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And with no votes to spare, they must somehow satisfy the party's competing moderate and progressive lawmakers needed for any deal.

It’s all raising tough questions that Biden and his party are rushing to answer by the deadline for passage, Oct. 31.

Should Biden keep the sweep of his proposals — free childcare and community college; dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors — but for just a few years? Or should the ideas be limited to a few, key health and education programs that could become more permanent? Should the climate change effort go bold — a national clean energy standard — or stick with a more immediate, if incremental, strategy?

“The fact is, that if there are fewer dollars to spend there are choices to be made,” Pelosi said Tuesday at the Capitol.

Republicans are dead set against the package. So Biden and his party are left to deliberate among themselves along familiar lines, centrists and moderates, with all eyes still on two key holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes are crucial in the evenly divided Senate.

Time is growing short for the president on what has been his signature domestic policy initiative, first unveiled in March and now having consumed much of his fitful first year in office.

Biden’s approval rating is down after a turbulent summer, and impatience is growing, particularly among House lawmakers heading into tough elections and eager to show voters an accomplishment — unlike senators whose staggered six-year terms leave only some of them facing reelection in 2022.

At the White House, Biden agrees that “this is really the point where decisions need to be made," Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

Conversations are quietly underway with Manchin and Sinema, who continue to infuriate their colleagues by holding up the package while still not making fully clear what they are willing to support or reject.

“The president’s view is that we’re continuing to make progress, we’re having important discussions about what a package that is smaller than $3.5 trillion would look like,” said Psaki. But it's time to get it settled.

The debate among Democrats is part substance, part strategy. The White House and lawmakers are considering which proposals would bring the most benefit to the most Americans — and also how best to accomplish their goals with fewer dollars.

On one side, the progressives argue for keeping the broad scope of Biden's vision, with many different programs, even if they expire in just a few years. The idea is to view shorter terms as an opportunity, with lawmakers free to campaign in the future for their renewal.

Progressive leaders said Tuesday they are willing to reduce the duration of some programs to less than 10 years as a way to lower costs, but they are unwilling to yield on their core priorities of child care, health care, climate change action and others.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said their priorities are “not some fringe wish list” but the agenda the president and Democrats campaigned on.

Pelosi, though, appeared to side with some of the more centrist lawmakers, who have argued that it would better to narrow the scope, building on the expansions that have been underway with the coronavirus aid packages and making them more lasting.

Pelosi has been a staunch supporter of expanding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to more people and in more states. That law is her own legacy legislative accomplishment. However, with the dollar topline for the big bill now shrunk, that could bump against Bernie Sanders of Vermont and other progressives who are intent on expanding seniors' Medicare to include vision, dental and hearing aid services — among his own top priorities.

“Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from members is to do fewer things well,” Pelosi said in a letter this week to colleagues.

Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington state, chair of the New Democrat Coalition, made a similar push during a meeting of moderate lawmakers last month at the White House.

The group has focused on just a few main priorities, including two that emerged in the COVID-19 aid packages — extending the child tax credits that are funneling about $300 a month to most families but expire in December, and making permanent the higher health care subsidies that were offered during the pandemic to those who buy their insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Those moderates also want to expand the ACA into the states, largely those run by Republican governors, that have rejected it under previous federal funding proposals.

DelBene told Biden they should aim to “do fewer things better,” said an aide familiar with the private conversation and granted anonymity to discuss it.

What remains clear, however, is that nothing will move Biden's big package until Manchin and Sinema are on board, and that remains a work in progress.

Manchin's priorities are largely in line with his party on the tax side of the equation, according to a memo he shared over the summer with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but diverge on spending. A Democrat familiar with the document was granted anonymity to confirm its veracity.

Manchin proposed a 25% corporate tax rate, which is close to the 26.5% rate proposed in the House bill, both an increase from what is now a 21% rate. He also is on board with a top individual income tax rate of 39.6%, which Bide has proposed on those earning beyond $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples.

But the senator from coal-centered West Virginia who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee wants more control over his party's climate fighting strategies, and he also wants income limits on many of the social services, something many progressives oppose.

On a call with reporters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said income should not be a factor in many of the services being proposed.

“We don’t ask how much money you make before you drive on a road,” she said. “These are public goods that we create.”

Report: Offshore wind supply chain worth $109B over 10 years


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A group studying the economics of offshore wind energy in the U.S. says building and operating the nascent industry will be worth $109 billion to businesses in its supply chain over the next 10 years.

The report by the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind comes as states on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico are moving to enter or expand their role in the industry, and are making crucial decisions on what to spend and where to spend it.

Multiple states, including New Jersey, want to become the hub of the supply chain that will support offshore wind energy in the U.S., planning and building onshore support sites for manufacturing turbine blades and other components of wind power.

The group, affiliated with the University of Delaware, estimated the market at $70 billion just two years ago, but updated its estimates as the industry continues to grow quickly.

One caveat: the report notes that most of the initial components to be used for U.S. offshore wind projects will come from Europe. It does not attempt to predict when or where a shift might occur.

The U.S. has set a goal of generating 30 gigawatts of power from offshore wind by 2030 — enough to power over 10 million homes.

Supply chain spending is already happening.

On Friday, Orsted and Eversource signed an $86 million supply chain contract with Riggs Distler & Company, Inc. to build foundation components for wind turbines for New York’s Sunrise Wind project off Montauk Point on Long Island that will be able to power 600,000 homes.

In August, those two companies also signed a deal with Kiewit Offshore Services for the first American-built offshore wind substation, which will be a part of the same Long Island project. The substation will be constructed in Ingleside, Texas, near Corpus Christi.

“These investments have been a vision for a long time, but they are becoming a reality today,” said Tory Mazzola, an Orsted spokesman.

New Jersey has often said it wants to be the east coast hub for offshore wind, and is building onshore manufacturing and assembly facilities it hopes will be used by many projects.

“We believe the offshore wind industry is going to bring billions of dollars into New Jersey,” said Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the state Board of Public Utilities. “It’s a lot of money, to be sure.”

The expenditures forecast in the report include nearly $44 billion on 2,057 offshore wind turbines and towers; $17 billion on 2,110 offshore turbine and substation foundations; nearly $13 billion on nearly 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) of cables; $10.3 billion on 53 on-and-offshore substations; as well as other construction and operational costs.

It also projects the amount of power states will generate from offshore wind by 2030. New York is forecast to have 9,314 megawatts; New Jersey to have 7,558; Massachusetts to have 5,604; Virginia to have 5,200; Connecticut to have 2,108; Maryland to have 1,568; and Rhode Island to have 1,000.

Currently, 8,000 megawatts worth of power are under contract in those states.

“Collectively, these state commitments are equivalent to the electrical capacity of 32 large nuclear power plants, an extraordinary (capital expenditure) that requires many suppliers,” the report read.

The initiative describes itself as an independent project at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment that supports the advancement of offshore wind. It receives funding from organizations including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Offshore wind energy is viewed as a way to combat climate change by providing the globe with cleaner energy. At a forum in Atlantic City last week on offshore wind, New Jersey’s environmental protection commissioner said the industry will come with adverse impacts as well as benefits, and said much more study is needed about its impact on the ocean and sea life.