CT Construction Digest Wednesday October 20, 2021
FAIRFIELD — The town is setting aside more than $6 million to help clean up the contamination from the fill pile scandal around town as remediation costs continue to rise.
The $6.3 million comes from a surplus of approximately $9.3 million in the 2020-2021 budget, officials said, which was much higher than usual because revenue that year was more than budgeted.
“Even at the low end of the range of costs, the numbers are high and will far exceed the $6 million that I am proposing we set aside for the fill pile fund,” First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said at this week’s selectmen meeting. “We did put a million aside in the ARPA funds toward the fill pile remediation, and we are waiting for another million coming from the state and bonding.”
Julian Enterprises is accused of dumping contaminated material into the fill pile on the town’s property on Richard White Way, which was shut down in 2016 when lead and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found. The company is also accused of selling the contaminated fill for other construction projects around town.
So far, Kupchick said, the town has spent $2.9 million in testing and remediation fees.
Kupchick said more than 50 contaminated sites connected to the fill pile have been identified throughout town.
“My administration has been working over the last two years to clean up this environmental mess and associated public corruption,” she said.
Kupchick said she knows the cost ranges she has presented concerning the clean-up efforts are significant, but said they are estimates dependent largely on more testing. She said the town is currently in negotiation with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection about remediation of the fill pile and its future use.
“The current estimates of the cost to cap and close that site is going to be in the range of between $4 and $8 million,” she said. “(DEEP) has to agree to a remedy. Then, we can have a public hearing on the fill pile itself.”
The biggest issue now though, Kupchick said, is the Penfield Pavilion — which she noted was the largest site that used contaminated fill. She said more testing is needed beneath the building and parking lot before officials can know the cost associated with cleanup.
“The cost to remove and dispose of the contaminated fill is looking to be in the range of $2.5 million,” Kupchick said, adding the pavilion was also constructed in violation of FEMA regulations during the prior administration. “There is Julian Fill underneath the Penfield parking lot, additional testing still required there. Current estimates to remediate that are between $3 and $5 million.”
Kupchick said other sites under investigation are shaping up to cost up to $5 million. She noted that 25 sites out of 50 have been cleaned up, with the town’s licensed environmental professionals filing paperwork with regulatory bodies to verify that.
“Our remediation continues and we will provide updates as they come available,” Kupchick said, noting other sites will be cleaned up by the end of the winter.
Money set aside
While Kupchick would have preferred to use the surplus for “many other things,” she said she felt it was important to set it aside for the town’s fill pile fund “toward mounting cost of remediation.”
Selectmen Tom Flynn and Nancy Lefkowitz signaled strong support for the move to set the funding aside.
Kupchick said remediation will continue as the state signs off on specific plans, but the actual fill pile and the Penfield Pavilion and Penfield parking lot will take more time because of negotiations with regulators and the testing needed at those sites.
“Unfortunately, this entire situation has — I’m going to be honest — sucked the living life out of everybody in here,” Kupchick said. “We are managing a town of 60,000 people with an extraordinary amount of challenges and issues. This takes up so much time and resources.”
Kupchick said there can be five to ten meetings between the administration and regulators without any substantial update.
Flynn asked he and Lefkowitz be updated so they can answer questions from the public. He also said it would be interesting to have discussions about putting controls in place to prevent an issue like the fill pile from happening again, noting he knew Kupchick had already removed many of the people implicated in it and changed internal processes.
Kupchick said her administration has done a lot of work with internal controls, but things like that can still happen.
“You can have every control in place you want, but if you have someone who is not minding the store, and you have people who are doing things corrupt, they’re not going to follow those internal controls,” she said.
NEW HAVEN — A 35-year deal between the city, state Department of Transportation and New Haven Parking Authority to operate and improve Union Station — which eventually could be a 55-year deal — is “a deal that will stand the test of time for the next 35 years,” the city’s top development officer said.
The long talked-about agreement first was laid out in September 2020 after years of squabbling between the city and the state over who would control the station’s future, and what it might be.
It will result in the construction of a new 600-space garage with a “front-facing” component and renovate the station’s first floor, second floor and basement to create a new retail environment, according to Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli.
It will enlist the New Haven Parking Authority, which has run the station since it reopened to the public after being renovated in the 1980s, to continue to run the station and garage and ensure that “the money that’s made at Union Station, stays at Union Station,” Piscitelli said.
Piscitelli and other officials said the changes brought by the new agreement will elevate Union Station — already a key factor in the city’s develop and a linchpin of several different plans to reconnect the city — to an even greater level of importance.
Union Station was completed and opened in 1920. It was designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, whose other works included the Woolworth Building in New York City — the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1930 — and the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. It was closed and in disrepair for many years before being renovated and reopening in the 1980s.
“This is a 61/2 million operation. About 4 million people a year during normal times are going through this station, carried by three different railroads,” Piscitelli said. “This is a big deal.”
Having recently garnered the unanimous approval of the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee, the deal, contained in several different documents, is now headed for the full Board of Alders for a vote Nov. 4.
The three key documents include:
— A lease, operating and funding agreement between the city and the state DOT to manage and operate Union Station and the nearby State Street Station, along with their parking lots and garages. While it has a 35-year initial term, it offers two 10-year options to renew it.
— A Capital Partnership Agreement that specifies “broad terms” to redevelop Union Station and its campus, including 600 new parking garage spaces, an “intermodal center” for bus riders and an improved and upgraded retail environment at the station.
— A subcontracting agreement between the city and New Haven Parking Authority that transfer full authority to manage the station to the authority. It would offer an initial term of five years, with automatic five-year-term renewals to follow.
The existing lease with the state expires on June 30, 2022, and all the implementation instruments must be in place before then, Piscitelli told the alders.
“We are very committed and look forward to this 30 years of partnership,” said DOT Rail Administrator Rich Jankovich. “... It’s been a great relationship working through with your team.”
Douglas Hausladen, executive director of the New Haven Parking Authority, told the alders the new agreement “will redefine that partnership” that already exists “and bring a new generation of investment and opportunity for our New Haven region to bear.”
It outlines three major scopes of work, including management of the station’s retail and commercial operations, managing development of the Union Station campus and parking and building operations and providing additional fiscal oversight and transparency, including monthly public meetings.
“New Haven Union Station is really a treasure for a city,” said City Plan Director Aisha Woods. “This work will really transform Union Station ... as a catalyst for the whole area. It will be both the welcoming point for visitors to New Haven, but ... also very much a destination and an asset for New Haven residents just to go visit the train station and enjoy the new retail offerings there.”
“This is really kind of reshifting a center of gravity around Union Station,” Woods said. “It’s really an opportunity to do some really thoughtful transit-oriented planning” to reconnect parts of the city, including achieving the longtime goals of reconnecting the Hill and Long Wharf to downtown.
The changes that follow from the new agreements will help make the city more walkable and “elevate Union Station as kind of a new center or additional center” of New Haven.
“It’s really a tremendous opportunity that’s before us,” she said.
Finance Committee members agreed.
“I am starting from a place of wanting to see Union Station thrive and become an even bigger asset for the city,” said Vice Chairman and Westville Alder Adam Marchand, D-25, although he had a number of questions — one of which was what’s different between the proposed agreement and the original agreement with the state.
Among the major differences is that the state has agreed to allow the money generated by Union Station to remain there — and that while the city and the state would have a 35-year agreement, the initial agreement with the parking authority is for five years, renewable based on performance, said Piscitelli.
Alders Salvatore DeCola, D-18, and Jeanette Morrison, D-22, both were interested in who would get the jobs that future work at Union Station might provide, with Morrison particularly concerned about what opportunities for apprenticeships might be available to give city residents the skills to get those jobs.
The Finance Committee asked city staff to amend the resolution to highlight those things before it goes to the full board for a second reading.
Alder Anna Festa, D-10, said she wanted to know what financial benefits there were for the city.
“It is creating an inbound move to New Haven which generates economic activity,” and “the more we can grow the service ... the more we can support the rail system, the better” — because it reduces traffic on Interstate 95, Interstate 91 and other area roads, Piscitelli said.
New London — A housing and hotel development proposal for Fort Trumbull could be fully designed, possibly even approved, by the end of the year.
The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a development agreement with Optimus Senior Living Group LLC that details a set of requirements and benchmarks for construction of 104 housing units — condominiums or apartments — and a hotel with extended stay suites.
The developers have been working with the city’s development arm, the Renaissance City Development Association, for months on a proposal that would occupy 4 acres in the long-vacant Fort Trumbull municipal development area.
It would be the second major construction project on the Fort Trumbull site. RJ Development + Advisors, which is now constructing a 200-unit apartment complex on Howard Street, lays claim to the first new construction in the area that was the center of the landmark 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London.
Once approvals are in place, Optimus has three years to complete the project with incentives built into the agreement to make the project come to fruition even sooner. If the proposal obtains necessary permits and approvals, the city would sell the property, located on parcels designated 2A, 2B and 2C, to Optimus for $750,000. The property is adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard Station and Fort Trumbull State Park and a short distance from the city’s planned $30 million regional recreation center.
RCDA Executive Director Peter Davis said incentives of up to $100,000 off the purchase price could be obtained by Optimus if it submits design documents for review, obtains permits and closes on the property by the end of the year. It’s an admittedly ambitious schedule, Davis said, but he has assurances the company plans to move swiftly. Optimus has been working with the civil engineering firm Close, Jensen and Miller for at least a month to finalize its plans for submission to the city.
Optimus has also agreed to provide the RCDA with a $50,000 deposit to cover RCDA expenses for the work leading up to the closing.
Optimus, based in Southampton, Mass., has a portfolio of senior living facilities and in 2019 completed a 115-unit senior housing complex called Elmbrook Village in Bozrah at an estimated cost of $17 million.
The RCDA first started working with Optimus several years ago when the company considered construction of a hotel and conference center on a different Fort Trumbull parcel. It also explored the idea of a senior housing project, an idea that was rebuffed by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The City Council, which did not comment publicly on its unanimous vote on Monday, had previously approved the abandonment of a portion of East Street to help accommodate the development and reduce developments costs.
Davis said he has assurances from Optimus that it is doing whatever it can to have all necessary submissions in by December.
"We are very excited about this project. We have all worked very hard putting this plan together. We have reviewed various design concepts and feel that the final product integrates the feel of the neighborhood and New London generally," said RCDA President Linda Mariani. "This will be a wonderful addition to the development of our city and will complement the other projects being planned for the Fort Trumbull area."
Mariani credited Davis, Optimus President Fred Mielke and RCDA Attorney Mark Zamarka for putting in the time to finalize details of the development agreement.
A representative from Optimus was not immediately available to comment Tuesday.
APennsylvania company wants to build an apartment complex in Newington with 225 units spread across five buildings.
The A.R. Building Co. of Seven Fields, Pa., proposed the development for 26 acres at 258 Deming St., and 35, 67 and 69 Culver St. The property is owned by RD Three LLC, whose principals are Russell Drachenberg of Bristol, Ronald Drachenberg of Prescott Valley, Az., and Robert DiNello of Lummi Island, Wa.
The five apartment buildings would each have four stories.
The Town Planning and Zoning Commission on Oct. 27 will continue a hearing on an application by the property owner for a zone map change from R-20 to a Planned Development zone.
Town Planner Renata Bertotti said the commission could close the hearing on Oct. 27, provided commissioners are satisfied with the information and have no further questions.
They could also vote that night, Bertotti said in an email. But they can keep the hearing open if they have remaining questions.
“If the zone change is approved, the applicant will need special permit approval for the proposed residential development,” Bertotti said. “The application for special permit and an associated site plan has been filed, however, the (commission) cannot hold a special permit hearing until the zone change becomes effective.”
The developers also have an application pending before the town Conservation Commission, which has a hearing scheduled for Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. Conservation commissioners can also keep the hearing open or close it and vote that night if they feel there are no outstanding issues, Bertotti said.
Earlier this year, a Massachusetts developer proposed a mixed-used project on 25 acres on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington that would include 269 new apartments.