Plans Revived For Wooster Sq. Apartments

Thomas Breen photo A historic industrial building in the Wooster Square neighborhood that has sat vacant for years may soon be home to nearly two dozen new apartments and a street-level café or microbrewery.

Real estate developer Peter Chapman presented this vision for a building he owns at 433 Chapel St. during the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management team’s monthly meeting at City Hall on Tuesday night.

Chapman first bought the building at the corner of Hamilton Street — just on the other side of where I-91 bisected the historic neighborhood into residential and industrial zones back during urban renewal — from the city in 2002 with the intention of converting the six-story brick warehouse into 14 apartments and a street-level commercial space. After years of delayed development and political troubles stymied his first attempts to rehab, and then to sell, the building, Chapman told the management team on Tuesday night, he is now on firm financial footing. He said he has a plan for the building that fits well within the city’s zoning requirements; and that he, just like everyone in the neighborhood, is eager to see it once again occupied.

433 Chapel St. was first built in the 1880s as the home of the M. Armstrong & Co. carriage manufacturing company. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (From 1986-1989, part of the second floor housed the newsroom of the print weekly newspaper edition of the New Haven Independent.)

Pointing to an aerial photograph of the neighborhood and a mock-up of the building’s prospective façade, Chapman said that he plans on converting the existing property into 23 apartments and a street-level commercial space like a café or a microbrewery.

The six-story building sits on a 30,000-square-foot lot, and has a 5,000-square-foot footprint. Chapman is looking to put in four two-bedroom apartments on each of the top four floors, and four one-bedroom apartments and one studio apartment on the second floor. Each of the two-bedroom apartments would be a little over 1,000 square feet, and each of the one-bedrooms would be about 700 square feet. The bottom floor would house two more apartments and a commercial space.

“I’d like to see a microbrewery or a café on the first floor,” Chapman said. “Something that would be a gathering spot for people in the nascent stages of the Mill River district’s development.”

Chapman said that the back lot of the building has more than enough space to meet the city’s parking regulations, and that it would also include an open space for community recreation, space for bike and scooter security, and even a few electric vehicle charging stations, if his engineers can manage it.

“It’d be really great to get this building back and full of people,” said Urban Design League president Anstress Farwell. The one concern that she raised with the proposed design was that 700-square-feet-per-apartment would be on the smaller side for comparable Wooster Square residences.

She said that a critical point in the neighborhood’s recent history came when the city denied a developer’s proposal to convert three buildings at St. Michael’s Parish into one-bedroom apartments that ranged from 375 to 440 square feet each. She said that the city’s zoning director Tom Talbot had advised against approving the project at the time because the size of the smaller units were inconsistent with the character of the Wooster Square area as a whole, where the average one bedroom is 750 square feet.

“We all strongly support that advisory support,” she said. “It goes to the central issue of quality of life in Wooster Square. We’re not building micro-units.”

With that one concern notwithstanding, Chapman’s designs received universal support from the group.

“We need to repurpose these old, industrial buildings,” community management team president Peter Webster said. “Because they’re not going to be making carriages in them anymore.”

Chapman said that, after getting input and approval from the community management team on the proposed design, he will finalize the plans for the building with the intention of presenting them to the city for approval within the next two months. He said that the only zoning relief he expects to need for this project would be to convert a second-story one bedroom into a studio. He said hopes to finish the project in 12 to 18 months.

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posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 17, 2017  8:46am

Maybe I’m wrong, but I always thought that area east of I-91 was actually the Mill River neighborhood, and not officially Wooster Square.

Anyway, great if more housing is going into that fairly abandoned section of New Haven. I just wish something could be done to encourage more condominium development, as our growing Downtown could use more homeowners and less transients. The easy way to accomplish this goal would be to offer a 10-year property tax abatement for new construction. fwiw.

[Paul: I have a similar understanding. Historically that was very much of Wooster Square. but it definitely got its own identity after I-91 split it and the city encouraged an industrial district. The more modern “Mill River District” I believe includes areas on both sides of the river with that industrial focus—including property on the east bank that is also part of “Fair Haven.” I consider it one part of town with overlapping “neighborhoods.”]

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 17, 2017  8:59am

As a good friend of mine said.This is nothing more then Capitalistic Vampirism known as Gentrification at work.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 17, 2017  9:46am

This is a very good proposal. My one concern is that it is likely that the ground floor will remain vacant for an extended time. Bricks and mortar retail is contracting nationally with the rise of e-commerce. I appreciate mixed use developments. But if storefronts aren’t rented for a year or more (the experience of several recent developments), there won’t be “eyes on the street.” One possibility if this happens here is using the ground floor for live/work units.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 17, 2017  10:12am

AS, there is a five-year property tax phase-in for large developments, which I believe Mr. Chapman would be eligible for. Anything beyond that would require state legislation.

I believe the project may also be eligible for the state Historic Rehabitation Tax Credit Program.

posted by: NHVCyclist on May 17, 2017  10:21am

@ Anderson Scooper

I understand your point about encouraging homeownership, but abating property tax for new construction would be the biggest slap in the face to existing homeowners.

In Downtown/Wooster Square/East Rock we are paying $7-15k/yr in property tax while owning & maintaining the 100-200 year old homes that make New Haven unique.  Not to mention the additional “tax” of Building Permits (highest cost in the state I believe? someone correct me if I’m wrong) that are occasionally required to keep these old homes habitable. 

Also, condos in the area seem to sell fairly slowly.  Decent homes sell fast (often to be used as rentals), and decent rentals fill fast.  That’s just the nature of this city.  If the city stays on a positive track, more non-transients will stick around and demand condos.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 17, 2017  10:23am

@ Kevin—I don’t believe what you are stating is true. Tax abatements can be negotiated by a city as part of an economic development deal.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 17, 2017  11:32am

@ NHV Cyclist—

We are building out a downtown that has no long-term residents. (Unlike Wooster Square, Dwight or East Rock.) Is that what we want?

And who says the condo market is stagnant? That’s not my perception of the market place at all.

posted by: NHVCyclist on May 17, 2017  11:33am

There may be a bit of a mix-up regarding property tax abatement.

There is precedent for abating property tax for a developer/operator of subsidized housing.  This is done in New Haven and I’m sure many other places nationwide. 
There is also precedent for abating property tax for a corporation (on basis of bringing jobs/economic activity).  Common practice locally and nationwide.

Abating property tax for individual owners of new-construction condos (whether directly or by abating the tax for the condo association) is something totally different to my knowledge.  Unless maybe they are low-income-only?  But there are other homeownership programs for low income buyers, abating property tax for a finite period seems like a dangerous game…

posted by: NHVCyclist on May 17, 2017  11:55am

@ AS

I don’t know if a downtown without long-term residents is what we want, but we are building what the market demands.  There actually are quite a few condos downtown, so its not “all” short-term.

I also don’t mean that the condo market is “stagnant.”  But checking Days On Market, Condos do linger for a while compared to a decent rental or a decent home (especially multi-family) in these neighborhoods.

If the market demand changes, a lot of these rentals could be converted to condos by the owners.  You see this occurring in Wooster Square and East Rock.  So building a bunch of downtown rentals does not necessarily lock-in those units as rentals indefinitely.

Also, a lot of people just prefer to rent.  Even long term.  The perception is changing, particularly for younger generations.  See this article, from a site that typically encourages “investing” in real estate:
https://www.biggerpockets.com/renewsblog/renting-over-owning/

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 17, 2017  12:56pm

AS, I was mistaken. The phase-in I mentioned occurs over 10 years, after a one-year abatement. There are a number of other mandatory and local exemptions. But I’m not aware of any statute that allows exemptions to be negotiated. Do you have a cite?

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 17, 2017  1:34pm

NHV Cyclist -

I am with you.  Abatements to Housing Developers IS always on the backs of long time residents.

The value of surrounding properties increases and gets taxed at the current mil rate, while developer get a ‘buy’.

Furthermore, Condos are probably the WORST INVESTMENT anybody can make.  From what I have seen in looking at this years Reval, if you were a sucker and bought a condo, your property value went way down.  If you are a developer who hasn’t sold his units yet, your property values went up.

Add in the common fees, and you will be renting out your condo and leaving New Haven before long….

posted by: HewNaven on May 17, 2017  1:41pm

Anstress, you really nailed it this time. Young professionals are just dying to move into these re-purposed factories in New England. Too bad they can’t afford to heat 14,000 cubic feet during these long winters!

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on May 17, 2017  3:25pm

Condo = mortgage + Insurance + Utilities + WATER + Interior Maintenance + Taxes + HOA FEES = bad investment.

Multi-Family Home = Mortgage +Insurance +Utilities + WATER +  Interior Maintenance + exterior maintenance + Taxes - Tennant rent = solid investment.

Single Family Home = Mortgage + Insurance +Utilities +WATER +  Interior Maintenance + exterior maintenance + Taxes = Terrifying Gamble.

Rent: Monthly Rent + renters insurance +  Utilities + Landlord Controlling Rental prices/Lease options = Terrifying Gamble.

What is the best option? Buy a multi-family home and rent out the other units.

What’s that? Oh, the LLC’s keep swallowing them up? yup.

WE SHOULD HAVE A SPECIAL TAX FOR PROPERTY OWNERS WHO OWN MORE THAN ONE HOME!

If you don’t live in a property you own - you should be taxed at a higher rate!

Why do I keep losing out to cash offers? Why do I keep seeing a house and it sells in ONE DAY!

This is not fair for the real locals who want to buy into their community.

posted by: Stephen Harris on May 17, 2017  4:30pm

This is a good proposal. Manufacturing will never come back to that kind of building. It should be put to use for something that fits modern times.

posted by: Esbey on May 17, 2017  5:08pm

What is it with Farwell and her obsession with size?  Nearly everything is too big, too tall, too small, never “just right.”  It is like she sits down with every project, sharpens her pencil, and tries to figure out some way to make the project less profitable. A more expensive facade, maybe, or one fewer floors?  It is a really weird hobby, in my opinion.  If the market is calling for bigger apartments, or condos, or whatever, then private developers will build them. If the market isn’t calling for them, then insisting that they (and nothing else) be built anyway is a recipe for empty brick buildings.  Luckily, I don’t think anyone will pay attention to her in this case. 

I agree that the first floor likely won’t rent for awhile, but maybe later when that side of I-91 is a real neighborhood.  Ninth Square first floors were empty for many years, but are now largely rented.

I am curious about the market for condos, as well.  I wonder if different implicit tax treatments (revenue v. building cost?) are making a difference here?  Still, condos can be bought to flip, while renters can stay for a long time, so I don’t think it is key.  Renters can’t find themselves with a “under water” mortgage, unlike hundreds of New Haven home owners. 

To those current homeowners who don’t like the standard phase-in of property tax on new construction, though, I think you are arguing against self-interest.  In the long run, I think tax revenue is higher with the phase-in, as it encourages the new development that builds the grand list that allows for lower tax rates.  We are seeing a good deal of that in the new Grand List, which will partially offset the bad news coming from the state budget collapse.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 18, 2017  1:50pm

The new New Haven,

I like your idea about a surtax on excessive Home Ownership in New Haven.

We finally agree on something!!!!

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 18, 2017  1:57pm

Esbey,

I don’t think I am arguing against self-interest.

When I look at the increase to my land value due to the Rte 34 Corridor Development, I don’t see that I am getting anything out of it except a tax increase. 

That development does nothing to benefit the community at large—it serves itself and the hospital, but the local home owners are the ones paying for the pleasure of having this ‘new neighbor’.

posted by: cycler on May 22, 2017  2:47pm

click above link for the back story

posted by: Esbey on May 22, 2017  3:27pm

Bill S., the most natural effect of an increased housing supply is that the prices of existing homes are driven down, relative to the situation with less supply.  That is, without the new development, prices of existing homes would be bid up even higher.

Plus, we benefit from the slowly increasing value of the Grand List, which is driving down the mill rate for existing homes.