New Lawsuit Ties Up Building Plans, Again

Christopher Peak Photo After thwarting other developers’ plans for years with ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits, a Philadelphia-based landlord criticized for not maintaining a Wooster Square apartment complex has gone to court yet again to try to stop a competitor from building on vacant property across Chapel Street.

Through an affiliated company, the Philadelphia-based PMC Property Group, which owns the renovated Strouse-Adler Smoothie Garment Factory apartment complex at 78 Olive St., has initiated a second round of litigation against a potential competitor across the street, this time against the local government, the City Plan Commission and rival developer Spinnaker Residential, LLC.

The lawsuit, filed in New Haven’s Superior Court on July 17, seeks injunctive relief to prevent any permits from being issued to Spinnaker to redevelop the former Comcast service center 630 Chapel St. into an upscale housing development with 200 luxury apartments and ground-floor storefronts.

Last time around, with three separate lawsuits, PMC tried to find fault in city planners’ approval of zoning changes that would allow taller buildings on the corner. A Superior Court judge, Thomas J. Corrandino, disagreed with PMC’s contention that the change constituted “illegal spot zoning,” writing that it instead seemed in keeping with the city’s intent to locate denser “transit-oriented development” near downtown. The lawsuits slowed down plans to build two separate developments that would bring hundreds of new apartments and new life to a no-man’s land between Wooster Square and downtown.

This time, PMC argues that Spinnaker’s development will damage the environment.

The reason? A strip of grass is set to be replaced with porous pavement.

PMC’s lawsuit argues that “flawed” design won’t drain stormwater runoff as effectively and could negatively impact the water quality in Long Island Sound and risk flooding in New Haven.

“The Modified Site Plan and any development consistent with [it] involves conduct which is reasonably likely to have the effect of unreasonably polluting, impairing or destroying the public trust in the air, water or other natural resources of the State within the jurisdiction of the [City Plan] Commission,” argues the complaint that attorney Jeffrey Mirman prepared for 78 Olive Street Partners, LLC.

Mirman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Spinnaker and the city’s top economic development official both called the suit a ruse.

“This is the latest attempt by our neighbors, 78 Olive Street Partners, to file lawsuits to thwart this transformational development,” Spinnaker said in a statement. “We successfully defended [PMC’s] opposition to a zone change, two site plan approvals, and most recently, an environment action.”

Spinnaker pointed out that Superior Court and Appellate Court judges have rejected all PMC’s previous arguments. “This latest lawsuit filed is similar to the most recent one that was dismissed, and we believe the result will be similar,” the statement read.

In this case, PMC’s lawyer argues that the porous pavement that’s slated to be installed in the back driveway won’t work. Ideally, rainwater would drain to the flowing groundwater underneath, but the lawsuit argues that a subsurface stormwater detention in the middle will get in the way.

“Rather than soak into the underlying soils as presumed in the design of the Modified Site Plan, the water that infiltrates into the porous pavement has a preferred pathway to the stormwater pipes and manholes and will infiltrate into those,” the complaint reads.

Because New Haven’s zoning code strictly requires no net increase in stormwater runoff and the state laws prohibit unreasonable pollution, PMC argues it has a case of environmental degradation.

(Giovanni Zinn, the city’s engineer who advises the City Plan Commission, did not respond to a request for comment.)

Matthew Nemerson, the city’s economic development chief, said he believes PMC wants to keep competition away from the area — a prime spot within walking distance of State Street Station — to put off much-needed repairs at the Strouse-Adler.

“it’s clearly just a stall tactic,” Nemerson said at an economic development meeting at City Hall on Tuesday morning. “It’s very, very disappointing to have somebody who’s a major landowner in town, PMC, suing another developer. It’s unbelievable. It’s not the rules of engagement. I mean, developers are supposed to be working together to make a city better.” He added, “We really need people who believe in the future of New Haven and are going to be working with us to invest and improve the town. Lawsuits are not the way to do that.”

To speed the process, Nemerson said, he personally tried to buy out PMC from the Strouse-Adler —  a standing offer, he reiterated Tuesday —  and other developers are rumored to have done so as well. (Spinnaker laywer Jim Perito would not confirm whether the company also put in a bid.) PMC turned him down, leaving Nemerson without other options to speed the process, he said.

“America is a country of laws, and people can use the court as a first resort or a last resort to get what they want,” Nemerson said. “We’re holding the hands of the developer and saying, ‘We are so sorry. Please don’t leave: It’s not our fault.”

In late 2013, when Spinnaker shopped proposals to the local community management team, the company predicted it could complete the project within 18 months. Yet four years later, without a groundbreaking scheduled, the company still says it has no intention of giving up.

“We are fully committed to our apartment community, which will be transformative to the Wooster section of New Haven. We are just as excited and determined to see this community come to fruition as we were in 2013,” Spinnaker’s statement said. “Our development will not only bring much needed housing, jobs, and pedestrian activity to the immediate area, but will increase the tax base of the City.

“To the City of New Haven and especially to the citizens of Wooster Square,” the statement concluded, “the Lofts at Wooster maybe temporarily delayed, but we are undeterred.”

In the meantime, the corner is largely empty, the alcoves along Chapel Street serving as canvases for taggers and resting spots for the homeless. Aside from the Italian food on Wooster Street, the rest of the area lacks retail, especially now that Fuel Coffee Shop is gone, Nemerson pointed out. “It needs to be more of a neighborhood,” Nemerson said. “People want places to hang out.”

A separate development at 87 Union St., which PMC also tried to sue out of existence, is not subject to the latest round of litigation. “We’re moving forward” on the 299-unit, market-rate apartment complex, Noel Petra said in a phone interview Tuesday.

A judge is scheduled to hear arguments on PMC’s motion for a temporary injunction on Aug. 28.

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posted by: Kevin McCarthy on August 10, 2017  8:22am

I wonder if Attorney Mirman recalls the common law concept of barratry.

posted by: robn on August 10, 2017  8:50am

WTF!

This is clearly a nuisance suit. Can’t Spinnaker counter sue PMC for being frivolous with the courts valuable time? If PMC is worried about competition they should improve their product; period. And even if they choose not to, any idiot developer should recognize that improving that lot will dramatically increase the sense of safety and well-being for people walking from downtown to Wooster Square and therefore increase everyone’s property values.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 10, 2017  8:54am

This lawsuit should be given summary judgment on August 28th. Reject this crap.

posted by: NH INDIE on August 10, 2017  8:59am

Is New Haven being gentrified?

posted by: wendy1 on August 10, 2017  10:04am

All this just for some grass!!  They will have Wooster Sq. if they want grass.
Then next, hold it up because the sea gulls won’t have a place to perch.

posted by: HewNaven on August 10, 2017  10:27am

It’s not the rules of engagement. I mean, developers are supposed to be working together to make a city better.”

Yes. This is truly a shocking development in the history of capitalism.

posted by: jim1 on August 10, 2017  10:36am

Nice picture of 360 State St.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 10, 2017  11:23am

Not sure if the NHI is fully-reporting in this.

There is definitely a significant problem with stormwater run-off overwhelming the existing city sewers, and if I recall correctly, PMC’s 38 Crown Street property had a major issue with sewers backing up into their apartments.

Fwiw, and I’m no fan of PMC, and I think this lawsuit is beyond stupid.

posted by: JOHNILUVHN on August 10, 2017  11:46am

LOL,... I think someone is afraid that tenants will want to move to the newer high end apartments…  Hmmmmm

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on August 10, 2017  11:49am

WHY?!?!?!

This is so infuriating.

Is there not something in place to stop these idiots from continually stalling our city’s growth?

Clearly they’re doing this again and again. What can we do as a community?

ALSO - WHY haven’t they taken the false roof off the OLD MALL. That was part of their stipulation for converting the space into housing. They haven’t followed suit….SUE THEM/ Charge them DAILY until it’s done??

_____________________________________

Every year a wave of existing leases goes to others that would otherwise be in these proposed units.

Since they aren’t built these renters (most of whom are only in town for a graduate program, etc) settle for the units that come online close to where they need to be. They are willing to pay more for convenience and that leaves LITTLE opportunity for working families, millennials, young professionals, empty nesters FROM HERE to take on these leases.

If we don’t built for the growth we are experiencing we will continue to fall prey to the housing price gouging that we are experiencing.

The only way to keep central NH livable is to build for the demand.

More units = more opportunity for US to stay.

PMC, please stop this. You’re hurting our community. Stick to your obligations and take the ROOF off the old mall.

posted by: Paul Wessel on August 10, 2017  11:52am

While PMC is on the City’s mind, this might be a good opportunity to remind the company of the deplorable state of the sidewalks surrounding their 900 Chapel Street (the former mall) property.

posted by: GroveStreet on August 10, 2017  12:46pm

Start filing lawsuits back against them. PMC’s own legal team thinks PMC is a ridiculous outfit.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on August 10, 2017  4:33pm

AT,  you’re right the city has a real problem with stormwater management - that’s part of the reason for the bioswales going in across town. But the issue before the court is whether the Spinnaker development substantially worsens the problem. I assume Spinnaker has competent engineers who will design the project so it does not increase stormwater runoff.

posted by: Esbey on August 10, 2017  11:48pm

In the absence of any court order, can’t Spinnaker start tearing down the old Comcast building?  That has nothing to do with storm water.  By the time they are ready for the next step, one assumes this dumb lawsuit will have been dismissed.

posted by: SpaceLady on August 11, 2017  5:28am

I’m a little tired of seeing this area constantly described as a “no-man’s land”.  The Episcopal Church of St Paul and St James has resided on the corner of Olive and Chapel for 187 years and remains a dynamic and diverse community that serves New Haven everyday with the food pantry, clothing closet, and breakfast programs.  Jazz services on Sundays and community outreach to Wooster Square and beyond continue despite the changing real estate conditions surrounding the church.  Let’s remember our world is not defined by lawsuits and property values alone.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 11, 2017  9:34am

PMC might not have anything to worry about from competing new developments if it were to put all the money it spent on lawsuits back into updating and renovating its residential properties instead.

posted by: wiseman12797 on August 11, 2017  10:40am

There should be more taller buildings in the Downtown area. 360 state street is the only apartment tower there is in New Haven. Why not build more buildings similar to that one?

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on August 11, 2017  12:37pm

And to think I didn’t think I could hate PMC any more. What a bunch of assholes.

posted by: Cordalie on August 15, 2017  4:21pm

Wait! Wait!  What about clean hands?  The Smoothy building never put in the nature strip between its parking lot and Court Street and more recently it paved in with cement, not permeable paving, all of its existing “grass” area.’

Spinnaker should be relieved of this lawsuit and the City should counter sue The Smoothy Building for its breaches and environmentally unfriendly behavior.

The absolute nerve!  Who is the lawyer?  Maybe it is time they are asked to examine their commitment to justice….