Chauffeur Suggests: Take It To The River
by Allan Appel | Jan 14, 2013 5:32 pm
Posted to: Housing, Fair Haven
Tear down Church Street South. Move its public-housing families to a new spread by Fair Haven’s waterfront.
That idea came from a cabbie-turned-limo driver who helps review city policy on the side.
The professional driver, Antoine Scott (pictured at left), floated that idea at this month’s regular meeting of the city’s Development Commission, of which he is a member.
Scott has spent a lot of time in the environs of Union Station and the Church Street South projects across the street. He drove a taxi for eight years and now owns two limo companies. His time behind the wheel looking at the troubled project has got him wondering: When will it come down?
Scott also volunteers to serve as an appointee on the Development Commission. As a development commissioner, he also hears about the city’s ongoing clean-up of brownfield lots and shoring up crumbling but historic structures in the River Street section of Fair Haven, and the city’s efforts to find businesses to locate there.
So he popped the question at last week’s commission meeting: Why not put some housing there instead—nice public housing, like the rebuilt Quinnipiac Terrace, also along Fair Haven’s riverfront —and move Church Street South’s current occupants there, to make room for a new development across the train station?
In the process, he raised a larger question about redeveloping Fair Haven, separate from the Church Street South question: Should the city be expanding its view of the re-emerging River Street district to include housing as well as business?
“We need that Church Street South space. [When it’s redone], it’ll change New Haven’s image. The city doesn’t have a sense of urgency they should have,” Scott said.
Scott’s argument drew from his many years as a professional driver. “When they [arrivals in New Haven] get off the train, what is the first thing they see? The projects. If we’re seriously thinking about the way New Haven is perceived, it has to start here,” he said.
“I understand Church Street is owned by private folks. But the city has to get it done! That land is prime land. That land is going to make or break New Haven.”
“Can you see the same type of Q Terrace being built on River Street for Church Street folks?” Scott asked Deputy Economic Director Tony Bialecki, who was conducting the meeting.
Bialecki said he didn’t think so. At least not yet. The city has been bogged down for years in talks with Church Street South’s private owners about the future of that land. (Though privately owned, the project houses families receiving federal Section 8 rent subsidies.) The city does plan to transform that land eventually. But it has proved a headache to deal with the Boston-based owners, Northland Investment Corporation, even just to get repairs made there to keep tenants safe.
Meanwhile, it is roaring ahead with a plan to raze a different public-housing project, Farnam Courts on Grand Avenue.
Bialecki noted that, unlike with Church Street South, the city’s housing authority, not an outside private business, owns Farnam Courts. So New Haven can move forward faster with its plans there.
It has begun planning to move families out of the project in order to raze the old buildings and construct a new mixed-income, partially homeowner-occupied community like the ones that have transformed Q Terrace and Monterey Place. As part of the plan, the city plans to make Farnam Courts smaller and scatter new public-housing elsewhere on the city’s east side.
Why not River Street? Scott wondered.
The members of the New Haven Development Commission, by state statue, are charged with being the “stewards” of development within the city’s far flung municipal development districts.
Those include areas the city has designated for intensive development, including sections around the Mill River, Science Park, Quinnipiac River, a quadrant of Orange Street near the old Register building, the Route 34/Downtown Crossing area, and the River Street Municipal Development District.
Once the city sets up those area, it can pursue new development in a coherent, broad way and sometimes have faster and sometimes unique access to state and federal grants. Along River Street, it has been hoping to find new light manufacturers to move back onto long abandoned factory properties.
As Bialecki described the city’s energetic efforts to clean up River Street and make its parcels more saleable to businesses, Scott raised his hand. “Is it too far fetched to consider a site there to move [the] Church Street South people?” he asked.
Bialecki replied that the River Street area is seen primarily as a place to locate business, the kind that laborers from Fair Haven can walk to. The city doesn’t have many such properties left, he noted.
“Thirty of the 45 [G.L.] Capasso [employees] walk to work. That’s why it’s mostly industrial, not residential development,” Bialecki said. “But people who’ve asked about [developing] housing [there] are not turned down.”
Before the session ended, Commissioner Kevin Ewing (at left in photo with Scott) spoke to support Scott but to emphasize neither he nor Scott opposes business development. Why not proceed on parallel tracks? Ewing asked.
Bialecki replied that they city would have to do a far more extensive clean-up of the old industrial properties to allow for housing. “If there are no takers for commercial at [for example] the Colony site [that fell through], then maybe consider residential. Yes.”
Bialecki said his boss, city development chief Kelly Murphy, will further discuss the issue with commissioners at their February meeting.
Scott raised “legitimate” questions that the city has been debating for years about where to build housing, Mayor John DeStefano said when told about the commission meeting.
He noted that about a decade ago, developer Joel Schiavone had looked at the idea of building housing at that very River Street area.
Officials have concluded that in general it’s better not to isolate public housing in industrial areas like River Street, DeStefano said. On the other hand, people like to live near the water.
Paul Bass contributed reporting.
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This is about pushing the poor out and grabing the land.The real plan I heard was that Church Street South was to be turn into luxury condominiums and then sold to NEW Yorkers who when then just cross the street to union station and commute to work in New York or commute on Amtrak to Boston to work.This same thing is happing in Harlem on 125th street.
Great idea, lets put both Farnam and Church st complexes there. We can buy air filtration systems for them as well so nobody has any problems with allergies.
This would be the absolute best thing for the city of New Haven.
New Haven suffers mightily because of the Church St South housing project. First of all, that entire complex is disgusting. It is an eyesore, and it was designed in a way to allow major crimes to be committed.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why so many Yale students opt to take the free Yale shuttle or pay for a taxi ride to travel less than 1/3 mile to the Upper Green area? It is because individuals do not want to risk walking in the vicinity of that housing complex. And I do not blame them. I am an imposing male and I would not dare walk by on the sidewalk at night by myself.
Consider: A new train stop was added less than 1/4 mile up the trainline, so that the people paying high rent for the new 360 State building would feel safe getting off at the other stop.
Razing the Church St South and moving the inhabitants would be a wonderful thing for the city of New Haven, and also for the residents.
Why not make nice, small townhouses instead of boxy-concrete buildings, with blind corners around every building, absolutely horrible lighting, and no aesthetic beauty?
As a Goatville resident, I am not in favor of this plan. Our neighborhood is already abutted by Farnham Court. Sorry to be a NIMBY but I don’t think this would be good for our part of East Rock, especially the newly rebuilt East Rock Magnet School. Also, the property along River Street could be “prime real estate” in its own way: water views, lots of open space. I’ll be interested to hear the arguments of others.
Saving these properties for industrial development makes sense only until you consider the number of industries looking for space in the area, the region and the State—almost none in recent years, and unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future, in our “Rust Belt”.
If possible, for- profit housing development would be good if there truly is a market for it.
The Housing Authority seems to be building such attractive housing for the needy (at least on the outside) that real workers soon may abandon their own houses and jobs in order to qualify for public housing, nicer than that which they can afford with their worked-hard-for incomes
Good job—NHHA I guess, but my forecast is not really that unlikely.
I do not know.
I want to clarify my statements. What I suggested was that the city rethink how we use our waterfronts. While I agree we need small industrial and manufacturing jobs in the city I question why we have to continue to build them on our waterfront? It is high value property. I understand that the existing infrastructure is set up for industrial but that was done a couple centuries ago when the waters were used for commerce. Now they aren’t used at all. That’s throwing away potential tax income as well as the creation of another cool spot in New Haven.
I also understand the cleanup issue. However the argument was presented that before we can even sell it to a commercial venture we have to bring it to a level of clean. The step from clean enough for commercial to clean enough for residential is not that great. The example of the old Winchester plant redevelopment was presented as an example of this. I don’t know the numbers but if it can work for the Winchester plant makeover I can’t imagine it not working for prime waterfront real estate. Mixed income. Mixed use.
So my challenge was both general and specific. The specific was to the River Street MDP and its focus only on industrial and manufacturing. Why does it have to be there? Why not Science Park or Long Wharf (by the train tracks?) or by the Blvd or Middleton Ave? Use that prime land for residential including Mr. Scott’s proposal. We should at least think about it and include it in the conversation.
And generally speaking I often feel like we get an idea, make it a plan and then stick doggedly to that plan regardless the introduction of new ideas or alternative solutions. Let’s not be so quick to dismiss the new. Especially if people keep saying it over and over again.
I could not agree more with Mr. Scott’s proposal to increase the urgency with which the Church Street South location is seriously considered as a site for redevelopment.
As the city is moving forward aggressively with the Downtown Crossing project, it becomes increasingly clear that the city will remain functionally disconnected, with the majority of the city cut off from some of its most valuable resources (access to rail and the shore) if these housing projects are not relocated.
Past projects of this nature (including the building of the Quinnipiac Terrace) have met with wild success, and offer residents a more humane, safer, and more attractive environment in which to live, raise their families, and participate in the life of the city. All parties involved would win with such a proposal. It’s just the right thing to do.
How about we tear down Church St South, build modern public housing that fixes a lot of the old mistakes(i.e. having mixed incomes as well as home owners so you don’t have concentrated poverty), that way a good deal of the residents can move back in and not be victims of developers.(This includes both developers who want high earners in there, and people here who want to move the project because they don’t like looking at it, you’re not the ones who will be told to get kinky get out of your house)
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 15, 2013 2:56pm
Church Street South was originally envisioned as a wholesale, industrial and office park, but the area became a site for housing as a result of Federal requirements that the housing from the Oak Street neighborhood (demolished as part of the Oak Street Project Area) had to be replaced. Ludwig Mies van der Roge was initially retained as the architect for Church Street South Housing, which called for International Style apartment towers sitting in greenery and parking lots. Thankfully, Mies van der Rohe resigned and was replaced with Charles Moore.
Unfortunately, HUD limitations for financing commercial space in residential projects and an extremely tight budget, resulted in Moore’s design being extremely compromised from his initial visions. Furthermore, 1/4 of the project was never completed due to the contractor leaving in the middle of construction. However, Church Street South is still a interesting housing complex that doesn’t necessarily need to be demolished.
The interior courtyards could be privatized for residents with the use of new walls and gates. This would help enormously to reduce crime since a significant portion of crime originates from people who do not live in the actual complex but come into it from neighboring communities to sell drugs.
The buildings could be renovated with new interior finished and furnishings, and fasteners could be installed on the exterior concrete block walls upon which a new cladding material can be applied - perhaps brick, stone and or wood. Pitched roofs could be added like what was done at Farnam Courts and McConaughey Terrace, and could conceal new mechanical systems and some roofs could be made into roof terraces.
New development of low-rise townhouses, mid-rise and/or high-rise mixed-use apartment, office and retail buildings could happen on vacant and underused portions of the site and selective and surgical demolition can help improve circulation through the site and help with the barracks-style design of the buildings.
Good idea: tear down the Church Street South housing projects.
Bad idea: relocate the residents to waterfront property.
The river front property could and should be used for light industry and/or private residential development. New Haven does not use its waterfront properly and to give it to dolers would be a horrible decision and a huge waste of money. If the housing project is demolished on Church Street South then the property should be used as public space, or sold to another private developer.
@ Jonathan, thanks for your comments; obviously you know quite a bit about the Church Street South project, and that is helpful. However, I’m not sure a renovation of the existing buildings, however extensive, would really alter the area in a meaningful way. This is prime real estate, and the buildings themselves, their arrangement, and their dated appearance—not to mention their association with crime in the minds of most New Haven residents—make them an eyesore and unlikely to be traversed by shoppers, residents of Downtown, and other frequent users of Union Station despite whatever renovation might be undertaken to make them more livable.
@ Atwater, I agree that New Haven has historically underutilized it’s really beautiful waterfront land, and that there is already far too much industrial usage of that land in the first place. I also agree that movement of residents of Church Street South to waterfront property would likely be an under-utilization of that property as well. That said, the residents of that community deserve good, safe housing and a reasonable location for it. Does anyone else have any other thoughts on where else this could be in the city besides prime places like between the train station and downtown and on the waterfront?
I think River Street should be reserved for light and craft industry. Housing near workplaces always makes sense to me.
Renovating Church St. South might end up costing more than a tear down. I think it’s best to replace it with a reconfigured mixed use development. Such a project might also lead to a general and much needed rezoning of the wider area.
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 15, 2013 7:39pm
Charles Moore’s design is really underestimated. While the buildings are simple and boxy, the spaces that the buildings create are incredible. I should clarify that I think most residents should be relocated, but to scattered site units, not another prject-based complex. The primary cause of crime and other issues in low-income housing developments is the homogeneity of the population. East Rock and Newhallville have nearly identical streetscapes and urbanism, but would anyone argue that the “design” of Newhallville (and therefore East Rock) is problematic? Though there are significant issues with the design of Church Street South, they are fairly easily remedied with a combination of some surgical demolition, renovation and new construction.
New interior finishes and furnishings at Church Street South could attract private individuals and families because the design of the complex is actually quite good minus a few awkward hidden corners and blandness.
In my opinion, costs and design are not valid arguments to redevelopment Church Street South through demolition and rebuilding. However, there are valid arguments for redeveloping this site as opposed to a large scale renovation. 1) This area - next to the harbor, the I-91/95 interchange, Church Street South, Union Avenue, and the train tracks - is one of the most polluted areas of the city and the situation is not being improved upon with the city’s Downtown Crossing project, or the diesel fuel-powered high speed train that is soon coming. 2) Market demand is extremely high here with Union Station, the Medical District, and Downtown in very close proximity. 3) The complex is in a state of disrepair and obsolescence due to inadequate maintenance and investment over the years - a story familiar to many low-income housing complexes.
The idea of keeping this area as a site for family housing brings up a number of moral and ethical issues considering the low air quality of the area. Since the complex was designed specifically for families, it may be extremely difficult to retrofit units for people without young children, but it should be studied for feasibility before any plan for redevelopment is seriously considered.
I would rather see Church Street South renovated as housing for young professionals, and other families and individuals without children than to see a development in anyway similar to what Northland has proposed.
Jonathan, we need project based housing because that is all many people in New Haven know since that is how they were raised.
I’m surprised nobody besides me has mentioned the fact that Farnam and Church are both up on the block at the same time. Why not just team them up together and create the same thing we have on front st which surprisingly has worked out well???
can anyone tell me that the one experiment in liberal “whatever you want to call it” has not worked out well on Front St? besides the daily dumping under the bridge it seems to be quite civilized.
we need more of that.period.
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 15, 2013 10:56pm
Farnam Courts is owned an managed by the Housing Authority of New Haven. Church Street South is owned and managed by Northland Development Co. of Massachusetts. Farnam Courts is public housing for tenants of a certain income level. Church Street South is a project-based Section 8 complex - not public housing. Typically Section 8 vouchers are used in small apartment buildings or houses that are often mixed with other market-rate units - Church Street South is very unique in this regard since the entire 301-unit development is low-income, federally subsidized housing as opposed to a mix. There are strict federal requirements regulating Section 8 vouchers and public housing. Its not just a matter of the City of HANH (which operates separately from the City) deciding one day to redevelop a site - they have to see what type of funding is available, they have to apply, and then they have to be accepted. Hope VI grants (replaced in 2009 by the very similar Choice Neighborhoods program), which funded Monterey Place, Quinnipiac Terrace, West Rock, and Eastview Terrace are extremely competitive and have strict requirements about replacing units, relocating residents and all sorts of design and planning considerations.
Additionally, HANH does not own Church Street South, a private corporation does. This adds an entirely new layer of restrictions and difficulties onto any redevelopment. Plans require an extensive review process and funding has to be used for specific things - its not like HUD would give HANH a pile of money to do whatever they want. My guess is that HUD wouldn’t want to use public funding for industrial site clean up to make room for public housing so that the site currently used for public housing could be made available for private profit. Maybe they would do it if Northland agreed to pay for the clean-up of the industrial River Street site, but you’d have to convince Northland to do that. Furthermore, River Street is a historically important employment center for Fair Haven, and it seems misguided to turn it into low-to-mid-density public housing like Quinnipiac Terrace and apartment towers for family housing seems like a worse idea.
Something like what was done with the Elm Haven High Rises is probably required where residents are relocated in scattered site Section 8 apartments elsewhere in New Haven area with some residents given the option of returning after redevelopment (or renovation).
@Powers: Why do the public housing residents deserve what other people have to work and pay for? Now, I do not think that the poor of our society should be left to the wind, but I do not think it is responsible to allow a certain segment of the population inherent rights which others do not automatically have. Therefore public housing should be Spartan and economical. It should be placed in an area with quick access to the schoolhouse, police station and market. It should be clean and safe. But, it should not go to areas of high value (downtown, waterfront, etc.). It seems that this city is all too willing to advance the culture of welfare dependence that has ruined it thus far. Hopefully that will change soon.
I agree with Jonathan Hopkins but they need to get rid of the dead end on Columbus ave and re-connect the streets
Q-Terrace was supposed to include more homeowner units—not surprisingly the NHHA and the private entity that manages it has not come through on said units.
I wonder if they can be trusted to not do the same bait and switch with any development the authority builds in the future.
Also, I wonder if Karen Dubois-Walton mentioned this fact to our Senator last week.
Why do we have to house low income people in group housing? I can’t believe that most people want to live in that type of setting. Why not rehabilitate the two family and single family homes we have in New Haven and allow people to live in one of the many neighborhoods New Haven has, not just Fair Haven.
Please, people, Fair Haven should not be New Haven’s designated, default neighborhood for low income housing. The neighborhood is already stressed on various fronts and needs more a diverse, not homogenous, population in terms of household income. The same could be said for New Haven in general. The city is seen by outsiders as separated and segregated into economic and racial enclaves. New housing for Farnham courts and Church Street South residents should be fairly dispersed into all New Haven neighborhoods, not just tossed into Fair Haven.