A longtime dream of redeveloping a vacant parcel at 340 Dixwell Ave. into affordable housing moved a step closer to coming true.
Darrell Brooks, project director for Beulah Land Development Corp., delivered that news this past Thursday evening at a Dixwell Management Team meeting.
The site, at the intersection of Orchard and Munson streets, is the former home of a gas station and parking lot where Joe Grate used to set up his popular barbecue stand. Beulah Land bought the lot from the city under a now-expired land disposition agreement with the hope first of putting a pharmacy there, Brooks said.
Brooks told neighbors that after talks with chains like CVS, Beulah Land learned that such stores want space for a big building, a drive-thru window and lots of parking.
“We’ve been wrestling over the last few years about what we should do at that site,” Brooks said. “The board wanted to do affordable housing because we knew that there was a tremendous amount of need not just in Dixwell but in the city. As a result of that Beulah land was struggling with finding the right partner to work with to build affordable housing.” (Read about when the affordable housing idea was first pitched here.)
Brooks said that not everyone understands the concept of affordable housing, or understands doing affordable housing with the mindset of Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church and Beulah Land Development Corp.
“Beulah Land is minority owned and Beulah Land stresses and pushes the idea of minority involvement in construction and contracting, ” he said. And the track record of what it has been able to achieve is good.
The development corporation which has built elderly housing on Orchard Street and elsewhere around the church. It started doing that in response to the murder of a 7-month-old baby in a tenement next to the church, which was also surrounded by crack houses on the other side. That was two decades ago; Beulah Land has since remade its block as a safe, attractive place to live.
Brooks said it has done all of that with up to 90 percent minority participation on our sites. But for the Dixwell lot, he said Beulah Land struggled with finding a partner until it found Jeff Spiritos, principal of Spiritos Properties.
Spiritos specializes in building tall buildings out of wood instead of concrete and metal. The construction is known to be fast, efficient, and environmentally friendly, he said. While the approach has caught on in other parts of the world, it has been slow to take hold in the United States.
Spiritos was one of two people to present a project that won the Tall Wood Building Prize from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2015. Because of the efficiency of Dixwell’s meeting, he didn’t get to talk about his work and expertise. He’ll get to do that an upcoming community meeting about the Dixwell project. (Click on the video below to get a glimpse of the new technology.)
Brooks simply told neighbors that they would learn about a new concept in construction in which Beulah and Spritos are looking to train people, particularly minority contractors and other construction workers. He said the hope is to spark long-term job creation in the city and the state. They’re also looking to hire someone from the community to act as a liaison between the project and the community, a young person who doesn’t have to have any construction experience but wants to learn the business from the ground up.
“The whole idea is that this new technology will be able to create leaders here in New Haven, particularly minority contractors, to do this kind of construction,” Brooks said.
“We want to incorporate all of us in the process because Dixwell is on the move,” he added. “And Dixwell is changing and I think all of us should be a part of that conversation in Dixwell. We’ve been meeting with Serena and we’re really excited about this project. We want all of us to participate in the resurgence of what Dixwell could look like.”
“And that’s the way it should have been done,” a neighbor said.
Jesse Hameen, jazz drummer and Neighborhood Music School jazz and rock studies coordinator, was at the meeting Thursday to hear about the latest developments on the separate 201 Munson St. project going up right next door to his home. He also praised what Brooks had to say.
“I worked with your father, and all these people here appreciate what you and your family have done,” Hameen said speaking of Beulah’s previous good work.
“No disrespect to my friend,” Brooks said of Munson Street developer Doug Gray, “but we need affordable housing in Dixwell.”
Livable City Initiative Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo said it was at times overwhelming to see a lot of the projects that the organization set out to tackle with the Dixwell community when she came back to New Haven coming to fruition.
“But we’ve got a lot more to do, ” she said. “As I said back then, the community is what drives this work for us at LCI and your participation is crucial to making it happen and we’ve been supporting the work that Beulah is trying to undertake, Doug and his partners are undertaking, and ConnCAT left, but another project they’re working on.
“We’re doing what we set out to do it’s all coming alive,” she said. “Your help and support are necessary in order to get this done.”