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City Plan OKs Comcast-To-Housing Conversion

by Diana Li | May 29, 2014 2:58 pm

(17) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Housing, Wooster Square

Diana Li Photo A developer has moved closer to gaining approval to convert the Comcast building at Olive and Chapel streets to 200 luxury apartments, part of a housing renaissance transforming the no-man’s land between Wooster Square and downtown.

The approval came during from the City Plan Commission, which voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve two requests from Spinnaker Residential LLC for zoning changes needed to build the project. The request, which has the support of the neighborhood’s alders and many neighbors, now goes to the Board of Alders for final approval

Spinnaker originally came to the commission for approval of the project in March, then decided to withdraw its proposal and return because city staff and the applicant agreed that some of the proposed changes and additions to the text amendment under discussion had not been described in the legal notice. That hold-up led to the special City Plan meeting at City Hall Wednesday night with only the developer’s two items on the agenda.

The first was an application to change the zoning from two parcels in question from BA, General Business, to BD-1, Central Business/Residence, enabling mixed-use buildings and denser residential development.

The second was a request for amendments to the zoning ordinance itself, including a limitation that buildings in BD-1 zones adjacent to residential zones (RS-1, RS-2, RM-1, or RM-2) be limited to 70 feet in height and a floor area ratio (or “FAR”) of 3.0 from the current requirement of 6.0. FAR is a measure of how big buildings can be with respect to lot size; a higher FAR allows bigger buildings.

These amendments were proposed to allay concerns that changing the zone to BD-1 would create towering buildings that would overshadow nearby residential developments.

Some Reservations

All of the commissioners voted to support both amendments, though some expressed reservations.

Attorney Marjorie Shansky argued that changing the zoning designation for these two parcels of land constituted illegal “spot zoning”: changing the rules in the interest of a specific development at the expense of the rest of the city.

Shansky reminded City Plan Chairman Ed Mattison of his comments at a prior meeting, when he said he was concerned that passing the amendments because of these two parcels would be “using a sledgehammer on a mosquito” and that the zoning amendments might have unintended consequences. New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell (pictured) also testified that these two parcels of land should not be viewed “in isolation.”

“I am very torn. I don’t like rezoning parcels of land,” said Mattison. “But the good we can do now is better than the perfect we ought to do. … I have reluctantly decided that I am going to vote yes.”

Mattison echoed a criticism Shansky raised that granting this change would open the floodgates to future projects applying for exceptions and rule changes, to the point where zoning rules were rendered useless. He also agreed with the concern that Rev. Alex Dyer of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James on Olive Street raised: That the new development would generate traffic concerns in an already congested area.

However, other commissioners agreed with the developers that the zoning amendments with the included limits are acceptable. Commissioner Adam Marchand, who’s also a Westville alder, said that the limits of 3.0 of FAR and 70 feet in height were sufficient to make him comfortable approving the amendments.

“I think the extension of the BD-1 zone is quite in line with recent direction in city policy in encouraged mixed-use, intensified development, and residential development. This is the direction we’re going in,” Marchand said. “Frankly, I don’t have a better proposal at this point, so unless further comments from colleagues cause me to change my mind, I’m planning on voting in favor of these two items.”

Of the 11 additional parcels that would be affected by the zoning amendments (located on Howe and Dwight streets) 10 of them are already built on and thus would not be impacted by the new change.

Reviving The Wooster Square-Downtown Link

Mark Forlenza, a principal of Spinnaker Residential, listed six different meetings the developer have had with community members from last November through April to discuss concerns and design specifics.

“The message we got from the neighborhood was that there wasn’t a good connection from the Wooster Square area back to downtown, and that because of the lack of development due to the site existing under a BA zone designation, it was an unsafe area,” Forlenza said. “It’s rare that a developer’s vision matches with that of the city and nearby residents, but this is an instance of that.”

Commissioners, including Leslie Radcliffe and Mattison, cited comments from the public about Spinnaker’s willingness to work with neighbors and cooperate when developing plans for the apartment buildings when explaining their affirmative votes for the amendments.

New Downtown/East Rock Alder Abigail Roth testified in favor of the project. She said that she heard no opposition when she sent an email detailing the zoning changes to over 700 of her constituents. Also present at the meeting was Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg, who previously testified in favor of the project.

Elsie Chapman and Charlie Murphy, two other neighbors, testified in favor of the amendments, arguing that the project was needed for the community and would bring development and life to an area that is otherwise lacking.

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Comments

posted by: robn on May 29, 2014  1:09pm

Just like Smoothie and just like the Union Street Dog Park, this project will bring necessary eyes on the street (Chapel Street). Everyone walking to and from downtown and the train station will be safer because of this project.

posted by: jhonn_m on May 29, 2014  2:02pm

UGH. Always “luxury” apartments. So many “luxury” apartments. Who are all these well-off people that are apparently going to be moving in to these? Is the demand THAT big!?
What about all the vacant luxury apartments we already have and the ones that already scheduled to come in? What about just “nice new apartments for regular middle-class folks”?

posted by: LookOut on May 29, 2014  4:22pm

@jhonn_m :  you ask “What about just “nice new apartments for regular middle-class folks”?”

In case you haven’t been watching, those who run the city has been working hard to chase the middle class folks out of town for some time now.  The market for middle class folks who can afford all of the excess expense of New Haven is small and shrinking.

posted by: anonymous on May 29, 2014  4:29pm

JHonn:

New apartments and housing are almost always “luxury” housing.  But with few exceptions, this has been true for the past 300 years in New Haven.

Look at the developments around Ellsworth and Norton, for example. They were built as ultra-luxury, state-of-the-art housing 125 years ago. Now they are among the most affordable, stable, neighborhoods in the State of Connecticut, all factors considered.

Bottom line: The “luxury apartments” of today always become the middle class housing of tomorrow. 

New Haven should be building and subsidizing as much “luxury housing” construction as it possibly can.  Otherwise, you get gentrification: The middle class housing units in New York City, for example, are rapidly turning into flats for the ultra rich because the city simply isn’t building enough housing to meet demand.

posted by: therevalexdyer on May 29, 2014  4:30pm

To be very clear, I support this project.  My concern is that a wider study needs to be done on these transitions zones to downtown, similar to the Hill-to-Downtown study. Perhaps this will be the catalyst to get the study done. Traffic and parking is always a concern in New Haven and most urban areas.  Comcast creates its own traffic pattern as well. My concern is how would changing this zoning impact the traffic pattern.  In the end, welcome 200 apartments seeing all the good stuff that goes on at St. Paul & St. James and our Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry.  We want this portion of Olive Street to thrive once again.

posted by: Threefifths on May 29, 2014  5:20pm

posted by: LookOut on May 29, 2014 4:22pmey
Hear this robn.Or is it just me

@jhonn_m :  you ask “What about just “nice new apartments for regular middle-class folks”?”

In case you haven’t been watching, those who run the city has been working hard to chase the middle class folks out of town for some time now. The market for middle class folks who can afford all of the excess expense of New Haven is small and shrinking.

Homerun.Atleast you see it coming.People keep your bags packed.

Gentrify This? The Dark Side of Gentrification


http://rowanfreepress.com/2012/11/22/gentrify-this-the-dark-side-of-gentrification/

posted by: Threefifths on May 29, 2014  8:08pm

posted by: anonymous on May 29, 2014 4:29pm

New Haven should be building and subsidizing as much “luxury housing” construction as it possibly can.  Otherwise, you get gentrification: The middle class housing units in New York City, for example, are rapidly turning into flats for the ultra rich because the city simply isn’t building enough housing to meet demand.

What New haven needs is what New York has.That is Rent-Controlled and Rent Stabilization and Mitchell-Lama Housing Now let me break it down to you.I like to use research.

What is Mitchell-Lama?
Created in 1955, the Mitchell-Lama program provides affordable rental and cooperative housing to moderate- and middle-income families. There are 132 City-sponsored, moderate- and middle-income rental and limited-equity cooperative developments in New York City, which contain approximately 54,000 units

http://www.nyc.gov/html/housinginfo/html/apartments/apt_rental_mitchell-lama.shtml


Rent-Controlled

Rent Control:

The rent control program generally applies to residential buildings constructed before February 1947 in municipalities that have not declared an end to the postwar rental housing emergency. A total of 51 municipalities have rent control, including New York City, Albany, Buffalo and various cities, towns, and villages in Albany, Erie, Nassau, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Westchester counties.

Rent Stabilization:

In NYC, rent stabilized apartments are generally those apartments in buildings of six or more units built between February 1, 1947 and January 1, 1974.

Tenants in buildings of six or more units built before February 1, 1947 and who moved in after June 30, 1971 are also covered by rent stabilization.

A third category of rent stabilized apartments covers buildings with three or more apartments constructed or extensively renovated since 1974 with special tax benefits.

http://www.nycrgb.org/html/resources/faq/rentcontrol.html

Part One.

posted by: Threefifths on May 29, 2014  8:39pm

Part two.
@anonymous

Now check out what Affordable
Housing is.And ask the question why does not New haven have the same programs.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/downloads/pdf/Elliot-Hobbs-Gardens.pdf

http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/apartment/lotteries.shtml

So I put the question out there.Why does New Haven not have these type of housing programs.

posted by: robn on May 29, 2014  10:32pm

3/5,

You simply don’t know what you’re talking about. HANH’s annual affordable housing target is 30% of the city’s rental units. This is one of the most generous if not communistic systems in the US.
Again; give us a break from the uniformed diatribes.

posted by: Bradley on May 30, 2014  7:02am

@lookout “the market for middle class folks who can afford all of the excess expense of New Haven is small and shrinking.” Which is why developers are investing tens of millions of dollars of their own money to build hundreds of units in the city.  There are tens of thousands of middle class folks in the area who can afford these units, using the rule of thumb that no more than 30% of a household’s income should go for rent. The developers are betting serious money that a sufficient number of these households (many of them currently living in the suburbs) will rent their units. Part of the disconnect is the definition of “middle class.” The median (average) household income for the greater New Haven housing market is about $60,000, which would permit a household to afford a rent of $1,500 per month. Clearly, such rents are unaffordable for most current city residents. But that does not mean they are unaffordable for middle class folks who are interested in living in Connecticut’s closest approximation to a real city.

Alex, thanks for the clarification. The article made it appear that your position was simple NIMBYism.

3/5ths rent control or stabilization would require a change in state law. I have worked at the Capitol for decades and have never, not even once, heard a legislator suggest the adoption of a law allowing municipalities to establish rent control or stabilization. If you can identify a current legislator who has publicly called for such a law, I will gladly buy you a beer.

posted by: Threefifths on May 30, 2014  9:11am

@Bradley

If 80% of us are in or near poverty than THERE IS NO MIDDLE CLASS.You can’t tell me there is a middle if 4/5ths of us are almost poor.How can their be a middle when80% of Americans are poor or will be poor at some point in the future.If we are all poor or near poor than poor is the new middle.There is a “working class” and the wealthy, that is it. The middle class is DEAD!!!

Daily Kos

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/09/16/1228186/-If-80-of-us-are-in-or-near-poverty-than-THERE-IS-NO-MIDDLE-CLASS#

3/5ths rent control or stabilization would require a change in state law. I have worked at the Capitol for decades and have never, not even once, heard a legislator suggest the adoption of a law allowing municipalities to establish rent control or stabilization. If you can identify a current legislator who has publicly called for such a law, I will gladly buy you a beer.

But it still can happen.A law still can be passed.


posted by: robn on May 29, 2014 10:32pm

3/5,

You simply don’t know what you’re talking about. HANH’s annual affordable housing target is 30% of the city’s rental units. This is one of the most generous if not communistic systems in the US.
Again; give us a break from the uniformed diatribes.

Communistic.Give me a break.

posted by: Threefifths on May 30, 2014  9:16am

posted by: Bradley on May 30, 2014 7:02am

3/5ths rent control or stabilization would require a change in state law. I have worked at the Capitol for decades and have never, not even once, heard a legislator suggest the adoption of a law allowing municipalities to establish rent control or stabilization. If you can identify a current legislator who has publicly called for such a law, I will gladly buy you a beer.

My bad.So you worked for the two party system at the capitol that got us in this mess.Now I see your thinking.Which one donkey or elephant.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 30, 2014  9:49am

Robn- 3/5 ignores that fact New Haven leads the country in per capita public housing that combined with the lack of high quality housing is forcing the cost of housing up in New Haven.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 30, 2014  10:32am

If you think public housing is leading the way in lack of affordable housing I don’t know what to tell you because you’re just gone. I guess all the public housing in Branford and Guilford and Ansonia and Salisbury, and….is why housing is so expensive there as well.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 30, 2014  10:48am

25 years ago the City of New Haven had the highest per capita ratio of public housing units to overall housing units. Since that time, many of HANH’s public housing units have been switched to Section 8 vouchers. Does New Haven really still have the highest, or one of the highest ratios of public housing units? Can anyone post a link to verify?

If nothing else, 3/5s usually makes me laugh.

“My bad. So you worked for the two party system at the capitol that got us in this mess. Now I see your thinking. Which one donkey or elephant.”

I still find myself laughing every once in a while at a youtube link he posted during the mayoral campaign season several years ago to describe the candidate’s press events and debates, which was just a video of the teletubbies dancing around aimlessly.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 30, 2014  10:55am

Madcap you missed the point there is a lack of housing in New Haven. Public housing divides rounds up all the poor people and puts them in one area. That devalues one area while increasing other area values because they have a higher amount if high income. If you develop nice apartments downtown or where ever with 20% afford housing. You now have more housing, which means more competition and lower rent, and a better distribution of wealth. If you could do that enough you could vastly increase the amount of housing and end the wealthy neighborhood poor neighborhood divide.

posted by: Bradley on June 1, 2014  9:04pm

3/5ths, I actually work for neither party. I’m still waiting to hear what legislator is going to propose legislation authorizing rent control/stabilization.

BTW, I think that Mitchell-Lama has been a successful program in New York. How would you pay for a Connecticut equivalent?

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