Builder Starts At Odds With Neighbors

Paul Bass PhotoThe city has found a developer who seeks to remodel a vacant Fair Haven school into an apartment complex —  but who has started off on a bad foot with neighborhood leaders.
Newman Architects

The plan involves the circa 1915 Strong School at Grand at 69 Grand Ave., just up the hill from the Quinnipiac River.

The city has been trying since 2010 to find someone to revive the decaying 33,000 square-foot three-story historic gem to bolster the revival of that stretch of Fair Haven.

A 65-year-old retired Litchfield-based psychoanalyst named Ted Lazarus has submitted a plan to the city to buy the school for $500,000 and then spend $16.7 million converting it to 37 one-bedroom apartments (some of them two-story) ranging from 370 to 718 square feet. Working along with the development arm of Meriden’s housing authority, he’d convert the gym into a community space open to local groups, add a fitness room, and turn the roof terrace into “an outdoor living room” for “sunbathing, board games [and] outdoor cooking.” The plan also calls for upgrading the playground and installing solar panels on the roof and a geothermal heating and cooling system. (Interspersed in this article are project drawings prepared by Newman Architects.)

Deputy Economic Development Director Steve Fontana, the point person on the project, said Lazarus has stated an intention to build senior housing on the site, with rents comparable to what the market brings in Fair Haven. On Linked In, Lazarus wrote that his company “develops and manages affordable supportive housing and is committed to the revitalization of distressed urban neighborhoods.” He stated in a resume attached to the proposal that he “owns and manages 24 units of supportive housing in Bridgeport; and 65 multifamily units (scattered) in Waterbury.”

“We think it’s a bonafide proposal from a bonafide developer,” Fontana said of the Lazarus’s plan for Strong.

Lazarus has previously entered in an agreement to rehab two former schools into senior housing in Bristol. His new Strong School proposal includes a letter from Wall Street-based Aegis Capital Corp. expressing interest in providing up to $18 million in financing. Lazarus would also seek federal and state historic tax credits. He envisions closing on the deal with the city by May 2017 completing the project by May 2018. (He failed to meet a similar projected deadline in Bristol.)

Lazarus submitted his Strong School plan in response to a city request for proposals. A city committee will review and vote on the plan; committee members include city economic development chief Matthew Nemerson, Alders Richard Furlow and David Reyes, architects Craig Newick and Ken Boroson, and activist Jane Coppock. They have scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for Monday, Nov. 7, at 5:30 in Meeting Room 3 on the second floor of City Hall. More specifics on Lazarus’s plan are expected then.

The committee plans to hold its own meeting on whether to accept the proposal two nights later at the same time, in Mayor’s Conference Room 2.

Leaders of a Chatham Square group, the part of Fair Haven that includes Strong School, criticized the plan. They also accused both Nemerson’s office and Lazarus of shutting them out at every step, then presenting with a plan that fails to meet their neighborhood’s grassroots vision for future development

Lazarus declined to give his side of the story to the Independent. Nemerson said the city worked as hard as it could with neighbors, but needed to advance a viable plan to restore the school and get it back on the tax rolls.

SPACeD Out

Under the banner of a group called SPACe (Strong Performing Arts Center), Chatham Square neighbors worked on their vision in community meetings and came up with a plan for the Strong School. The plan called for turning the school into a home for arts groups and other nonprofits — to use as offices, for classes, and for performances.

The idea was to generate more activity in the neighborhood and bring in more people who would patronize area restaurants, the way Audubon Street arts facilities have boosted that part of town, said one of the main organizers, Lee Cruz.

Cruz and other neighbors put together a plan to do that the first time the city sought proposals for Strong School. They were the only group proposing to buy and renovate the building then.

Nemerson and his team concluded that the plan lacked financing as well as enough of a revenue stream to be viable. SPACe revised the plan to include revenue-generating housing. SPACe proposed to pay the city $250,000 and then spend $7.5 million converting the 1.055-acre site into a community arts center with a 100-seat theater; six 2,400-square-foot three-story townhouse apartments renting for $2,350 a month; six smaller “penthouse apartments”; and office space for arts organizations and other nonprofits.

Nemerson gave the group a couple of extra months to find solid financial backing as well as needed architectural and engineering support. When it couldn’t, the city rejected SPACe’s plan in November 2014 and set out looking for a new developer.

Cruz argued that the city should have given his group more time as well as help to make the plan work.

“We bent over backwards to give them extra time and keep them in the process,” Nemerson said Thursday. He said after SPACe’s plan fell short, he gave the group an extra year to improve the plan with the city’s help.

“He didn’t give us a year,” Cruz responded. He said that once the city rejected SPACe’s plan, Nemerson gave it two and a half months to pull together needed financing — which Cruz said was insufficient time.

In any case, with no approved developer in place, Nemerson assigned Fontana, his deputy, to work on the project. Fontana found developer Lazarus. He sought to get Lazarus and SPACe together to join forces on the project.

Newman ArchitectsAccording to Cruz and fellow SPACe organizer Christel Manning, Lazarus invited them to his office to discuss the plan. They said Lazarus told them he intended to turn the building into apartments and offered them use of the gym. He also demanded that they write a letter to the city stating they supported his proposal, and only his proposal.

Cruz and Manning said they didn’t want to do that, for two reasons.

They felt the proposal should include a scaled-down version of their original idea of turning at least some classrooms into offices and practice space for community nonprofits. Offering use of the gym to community groups is nice, Cruz said, but other nonprofits in the neighborhood, like the Mary Wade Home, already do that. The neighborhood’s vision of the school building’s future use went beyond that.

And Cruz said, “we didn’t want to be in a position not to work with someone else” if another developer had a plan more in keeping with the neighborhood’s vision.

How To Lose Friends & Not Influence People

Once Cruz and Manning declined to write the letter, they said, Lazarus refused to have any more to do with them. They said they sought details on his plan, only to be rebuffed. In October, they invited him to a Chatham Square neighborhood meeting to discuss his plans, the way, for instance, Mary Wade Home recently discussed its expansion plans — and won neighbors’ support — before submitting them to the city for approvals. In general, developers have made a practice in New Haven of first consulting with neighborhood groups on potential projects before submitting requests for city approvals.

Manning emailed the invitation to Lazarus on Oct. 17. She wrote: “We’ve been told that you responded to the Strong School RFP, and we would love to learn more about your proposal. We have our monthly neighborhood meeting Wednesday evening at 6pm and we would like to bring information about your proposal to the community that accurately reflects your proposal. It would also be useful to know your target population for the building. We can make assumptions based on our initial conversation but we would rather not do this. Just to be clear, we do not need budgets or financials. Our meeting is this Wed, Oct. 19, at 6 pm.”

On Oct. 18, Lazarus emailed Manning in response to the request to meet with neighbors.

“Coincidentally, I just spoke to Steve Fontana at the city development office and he advised me of the city’s plans to hold a public hearing on the subject of our proposal within the next couple of weeks. I think that would be the most efficient way for our proposal to be presented to anyone interested in the development plans,” he wrote.  He was a no-show.

“He doesn’t seem really interested in working with the community,” Manning said during a visit to the school earlier this week.

Reached by phone Thursday, Lazarus neither confirmed nor denied their account. He also refused to discuss his proposal.

“We have that proposal in at the city. It has not been addressed by the city. There’s a meeting on the seventh of November. I don’t really feel comfortable commenting to the press before that,” Lazarus said.

He extended an invitation: “If you want to come to the meeting and participate in a public session, you’re welcome to.”

The city’s Fontana said that Lazarus was willing to incorporate the neighbors’ idea into his proposal but wanted a guarantee in return that the neighbors would support his project so that he “wouldn’t be used as leverage” for potential competitors’ plans. Cruz argued that “no community is going to say, ‘We don’t know who’s in the horse race, but because you’re the first horse, we’re going to bet on you.’ We want to work with whoever gets this building.”

Nemerson defended his office’s approach to the Strong School project.

“Steve [Fontana] went out of his way to try to make a shidduch [match] between” Lazarus and the Chatham Square neighbors, Nemerson said in an interview. “We tried to get them to work together. Ted [Lazarus] wanted to work with them. They didn’t want to work with” Lazarus.

“People don’t get vetoes over process. We try to bring people together,” Nemerson added.

Nemerson said the city has “a responsibility to taxpayers to move this project along. We spent a year and a half with a very engaged community response that was put together by the neighborhood, and nothing came with it. We extended and extended. We had no choice but to out and find new developers.”

After failing to win exclusive support from SPACe, Lazarus contacted Justin Elicker, executive director of the New Haven Land Trust, which has a community garden across Perkins Street from the school. Elicker said Lazarus asked him to sign on as a supporter of his plan in return for office space. Elicker declined.

“I said I wanted to be working with Lee and community members on the project,” Elicker said Thursday. “If it’s not the [neighborhood]‘s plan, I said, it’s not the right fit.”

The proposal Lazarus finally submitted promised community use of the remodeled gym but did not list a community supporter.

“Total Disrespect”

Manning and Cruz said they found Nemerson and his staff equally determined to leave neighbors out of the planning process.

They said they kept asking to see Lazarus’s proposal, to no avail. They saw it only on Thursday after the city released the proposal to reporters after receiving a state Freedom of Information Act request from the Independent.

Manning said that approach is consistent with Nemerson’s response to her group’s original efforts to have its plan for Strong School considered a couple of years ago: “Matt didn’t even want to meet with us to discuss the proposal; he was just going to reject it.” She argued that the city’s process is focused on getting in a developer to pay for the building “rather than being driven by a vision for our community.”

“Total disrespect,” Cruz said of the city’s and developer’s approach to the neighborhood.

Steve Fontana responded that he would have been happy to provide Cruz and Manning with a copy of the proposal—if they had asked him. Cruz originally requested the proposal from city Purchasing Agent Michael Fumiatti in an Sept. 30 email. Fumiatti responded on Oct. 6 that he was forwarding the request to “economic development.” 

“If Lee had just said, ‘Steve, if you have it, would you send it to me,’ I would have said, ‘Sure,’” Fontana said. He said he believes it’s a good idea for the public to see the proposal before the Nov. 7 public hearing. He said Cruz never called or emailed him. Cruz insisted that he did call Fontana and failed to reach him or get a response.

Meanwhile, Strong School has deteriorated, Cruz said. Vandals have broken windows, continually sprayed graffiti, and destroyed part of the inside. The city was slow to respond, he said, so neighbors sometimes took action on their own.

“We have picked up the garbage. We have covered over the graffiti,” Cruz remarked. “We care about our community.”

Tags: , , ,

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry

Comments

posted by: Peter99 on October 28, 2016  5:19am

It sounds like a well thought out and financed project that will provide badly needed tax dollars to the city. Anytime a vacant unused city property can be sold and used to generate tax revenue it is a good thing. We should not make it difficult for legitimate non predatory private investment to take place in New Haven. Pie in the sky ideas with less than adequate funding is a train wreck waiting to happen in the future. Take the deal. We must rebuild and revitalize the city a piece at a time. Empty properties are not good for neighborhood residents or the city. The more legitimate investment we can bring into the city, the better.

posted by: Bradley on October 28, 2016  7:04am

I greatly appreciate Lee’s work for Fair Haven and the city as a whole. He and several other members of the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association are friends of mine. But CSNA is self-appointed and its demographics are substantially different than Fair Haven as a whole, notably with regard to housing tenure. Developers should work with such groups as well as management teams. But such groups are unelected and cannot have veto power over developments.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 28, 2016  7:07am

The Dwight neighborhood also sought to have its input for RMS’s development plan and had NO support from City officials, the Dwight Management Team or the Special Services District.
Nonetheless, RMS eventually negotiated changes with individual property owners and did a re-design that still had problems, but preserved an historic home on chapel St. and eliminated a driveway on Dwight.
Nemerson has one agenda: build and add to the tax rolls.
People living in a neighborhood have many more concerns because they live there and have to deal with the traffic, rents and myriad other issues.
A process that hammers the neighborhood residents and is weighted in favor of quick development is inevitably short sighted.
The amount of money Lazarus claims he’ll invest in a re-design is a puzzle. Grand Avenue is a lively, but not affluent location. What will the cost of these 1 bedroom apartments be? And who will be able to afford them.
SPACe’s mixed use plan makes much more sense and provides more to the local community.
Every neighborhood I’ve seen that attracted artists ended up being transformed without any City investment.
Nemerson is no visionary. He’s a deal maker.
The system is rigged against the neighborhoods getting what they want, but I hope they try any how.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 28, 2016  7:39am

Non-Profit Notes:

1. The last thing this city needs is more real estate dedicated to non-taxable, non-profit use.

2. Audubon Street is hardly a mecca for much of anything. It has residential, office, parking and a handful of store spaces which has had substantial turnover. There is no big influx of traffic or economic activity and certainly none as it relates to any non-profit use. Replicate that? No.

3. This group had time to come up with their plan. Years in fact. Nothing. No funding, no plan, just non-actionable talk.

4. These neighborhood groups who spring up to oppose development and highest, best taxable use do a disservice to the city. We should be densely developed - the more the merrier. Those folks will spend money and it is their money that will provide the fuel for economic development, support for non-profits and so on.

5. It’s not what the neighborhood wants? That’s why Elicker can’t support it? That sounds like a politician’s answer. The only question is what’s best for the city as a whole. If these neighbors want to sit around drinking lattes and wine, dreaming of a non-profit space, create the non-profit and rent space from this developer who will be paying taxes, building permit fees and hopefully hiring local contractors to build it.

posted by: yim-a on October 28, 2016  8:00am

Much respect and appreciation to Lee Cruz for all he has done over the years for Fair Haven and Chatham Square.

As a fellow Chatham Squarer, though,  I haven’t voted to give Lee Cruz permission to speak for me (and many others in the neighborhood).  Lee’s original proposal had rents that were, to my eye at least, I unrealistic. 

Yes, fair haveners should have some input into the project but let’s not confuse one man’s opinion for consensus of the many.

posted by: 1644 on October 28, 2016  8:39am

“Nemerson has one agenda: build and add to the tax rolls.”
That is exactly what I would expect of an economic development director.
“SPACe’s mixed use plan makes much more sense and provides more to the local community.”
No, SPACe’s plan takes from the community by maintaining the property in a tax-exempt status and makes no sense because it has no financing.  A plan without financing makes no sense.
As for working with the public, anyone who wants their voice heard can attend the public meetings, contact their alder, etc.  That’s what public meetings are for.  It seems a few self-appointed people want to influence the project in private meetings closed to the general public.
This building has been vacant long enough.  Get it back in use and back on the Grand List.

posted by: Nath on October 28, 2016  10:56am

We live in a small town.  We all know each other - by our first names even (except for those who hide their identity and complain all the time).  Some of us are more vocal than others.  In a small so-called liberal town, we have a lot of diversity, from kids to elders, all range of skin colors, all trade skills, Nobel price to bipolar homeless people, all sorts of accents.  We have educator, architects, plumbers, firemen, nurses and aids, policemen, fishermen, contractors, artists and also psychoanalysts.  We exist because of each other.  We need for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.  We need tax revenue and free services so that we can function as a society. 

Back to Fair Haven, yes, we need the Strong School to be back in business.  But have you ever met the older gentleman who gardens with RA at Grand Acres?  Have you met the man behind Santa Claus at our Xmas tree lighting?  how about the librarian at the FH public library, the dish washer at the boat house cafe? The abuela who waits at the corner for the school bus everyday? the very successful business man who does his garden on weekends in relaxed clothes? how about the manager of the farmers market? the postman? Have you had a sandwich at Sarno’s? know that there are Tiffany windows at the cemetery, an historic clock mechanism on the school building?  How about conch and oyster fishing in the area - do you know what’s their market?  Are your kids going to the Mary Wade Home parade for the joy of every one on Hallowing?

So, Mr. Lazarus, Mr. Nemerson, Mr. Fontana.  I am personally inviting you to our next Neighborhood Association Soup Night, my house, Dec 4, 5-8pm.  Shoes, egos and titles stay at the door.  We will share bread and soup, and possibly a glass of wine or a cup of tea.  You’ll have the opportunity to meet us.  I give Steve Fontana permission to give you my contact.  Bring your banjo, Justin! Don will play trombone for the kids.  No face painting this time. Looking forward to it.

posted by: Bradley on October 28, 2016  11:27am

Peter99, I wouldn’t describe the revise SPACe proposal as pie in the sky. As Dwightstreeter notes, Grand Ave. is lively and the housing would have water views that have cash value. But I am sceptical of the proposal’s economics. A $2,350 rent for the townhouses was plausible a couple of years ago. But since then, hundreds of market rate units have gone up and hundreds more are under construction or in the pipeline. All of these units are closer to downtown and Yale. And while lots of nonprofits need space, many if not most are cash- strapped.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 28, 2016  12:59pm

Nath:
What a nice job you did describing the neighborhood.
Now don’t tell anyone else how good it is or everyone will want to live there.
The City could lease the property to SPACe for $1. a year and let them take it from there.

posted by: Sarah.Miller on October 28, 2016  1:15pm

I am also a neighbor and say beware of offers that sound too good to be true. Many reputable developers have visited the building and ALL others concluded that it is not a viable structure to retrofit for apartments. That’s why other RfPs produced no bidders and why a group of neighbors started discussing alternatives. No one in the neighborhood wants to stand in the way of development—quite the contrary. But nor do we want a bad plan undertaken in our community. Bad development can be worse than no development. What does this single developer see that all the others don’t see? Area apartment buildings have vacancies, so who will come live in these tiny efficiency apartments? How will this change our neighborhood? Will this offer a net positive to the community as a whole? Not all development is good development.

The community-based plan faced an uphill battle from the start without the kind of support that community leaders had from a prior administration in development of the Audubon Arts district. This administration has “given the community time” as window dressing, while installing road blocks and offering zero support. Time without support effectively undermined the tireless grassroots efforts of many people, not just those highlighted in the article. Community meetings about the former Strong School are publicized, open to anyone inside or outside the community, and decisions reached by consensus. Meanwhile, the City does not even put a member of the immediate community on the RfP review committee. Alders are from outside FH and Coppock lives in FH Heights, a different neighborhood. Where is the immediate community’s voice in this decision?

I wonder what would happen if City officials revisited assumptions and acted more like the officials who supported the Audubon Arts district and other creative community-driven initiatives? Then we might have a vision and a plan that benefits the neighborhood and City, and that everyone can believe in.

posted by: 1644 on October 28, 2016  3:17pm

Bradley: SPACe’s proposal has no financing.  That makes it pie-in-the-sky” unfeasible.  This building, like the city, needs money, lots of money.  Just think of how many folks the city is paying to do nothing.
Mom/Bradley: So, what happens if Lazarus’s project proves economically unfeasible?  The developer loses money, the city has $500K in the bank and the property is back on the Grand List.  How is $500K not better than zero, or a decaying building on the tax roll not better than a decaying building off the tax roll?

posted by: Esbey on October 28, 2016  3:24pm

The article mentions “supportive senior housing,” but I don’t really know what that means. Does the rent include “support” for the senior residents?  A few more details would help!

As for the economics of the plan, if Aegis Capital is willing to commit $18 million in financing, well, they are sophisticated folks with their own money on the line, so that is a much stronger sign than the speculation of folks in the neighborhood.  If the project in the end rents out for somewhat less money than the developer expected, that falls entirely on the developer and his backers, not on New Haven or the neighborhood (unless the project is actually abandoned in some state worse than its current vacant state, which seems highly unlikely—- once completed you might as well rent it out and recoup some of your investment.)

In contrast, there is no evidence that the “neighborhood plan” has any financing behind it whatsoever.  Without financing, it is coffee-shop talk, not a development proposal.  These folks have no right to veto an actual use of the building. 

On the other hand, the city should not give this guy a super-long timeframe to finish the deal.  Downtown, we are greatly suffering from overly long exclusive development deals.  The delay on this developers’ “market rate senior housing” in Bristol (noted in the linked article) indicates some caution here.

[Paul: I agree it would be helpful to know the details of what kind of housing he envisions. The developer refused to give any details.]

posted by: Politics 101 on October 28, 2016  3:49pm

@MomNewHaven

I actually didn’t realize your point regarding the makeup of the RFP committee when I first read the article.  I cannot imagine an RFP committee being convened in any other neighborhood, certainly not East Rock/Westville/Wooster Square, that did not include a member of the community in which the development is located.

To translate to Nemerson: Having someone from the Heights is like trying to pass off an Everit Street resident as a Goatviller. Or a Lincoln Street resident as a member of the Cedar Hill community. Needless to say, it wouldn’t fly.

posted by: Vacca Pazzo on October 28, 2016  6:26pm

Although, in concept this is a good use of a blighted space, this area needs viable commerce first and then all of these non profit projects will flourish. You need people to feel safe about driving down to Fair Haven and people who want to spend time and money in Fair Haven for anything to work. You get word of mouth from visitors from outlying areas then the interest sparks and more people and businesses will want to establish themselves in that area. Once that happens, non profits will co-exist successfully next to thriving small businesses.  This is just another ego stroker for the self proclaimed mayor of Fair Haven.

posted by: LeeCruz on October 28, 2016  11:23pm

Neighbors and City officials share the goal of keeping our economy growing. The purpose of SPACe is to create an economic driver for our neighborhood using the arts. The premise that the arts drives economic development is sound. The obstacle to making it work is often who controls property development, the gatekeepers.

For the record: the SPACe proposal submitted during the last RFP round included a finance partner, taxes on the residential component, and an offer to pay for the building. Our plan remains sound and viable. If Economic Development was interested in Mayor Harp’s vision of inclusive development, it would have worked with us to refine this plan. But the current Administrator is not interested in any plan not driven by a developer.

After rejecting our proposal, the Mayor “encouraged” Economic Development to take a second look. A year of dancing around our proposal followed. When no other excuse could be found to delay, SPACe was granted the MOU we needed. But unlike the typical 6 month MOU with possible 6 month extension often given to developers, the community got 2.5 months. Was this bending over backwards? Or is there a double standard, one for affluent developers and another for community groups?

The current project may well be “bona fide.” We don’t know, since we got a copy only last night, not from our officials or the developer, but from a reporter. But we know that residents and local leaders have been dismissed and ignored. Was the head of the Mary Wade Home, our neighborhood’s largest employer, contacted? Is a single neighbor or representative of any neighborhood group or institution on the RFP committee? No, no, and no.

Why did no one else respond to the RFP? Two other developers and SPACe backed out of doing a totally private development because it did not work financially. Has Mr. Lazarus miraculously figured out what two other developers thought impossible? Or is our neighborhood just next in line to be sold to the highest bidder?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 29, 2016  9:08am

Again New Haven is in stage one of Gentrification. Fair Haven is on the list. The Gentrification Vampires are on the way.

posted by: Mark T on October 30, 2016  12:34pm

As a homeowner in the neighborhood, I’m deeply concerned that the committee reviewing this RFP has no residents of Fair Haven, let alone Chatham Square. This is myopic and unacceptable. I would ask that Nemerson’s office immediately correct this oversight.

posted by: HewNaven on October 30, 2016  12:39pm

I’m just going to repost my comment from the last story. Fair Haven is really lovely but it feels physically separated from the rest of the city. It will never be Audubon Street for obvious reasons (e.g. it’s not downtown)!

Is it any wonder the developer is not even attempting to attract youngish people who will pay out of pocket? No! He’s aiming for seniors and/or subsidized tenants in any shape. Just look at his other developments.

To top it all off, I lived in Fair Haven for 5 years and it seemed segregated culturally and ethnically. More diverse than East Rock, maybe? I’m not even sure that’s the case. If anything there IS a dominant culture (latino) and activist neighbors would be wise to use that to their advantage

posted by: HewNaven on November 7, 2014 3:00pm

One of the unspoken barriers for Fair Haven is the route into Fair Haven will usually give people a really bad impression. Either you drive through pleasant Wooster Square but then pass the scrap yards, etc. via Chapel, or you come thru a revitalized downtown but then start to see the projects, homeless shelter, abandonded English Station, all along a congested, 2-lane Grand Avenue, or you come through lovely East Rock down Humphrey passing under the ominous train bridge near James Street. Coming off 91, you need to exit near the city dump and then past the unofficial city dump under the 91 overpass alo g Front Street. If you make it that far you will be rewarded as the waterfront land along the Quinnipiac is amazing. But how many will have already turned back?

I think Fair Haven is great but developers will stay away from investing in big projects like this until those stretches of road are improved, and, as a complement, the commercial/residential facades get some cosmetic help. As it stands, who would pay $2400/month only to be reminded of the inequitable distribution of resources in our community. Why not just move to Woodbridge or Guilford where you won’t have to drive past all that crap eve

posted by: PSmith on October 30, 2016  5:33pm

My take-away from this article is that the city doesn’t have a plan for developing and revitalizing Fair Haven.  There is no sense as to how either proposal would fit into the larger picture.  I hope that the city will initiate a process of reaching out to residents of Fair Haven to solicit input from all interested parties as to how to move forward, building on the strengths of the community.  Voices from the Latino community, from community developers, from businesses, and from anglo residents must all be heard.

That being said, the “my way or the highway attitude” of the developer is a red flag.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 30, 2016  7:35pm

@HewNaven: You assume that big scale development is desirable in Fair Haven. I do not.
  You stress the less aesthetically appealing aspects of the drives down either Grand Ave. or Chapel St as a barrier. I do not.
  Allow for the possibility, for just a moment, that the neighborhood connections that create a genuine community are desirable and present.  Then ask: what does the renovation of one building to luxury level add to the community?
  The city is upfront about wanting a property on the tax rolls. But that is short-sighted.
  Fair Haven needs investment in renovating the properties already in place. Many have deteriorated, but could be rehabbed and remain affordable.
  I trust Lee Cruz’s judgment a lot more than I do Matt Nemerson (remembering him being hoodwinked by the storage people a few blocks from Wooster Square?) because Lee knows the people are the real asset in Fair Haven. They are hard-working, insuring their kids get an education and they will prosper, much as the Italian immigrants in Boston’s North End, once primarily a market place, went on to renovate their tenements and still maintain neighborhood ties.
  What works for downtown, a transient village of high rises, will not work in Fair Haven.
  Read Jane Jacobs classic “Death and Life of Great American Cities” and listen to the people.

posted by: sheilasmama on October 30, 2016  8:32pm

I think anyone can agree that rehabbing this property so it generates tax revenue is a good thing. But that should not preclude involving the neighborhood in the planning process. None of the decision makers here, not Nemerson, not Fontana, certainly not the developer, live in Fair Haven, and the committee that will evaluate the RFP has somebody from FH Heights but does not include a single person who lives in the immediate neighborhood. Mayor Harp ran on a strong message of community engagement. This is not what we’re getting here.

posted by: Nath on October 31, 2016  12:54pm

Second post:  In case the City representatives and out-of-town current investor(s) have missed it, my invitation still stands!  Dec 4: meet the Fair Haven neighbors for soup and bread sharing.  We want to meet you.  I’ll send a broad call to all neighbors I personally know or who want to join the discussion (through Lee or Steve).  We’ll also make sure to come to the City hearings and meet you half way in trying to understand your point of view, what you have to share with the residents and business owners of this community.  We also request to be part of the RFP committee, one way or the other.  All we want is being part of the process, because we too have been trying to find viable solutions.

posted by: Renewhavener on October 31, 2016  2:47pm

@Dwightstreeter, “Read Jane Jacobs classic “Death and Life of Great American Cities” and listen to the people.”

If you are going to read Jacobs, also pick up Systems of Survival.  Read that as well and upon reflection recognize that “the people” do not always have all the answers.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 31, 2016  3:18pm

posted by: Renewhavener on October 31, 2016 3:47pm

If you are going to read Jacobs, also pick up Systems of Survival.  Read that as well and upon reflection recognize that “the people” do not always have all the answers.

Read this book.And you will see what is going on across this country.

City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York

By Wayne Barrett

Today’s reformer is tomorrow’s hack,” Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito used to say..

posted by: Fairhavener on November 1, 2016  2:44pm

Lee, et al. are not asking for VETO power, they are asking for a potential developer to get to know that community they are seeking to build in. Seems fair.

posted by: Renewhavener on November 2, 2016  10:11am

@Fairhavener, “Lee, et al. are not asking for VETO power, they are asking for a potential developer to get to know that community they are seeking to build in. Seems fair.”

So there is no onus on the community to keep itself informed, or better still, no onus on the Alders to keep themselves informed andthe community informed?  That’s interesting, since the process is a public one.  Ought we change their titles to “Alter-person” since developers must seemingly worship at their feet and beg to the CMT’s and other nebulous pressure groups to get anything done around here?

posted by: Fairhavener on November 2, 2016  12:12pm

The community informing itself and being approached by a potential developer about their plans need not be mutually exclusive things. Do you feel that way?

I think the community is quite informed on this one; have you checked out the petition? 106 signatures and counting in 48hours: https://www.change.org/p/mayor-toni-harp-mayor-harp-give-fair-haven-a-voice-on-the-strong-school-rfp-review-committee

posted by: 1644 on November 2, 2016  12:54pm

Fairhavener; That is a great start.  I would also suggest that all concerned write Harp, Nemerson and their Alder directly.  Writing an actual letter shows more commitment than signing a on-line petition.  Everyone concerned should also make sure they are registered to vote in Fair Haven.  I expect there is a great diversity of opinions in Fair Haven.  Just from this comment board, it seems some favor gentrification, will others would be fearful of being priced out. Both Ferraro’‘s and Edge of the Woods/Whole Foods have their fans, but I doubt there is much cross-over.

posted by: Renewhavener on November 2, 2016  2:44pm

@Fairhavener, “The community informing itself and being approached by a potential developer about their plans need not be mutually exclusive things. Do you feel that way?”

No.  But unlike others, I recognize that both carry a cost.  One implicitly borne by the community who spends the time to get then keep themselves informed, the other borne by the developer who seeks to get the project underway by paying architects, engineers, lawyers, contractors and others necessary to make the idea real. 

In practice what I see in New Haven is the base expectation in communities that the developer to do both.  Pay for all the traditional things that they would otherwise have to, as well as spent the time and resources to come kiss the ring of non-elected CMT’s and other indirectly involved political actors, stakeholders and community groups.  Many similar to the sort of individuals, affiliations and groups noted in the article above.

Tried to make a point a year ago that the money spent by the developer to overcome objection or seek mutual consent prior to more money being spent to achieve permitting naturally means that there is less money that can be spent on the actual constructed product being brought to market. 

Architectural taste-makers meanwhile bemoan that current built output is mediocre and/or the materials are of lesser quality, but no one stops to consider how it now takes over $0.40 for every $1.00 invested in a real estate development just to get a shovel in the ground and how it takes 2-3 days for every day spent in construction to have gotten the development started in the first place:
http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/define_lick_stick/

The community indignation over projects and the insane lift necessary to get the jobs going are both predictable and absurd.  I think things should be done to make both stop and believe that starts with the community, and their leaders, doing their part to inform themselves and lessen the load.

posted by: Fairhavener on November 2, 2016  3:05pm

@Renewhavener: “Tried to make a point a year ago that the money spent by the developer to overcome objection or seek mutual consent prior to more money being spent to achieve permitting naturally means that there is less money that can be spent on the actual constructed product being brought to market.”

It seems you are claiming that more funds would be spent on that same project, rather than just being redistributed elsewhere (to other projects, or just pocketed to increase profit margins)—how do you prove this claim either way?

Also, you are making solely an economic argument, but I would argue there is so much more to successful development than that.

posted by: Renewhavener on November 3, 2016  9:39am

@Fairhavener, “It seems you are claiming that more funds would be spent on that same project, rather than just being redistributed elsewhere (to other projects, or just pocketed to increase profit margins)—how do you prove this claim either way?”

What need is there to prove that which is already established as economic fact?  If the market demands that it be spent on the project, it will.  If not, it won’t.  It may be diverted to another project, and that is alright, we need more projects of all kinds.  Margins might also increase, and that is alright too because we want to attract more development.  Again, what checks these two eventualities are the competitive forces at play.  Alternatives to the use of the built product presented to market, etc. 

The fact remains that the barriers to development locally are much too high.  As a result too little new development is brought to market, or at least, less than otherwise could, and those who do engage are forced to do so in a way that is less efficient in converting invested capital into an actual hard asset, since it needs to be spent upfront to appease, approve and enable.

“Also, you are making solely an economic argument, but I would argue there is so much more to successful development than that.”

Perhaps, but that is subjective.  Successful private development, and all enterprise frankly, must FIRST fulfill a market need, not a social need.  Anyone who sees development differently either 1.) has never undertaken it, nor had to shoulder any measure of risk associated with it, and/or 2.) has some other aim and is seeking to use the development as a tool to further that aim.  IMPO development ought not exist as an ad hoc means for various political and pressure groups to obstruct and extort economic value to redistribute it their constituency, but that is exactly what happens in practice.

If development “succeeds” in any way shape or form beyond the economic, that’s a bonus, but it’s not the point.

posted by: Fairhavener on November 3, 2016  12:43pm

@Renewhavener: “Perhaps, but that is subjective.  Successful private development, and all enterprise frankly, must FIRST fulfill a market need, not a social need.”

So market first development with disregard for social impact? That’s your case?

posted by: Renewhavener on November 3, 2016  3:53pm

@Fairhavener, “So market first development with disregard for social impact? That’s your case?”

With disregard for social impact?  One of us is certainly disregarding…

Before I get into that though let me just say this, you are going to have to make a declarative statement eventually to keep me interested.  This tendency towards pithy oversimplified interrogatory is a bit one sided, not to mention unoriginal and boring.  So how about we forego the Socratic irony and tell us what you think a reasonable amount of effort is for a developer to undertake?  What social aim ought they be aspiring towards funding?  What would make them… worthy?

Consider also whether or not they would be better equipped to make the impact you seek if it cost less than $0.40 out of every $1.00 to get a job started?  Or whether it should it take 2-3 days for every one day spent under construction to get a job started?

Also, how about some consideration of the social impact brought about by less projects and a slower economy? Impacts hit both ways after all.  It should be plainly obvious to anyone walking around in Connecticut let alone those of us or who visit Boston or New York who has the projects and what impacts they create.

So, to that point, by a developer identifying then satisfying a need in the market people are kept employed, both on the service side and in the trades.  Society is thusly impacted by putting money in people’s pockets and income taxes in the gov’t's coffers, to say nothing of the direct social impact the City is afforded through their use (albeit inefficiently) of the permit fees and property tax revenue annuitized ad infinitum once the project is built.

If anyone is disregarding something in this case it is you, by ignoring the manifest social impact of these aspect of a market driven project. 

You are also not taking a clear position. 

Honestly, not sure which is worse.

posted by: vpaul on November 4, 2016  8:05am

These proposals must be financially viable, as well as acceptable to the community. It seems like there has not been enough communication between the interested parties. While development is preferable to vacant buildings, the developer must not run over the community with a bulldozer. There has got to be a way to work this out. Mutual respect would signify a true beginning of this process.

posted by: Renewhavener on November 4, 2016  9:36am

@vpaul, “...While development is preferable to vacant buildings, the developer must not run over the community with a bulldozer…”

That is not what is happening here.  To the extent that some community actors are on the outside looking in speaks more to the City’s handling than the developers.  More specifically, Alders Richard Furlow and David Reyes need to get the word out.  This RFP is not a surprise.  Let the community know it is happening and in so doing inform them how they can inform themselves further. 

It is misguided to lay the perception of disrespect at the feet of the developer in this case.

posted by: vpaul on November 4, 2016  12:51pm

Renewhavener: Thank heavens only you can see the light! Every developer that does not gain confidence of the community FIRST will run into trouble. It happens time and time again and causes undue delay.