A social club’s days are numbered, and apartments appear to be coming in, as the trend toward building more apartments in Wooster Square continues.
The latest two cases of converting buildings to apartments are taking place at 112 Wooster St. and 169 Olive St. Owners of both properties appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night seeking permission to build more apartments than allowed under law. They are the latest building owners to seek to bring new housing through building conversions into the heart or the edges of popular Wooster Square. (Click here and here to read about two others.)
Both of the two latest would-be apartment developers received public support for their plans in general, while encountering some opposition on the details. The Olive Street plan moved forward, while the Wooster Street building’s owner decided to roll the dice and delay his quest for a vote.
Dice-rolling, meanwhile, may not be in the future for occupants of the building at 112 Wooster. The building, a social club, has sparked complaints from neighbors over the years for its after-hours activity, including noise and general commotion. So owners Eric and Richard D’Aquila’s quest to shut down the social club and build apartments there earned their overall support.
The D’Aquilas bought the building in December 2012. Under law they can build four apartments there. They asked the zoning board for permission to build seven.
“We bought this property with the full intention of becoming part of the neighborhood,” said Eric D’Aquila (at right in photo). “We’ve met with Alderman [Aaron] Greenberg and the neighbors several times and have revised the project significantly to address their concerns.”
At Tuesday night’s zoning meeting, neighbors expressed concern that creating new residential space would increase demand for parking that would pose problems for fire trucks trying to access nearby properties. Tony Kosloski, who lives on Chestnut Street, gave testimony that three other people echoed, including Alder Greenberg.
“First and foremost we want to reinforce the idea that we’re very much in favor of a residential solution to this problem,” Kosloski said. “But we’re concerned that the parking they propose will cause a lack of access for fire equipment to the back ends of buildings involved in that block.” Kosloski also raised concern about increased demand for parking, which he said would exacerbate the neighborhood’s parking problems
D’Aquila responded that he was aware of the fire marshal’s concern, which officials will deal with when final plans go through the review process.
An advisory report by the City Plan Department recommended a compromise of six apartments.
Only four members of the five-member zoning board attended Tuesday’s meeting. In order to pass, the application must receive four votes regardless of how many are in attendance. So D’Aquila chose to wait until next month for the chance to have five members vote on the proposal.
More Apartments Nearby On Olive
At nearby 169 Olive St., owner Oreste Speciale was having trouble finding tenants to rent his office space. So he, too, decided to pursue a conversion to apartments.
Like the Wooster Street neighbors testifying about the conversion of the Social Club, New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell spoke in favor of the concept—conversion to housing—while questioning the details. Speciale sought permission to build eight apartments. He is allowed only five under law.
“The vast parking lot is out of character with the adjacent properties, and has a negative impact on storm water management,” Farwell wrote in a letter to the City Plan Department, distributed at the meeting. “Reducing traffic would be beneficial, especially considering the blind spots created by the property’s high, solid, concrete block walls.”
Additionally, Farwell (at left in photo) expressed concerns that the owner planned to rent out the basement, though it has low ceilings and few windows, making it unsuitable for rental.
Zoning board Chair Patricia King asked Speciale’s attorney why he needed to have eight apartments.
The response: “He’s just trying to make the best use of the building and get the most he can out of it.”
The board ultimately voted to approve a compromise and allowed six apartments, one above the allowed five.