The developer of a planned mixed-use project to transform the east-side gateway to New Haven at the Grand Avenue Bridge got an initial warm and positive reaction from Fair Haven Neighbors neighbors along with some concerns about — you guessed it! — parking.
Neighbors raised the concerns at Tuesday night’s monthly Quinnipiac East Community Management Team meeting held at St. James Church at 62 East Grand. They also asked about traffic flow, rent levels, the width of the sidewalk, and rain and ice potentially slipping down from the proposed historic roofs.
Builders Juan Salas-Romer of NHR Group and Noel Petra and architect Karin Patriquin listened empathetically to these concerns and responded, “We’re working on it.”
It was their first community meeting on the project, which is called “Heights on the River.” They hope to renovate three existing buildings and construct a fourth to include 68 apartments, a cafe, two or three locally owned stores. All, they said, with breathtaking views of the sunset on the water. (Read a previous story detailing the project here.) The builders expect the apartments to be market rate, with studios, one and two bedrooms, and some of the two bedrooms having perhaps a kind of extra loft or office area. They estimate a total of 3,000 square feet of ground-level retail space.
The builders are taking a second crack at a dream hatched years ago by developer Joel Schiavone and his partners. Schiavone hoped to capitalize on the gorgeous riverine views on a 1.08-acre site running on East Grand Avenue from the eastern end of the bridge and wrapping around north on Quinnipiac Avenue up to a convenience store, all of which is in the Quinnipiac Historic District. The project never materialized.
Salas-Romer and Petra, who have owned and maintained the property for going on three years, said their market research tells them to target working people earning from $40,000 to $75,000 a year — like teachers and police officers — increasingly coming to live in Fair Haven Heights. Roughly a quarter of the city’s wage earners fall into that income bracket, Salas-Romer said. He has developed projects elsewhere in town aimed at the same market.
Salas-Romer also made the case that “we’re local,” accessible, here for the long haul.
He termed the project a “work in progress.” “We’re not building [just] an apartment building, but the gateway to the community,” he said.
The project’s commercial spaces, including ideally a coffee shop or restaurant, should function as a community space and anchor, because that’s one of the clearest messages the community has offered, Salas-Romer said.
Bob Oliver, who lives in a condo directly across Grand Avenue from the site of the proposed new buildings, called the proposed density – 67 dwelling units on 1.3 acres – worrisome from a parking and driving perspective. He said drawings make it appear the only access to the development would be from Qunnipiac Avenue.
Noel Petra said the team is working on that. The first challenge is to win approval of a certificate of appropriateness required for the project from the Historic Development Commission.
Oliver said his assumption is that there must be a multi-level garage somehow tucked in behind the building line.
No, Petra responded. “It’s all on-grade parking.”
Oliver warned about drivers who get off of New Haven in-bound highway early and cut through to town via Quinnipiac Avenue and then Grand. “Sometimes it’s hard to get out of your own driveway,” Oliver reported. “And we’re a humble 14 units.
“How will you get people out? A light?”
Longtime resident and ward Democratic Co-Chair Arthur Natalino agreed, calling 67 cars – and dwellers – awfully dense. “Forty [cars] would be too much,” he said.
Petra said the evolving parking plan does not envisage space for 67 cars. Many renters would bicycle and/or use public transport, he predicted.
Overall, Natalino came down on the positive side. “Anything is better than we have now,” he said.
Ian Christmann, recalling the Quinnipiac Avenue re-do of five years ago, pointed out the Grand Avenue sidewalks in front of the site are narrow. He asked if they can be widened.
“I have landscape architect training,” replied Petra. “I’d love to have a big sidewalk.”
They’re working on that too, but there’s a problem: “We’re squished against the flood plain. We’re slightly above it,” Petra said. That means you can’t back the building away from the sidewalks, which would leave room to widen them, due to the flood plain zone behind, where building is forbidden.
Christmann also noted the steep, if historically accurate, roofs portrayed in the Patriquin Architects drawings.Won’t that cause a lot of dripping and potentially ice slipping off onto the narrow sidewalk and those who use it? he asked.
“Karin will solve that,” Petra said, with a nod to his architect.
Before the meeting concluded, Bob Oliver got back to how a plus – that is, doing what the community wants – can lead to a minus, or a problem.
He put it this way: “If there’s a restaurant, where are you going to park” the patrons?
“We’re working on it,” replied Petra.
“God bless you,” said Oliver.
Then as the meeting concluded, Petra and Oliver exchanged contact information.
The developers and the management team agreed on a date for a large community gathering to continue the conversation: Wednesday, March 21, at 6 p.m., at the same location, St. James Church, 62 East Grand.
That date is settled ... and they’re not working on it!