Revived Hill Renewal Deal OK’d

Paul Bass Photo A developer who had vowed to storm out of New Haven for good will now instead begin spending “tens of millions” of dollars bringing new life to 11.6 fallow acres in the Hill neighborhood, thanks to a vote Monday night by the Board of Alders.

The alders voted unanimously to sell land to the developer, a partnership led by Randy Salvatore, and grant zoning relief so he can proceed with a three-phase plan to build up to 140 apartments, 7,000 square feet of stores, 120,000 square feet of research space, and 50,000 square feet of offices on the blocks between Congress Avenue and Church Street South closest to downtown.

The city has been trying since 1980 to get a developer to build on that land, a former neighborhood destroyed by mid-20th century urban renewal.

The alders swiftly approved the plan with no debate Monday night.

“I’m very excited to get started,” Salvatore, a Stamford builder who constructed the upscale Novella apartments on Howe Street, said after the vote. “Now we can go ahead and invest tens of millions of dollars” in the Hill.

He said he couldn’t specify how many “tens of millions” the project would cost. He said he plans to proceed with the project’s first of three phases, building new housing and some storefronts along Prince and Gold Streets across from Amistad Park.

Risen From The Dead

There was no hint Monday night of the drama that saw the plan twice held up — and declared dead or near dead — over the past year.

The most recent near-death experience came on June 22. Salvatore thought he had worked out a deal with reluctant alders and neighbors to increase the amount of affordable housing in the project to 30 percent. Then an alder committee voted at a public meeting to remove a key part of the plan from approval, a zoning change for a vacant lot next to the Tower One/Tower East complex. Salvatore stormed out of that meeting.

Here’s what he said that night: “I feel betrayed. The deal is dead. I followed the advice of the leadership [of the Board of Alders] — and they misled me. ... I have no desire to do anything further [in New Haven]. This sends a message to the development community that New Haven is not development friendly.”

It turned out reports of the project’s death were premature. Board of Alders leaders, neighborhood activists and city officials sat with Salvatore a couple of more times, in private, to try to hash out a compromise.

They succeeded. They didn’t even need to draw up any new paperwork.

Instead, according to several people involved in the discussions, Salvatore assured officials he plans to build housing on that lot next to Tower One/Tower East. Not, say, a medical facility.

And that did the trick.

Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker said the alders were seeking clarity before they felt comfortable approving a zone change from a BA to a BD3 zone, which allows for denser development with more uses.

“We got to sit down and speak with him about his plans. He’s thinking about housing. There was nothing hidden,” Walker said. “I think it’s going to be a great project.”

The earliest drawings of the envisioned development marked that lot, “Parcel 11,” as a site for “Office/Lab/Bio” use and a garage. But Salvatore told the alders that the market supports building housing there instead.

“Our interests were aligned. We didn’t realize it” before meeting again, Salvatore said.

Livable City Initiative Executive Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, who played an active role in resuscitating the deal, said she never lost hope. “If you can look at the larger picture,” she said, “you can usually” work it out.

30% Affordable

Technically, the alders voted Monday to rezone all 11.6 acres to the BD3 category; to amend a land disposition agreement the city originally had made in the late 1980s with a partnership led by developer Cliff Winkel; and transfer the development rights to a new partnership that includes both Winkel and Salvatore.

Salvatore had previously worked out other changes to the plan with local officials in order to revive it the first time it almost died. One change altered a plan for how to distribute the proceeds of the sale of the Welch Annex School (which Salvatore plans to renovate into new housing) and the Prince School Annex (which he’s tearing down to build housing); now one third will got toward a neighborhood commercial improvement fund, one third for job training through the New Haven Works agency and one third to the general fund.

The biggest change was Salvatore’s agreement that to make 30 percent of the housing he builds “affordable.”

That’s a fungible term. Depending on whether certain federal and certain state subsidies end up helping pay the cost of construction, “affordable” can mean housing the kind of low-income tenants who are losing their homes at the soon-to-be-demolished Church Street South complex; or housing more lower-to-middle-income working households.

Neal-Sanjurjo said Monday night the city doesn’t yet know which subsidies it will be able to procure. She said officials are “working hard” in seeking low-income tax credits or funding from the Connecticut housing Finance Authority.

Amy Marx, a New Haven Legal Assistance Association attorney who has championed the cause of tenants at Church Street South just blocks away, is watching to make sure that displaced families can land some of those new “affordable” apartments.

She said she wants to see money set aside for replacing Church Street South apartments used to subsidize some of Salvatore’s new apartments.

“The vote tonight is very welcome news,” Marx said Monday. “Work can now begin on the Prince and Gold Street buildings, which are so critical to solving the Church Street South housing crisis.”

Marx noted that a deal worked out with the federal government and Church Street South’s owner calls for $4 million in federal money to be invested in replacing torn-down Church Street South apartments with other “brick and mortar housing in town” — and that plan has stalled. “There are simply not enough buildings presently available to which to attach the subsidy. With 30 percent proposed affordable housing units, Prince and Gold buildings can take a large number of the project-based subsidy for transfer” from Church Street South, she argued.

After the vote, Salvatore was asked if he still considers New Haven a bad place for developers — if he would still, as he threatened in July, tell other builders to stay away from the city.

“Clearly, if we’re moving forward, I believe in investing in New Haven,” he replied. “Sometimes you react in frustration” and make statements that — five weeks, several private meetings, and one unanimous vote later — you don’t necessarily continue to believe.

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posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 1, 2016  11:01pm

Take a look at the map. Yale owns almost everything surrounding these prime development parcels. Therefore it’s very hard to believe they don’t somehow have a hand in this land deal, either via a funding deal with buy-out language, or through alumni involvement in the project.

Also, I’m disappointed that the NHI hasn’t been able to provide the public with a copy of the original 1980’s “Schnipp” deal, which is supposedly still binding on the City 30 years later. A key question is whether that is legitimately true, or whether it was a useful ruse to transfer this huge amount of land, (20 acres, or more than four times the size of the Coliseum parcel), to a preferred developer, without ever putting anything out to bid.

posted by: robn on August 2, 2016  6:32am

Any taxpayer that would have loved some property tax relief given by a reasonable development executed years ago, please raise your hand.

posted by: Bradley on August 2, 2016  7:51am

As the article indicates, the city will face a conundrum with regard to the affordable housing component of this project. Very low income households, such as those living in Church Street South, require substantially more rental assistance than moderate income households. A household making $12,000 per year would require a subsidy of $1,700 per month for an apartment that would normally rent for $2,000 per month (using the 30% of income rule). A household making $36,000 would require an $1,100 monthly subsidy.

Rental assistance funding is finite; the greater the number of very low income people who are accommodated, the fewer the number of affordable units. The obvious response is to increase funding for rental assistance. But, given the state’s fiscal condition and the paralysis of the federal government, I don’t see that happening in the forseeable future.

posted by: wendy1 on August 2, 2016  8:01am

Let’s hope he doesn’t use shoddy building technique like PMC (Smoothie) or cheat his workers like Rent the Union or produce more eyesore architecture.  Let’s hope there are honest building inspectors eyeballing this guy and his projects.

So far,the only developer in town I like is Bozzuto.  Go for a tour of the Corsair on State St.  My gripe with them is the big rents but they do classy buildings with classy details that cost mucho $$.  The gorgeous amenities which you pay for with a one time fee of $350 made my mouth water.  The apts. are mouthwatering as well and I would love to live there.  The amenities and perks make up for the view of 91.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 2, 2016  8:43am

@ Bradley—the “low income” rental assistance will likely be going to people making $40,000-$80,000/year. This is north of New Haven’s median family income, which stands at about $38,000/year. (Because the Area Median Income of $80,000+—including wealthy suburban towns—gets used as a starting point for their 60-100% income requirements.)

@ Robn—note that like the Coliseum site, the City is disposing of this land without any hard commitments as to what gets built when. In this case the Welch and Prince schools will be converted to housing, (after being sold for a song). The other parcels will seemingly be “land-banked” for the foreseeable future, providing little in the way of property taxes.

But like LWLP, it makes great headlines!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 2, 2016  9:18am

The alders voted unanimously to sell land to the developer.

Again the working poor and poor have been sold out by Judas Goat leaders.This so call affordable housing will be out of reach for the working poor and poor. How come the city has not reach out to Mo” Vaughn housing program that owns 7,400 units of affordable housing across three states. MOGUL Mo Vaughn, the former big-league slugger, has built a business rehabilitating low-income housing. Mr. Vaughn, center, with his partners, Robert Bennett, left, and Eugene Schneur, at Thessalonica Court in the Bronx, one of the team’s first properties. Since then, it has bought and rehabilitated 23 sites in New York, Massachusetts and Wyoming for a total of $503 million. Other deals worth $205 million for 1,000 units, most in the Bronx, are scheduled to close in September.Take a look at his work.


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/nyregion/01movaughn.html?_r=1

http://brie.hunter.cuny.edu/hpe/2013/05/18/house-of-horrors-emerges-from-the-rubble/

http://www.onyllc.com/modules/news/pdf/AffordableHousingFinance-11-06.pdf

posted by: Dwightstreeter on August 2, 2016  12:27pm

He did NOT walk, as I predicted.
Next time maybe he’ll just hold his breath til he turns blue until the Alders give in :-)

posted by: Bradley on August 2, 2016  12:57pm

AverageTaxpayer, you are actually reinforcing my point (although moderate income is capped at 80% of AMI - 100% of AMI is middle income). The subsidy moderate income people need to keep a unit affordable is substantially less than low income people need. The flip side is that a set amount of subsidies will take care of fewer low income households.

I do not doubt that Salvatore will pursue the housing subsidies in good faith. But the re-zone is a done deal whether he gets them or not.

posted by: Esbey on August 2, 2016  1:27pm

This is a good outcome, so let’s say positive things (for once).

Kudos to all those who worked so hard to save this deal, once again.  It is great news for the city.  One more piece of the puzzle, approved to be put in place. @robn, my hand is up, for sure, but at least we have something to look forward to.

Now that the city has its act together on these parcels, can we please turn attention to Yale’s crappy surface parking lots, which so mar the area?  (Suddenly, I am feeling less positive).  I wondered why the city deal didn’t include the corner of Lafayette and Prince Streets, but that turns out to be a blighted Yale property, “parking lot 99”:

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.301669,-72.9301712,3a,75y,232.95h,80.38t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sezcTFazH-njCqBqRf98K6g!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Here is another view:

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.3018677,-72.9303352,3a,75y,193.24h,75.79t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1scXzs5eudaKzGvGoNd_9-zg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656