A preserved historical gateway building. Brick and clapboard townhouses with porches that greet the neighborhood. A pedestrian mews with “urban gardens” off Mechanic Street.
Meet “One Lawrence Street,” the third plan in five years to attempt to bring a mix of residences and business to the vacant Star Supply building, the desolate former industrial site at the northern end of State Street.
Former Yale Law School student and Goatvillean Ben Gross, now a research fellow at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU, led a team of seven partners called Goatville Development LLC in presenting preliminary plans for the proposed 250-apartment (with 200 parking spots) mixed retail and residential complex. He made his pitch to the East Rock Management Team at the little Hooker School on Canner Street Monday night.
Gross learned about the property during his years as a Yale Law School student, as a Yale fellow at New Haven government’s Livable City Initiative, and as a five-year-denizen of the Goatville section of East Rock before he moved to New York City. The plans are so preliminary Gross and fellow partner and project architect Randolph Gerner couldn’t even put a dollar figure on the cost.
Gross envisions studio, one, and two-bedroom apartments, with a smattering of three-bedrooms, all to be offered on a rental basis.
Gerner said the apartment footprint would be smaller than standard, with the studios covering 500 square feet and the one-bedrooms running between 625 and 700. He proposed 30,000 square feet of commercial space on the first and second floors, primarily along State Street. The large space would aim to attract a bigger business than the ones currently on that stretch of State, such as a fitness studio or a small bank.
The designers offered a schematic presentation of how the buildings preserve and echo local history, interact with as opposed to turn their back on the neighborhood, build on the success of Upper State Street’s commercial corridor, and defend against the looming presence of I-91. The 45 attendees offered high marks for thoughtfulness and wishes for success.
The project will need it. The site is contaminated with petroleum and solvents from its previous industrial history, although Gross said previous developers had gotten a good head start in defining the environmental issues.
Developers have eyed the 3-acre lot to build stores and apartments as far back as 2006. The Christie Wareck Co. drew up detailed plans for stores and 139 apartments, and even got zoning approval, before the plan fell apart due to in-fighting among the developers. Then Fairfield Residential, the largest privately held multi-family developer in the nation, tried to turn Star Supply into luxury housing; that plan fell apart when the economy tanked in 2008.
Architect Randolph Gerner of GKV Architects, presented the chief features of the latest plan. They include townhouses with porches along Mechanic Street and a pedestrian mews off Mechanic that is a kind of public urban garden on the order of Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, N.Y. Plans call for preserving the two-story brick structure where Lawrence and Mechanic meet. That gateway building would give the name to the project, One Lawrence.
A preliminary sketch shows 30,000 square feet of two-story commercial buildings running along State Street with on-street retail level and offices above. A historically appropriate roof runs across the top of the vehicular entrance on State, continues on along State, and gathers height as it climbs into a seven-story structure perhaps with a defining or finishing touch like a clock tower. The tall building is a barrier protecting the neighborhood from the presence of looming I-92 behind, said Gerner.
A Car For Every Student?
Upper State Street activist Ben Berkowitz, who is familiar with previous developers’ plans, praised what he heard. Gross’s proposal has earned “the best reception” from East Rockers thus far, he said.
“You’ve dealt with design issues very well,” said Goatville developer and former Alderman Bob Frew. “This kind of investment will be great for State Street.”
East Rockers followed the general praise with many suggestions about, yes, parking, and the challenges of making retail commerce work in the area.
Former Alderman Dick Lyons of Canner Street called the parking inadequate, especially if students move in with cars.
“I was a student [living on nearby Lawrence Street] and I didn’t have a car,” Gross replied.
Ron Oster of Nash Street commended the project, then expressed two concerns: The seven-story building would shadow the skating rink behind it and makes the proposed backyard areas of the complex dark, unappealing to hang out in, unsuitable for gardening.
“My second concern is viability of retail. Where are the customers going to park? I’m not concerned for parking for tenants. You work with Yale to get their shuttle. My concern is you put in retail spaces and they become vacant and there’s turnover and become desolate,” Oster said.
Gerner responded by saying his company had just finished a 500-unit building in Brooklyn, and tenants are leaving many parking spots unused.
“We’ll use [the complex’s] parking for [commercial] customers,” said.
Duncan Goodall, who lives on Bishop Street, said, “I think it’s a great project, the look, the design, integrated to the neighborhood.”
When asked what kind of retail might work well in the commercial space, Gross suggested, among other ideas, a coffee shop.
Goodall, who owns Koffee? on Audubon, knows a thing or two about that business. He offered a note of caution. “A coffee shop is not a destination. I want them to be successful, [but] there’s not going to be enough walk-by traffic for retail.”
He had some suggestions for modifications. He and Ben Gross exchanged business cards.
Goatville Development’s zoning attorney, Anthony Avallone, said neighborhood meetings will continue, plans will be refined, and a request for rezoning for rental purposes and other required variances submitted to the Board of Zoning Appeals as soon as February.