City Eyes 15 New Homes On The Q

Allan Appel PhotoA gap-toothed smile along Quinnipiac Avenue may one day be complete, as the city eyes a plan to fill this long-vacant lot with 15 new homes.

Livable City Initiative Executive Director Erik Johnson advanced that idea at a public meeting that drew two dozen Fair Haveners to the Benjamin Jepson School in Fair Haven Heights last Wednesday evening.

Johnson unveiled a proposal, still in an early conceptual state, in which the city would co-develop 15 single-family homes on the 400 block of Quinnipiac Avenue. Designs aired Wednesday by city-hired architects Svigals + Partners drew generally rave reviews.

The proposal capped nearly a decade of wrangling over the property, as neighbors fought back against at least three development schemes. One involved view-blocking condos. Another called for institutional buildings with parking lots. Quinnipiac River activist Chris Ozyck gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to this new plan, which would bring a dozen to 15 market-rate homes to the block of Quinnipiac Avenue between Aner and Oxford streets.

Other neighbors agreed: 20 voted for the plan, and none against, according to an official tally by Fair Haven Heights Alderwoman Brenda Jones-Barnes, who convened the meeting. Johnson said if a second meeting scheduled at the same location on Feb. 13 meets similar reviews, the city will invest in a more detailed plan and try to find a profit or non-profit company to sign on with the city as a co-developer.

Right now the property is owned by Continuum of Care. The agency’s plan to erect institutional living structures for people with disabilities, which was strenuously opposed by Ozyck and others, fell apart last year when a grant it counted on did not come through.

Click here for that story and here for the tortured history of neighborhood opposition to previous development plans.

Wednesday’s tentative plan resulted from informal conversations Johnson had over the past year with neighbors who opposed previous plans.

Continuum continues to pay taxes on the property. Johnson said Continuum has agreed to sell the property to the city if the city comes up with a plan that neighbors agree with. Ozyck cautioned that Continuum might decide to sell to another suitor if the city didn’t act quickly; Johnson said he does not see that as an imminent problem.

“We’re at an investment point with Continuum and with [investing city money in] engineering. I don’t want to go there and be killed” by neighborhood opposition, Johnson said. “This is an attempt at transparent government!”

Ozyck, who over the last decade has led the neighborhood’s quest to find a better use for the abandoned property, applauded the plans.

“I’m excited. You need to re-knit a neighborhood” with houses facing houses. Though neighbors had dreamed of turning the lot into a park, Ozyck said, with the latest plan, “we get public access. I think it’s a win-win.”

“If we can make these houses charming, it will be a dream again to drive down Quinnipiac Avenue,” said Ozyck.

The land in question comprises two lots on the 400 block of Quinnpiac Avenue that runs steeply down to the river. It is bifurcated by a separate property and a pier owned by a fishing company, which is a complicating factor. And there is a small public beach that locals have been using for decades.

Johnson said the plan, developed with Svigal + Partners, envisions 15 single-family homes designed to fit the neighborhood’s historic riverside style. They would have three bedrooms and would span between 1,500 and 1,600 square feet. They would sell mostly at market rate, which he said is between $230,000 and $250,000. The homes would be built above the flood plain, with two-car garages behind them to avoid adding to the dreaded on-street parking problem. Importantly, public access to the beach will be preserved, he said.

To do all that will require engineering, for example, to fill in the deep incline that currently runs down from the road to the river line. How much fill will have to be brought in? Is blasting required? And what is the best way ecologically to manage storm run-off? Those are all questions that Johnson said the city plans to research, but only with neighbors’ thumbs-up at this point.

“Your Project As Much as Mine”
That’s how Johnson said the final design of the homes will evolve.

He said Wednesday’s meeting aimed to secure neighborhood support for the plan as well as inspire a cadre of people who will help the city as it seeks approvals from the Historic District Commission.

The plan would need zoning variances for permission, Johnson said: Houses have to be nearer to the curb line than currently allowed to accommodate two-car garages.

Paul Pasquaretta, who lives on Clifton Street, asked if owner-occupancy will be a condition of sale. The answer: yes.

David Baker, who lives high in the Heights, bemoaned his loss of view of the river, but said he approved the plan. “I’m getting a blocked view but access to the beach.”

Pasquaretta called it a good plan but asked Johnson to make the public access “comfortable,” so that local people who go down to the beach don’t feel they’re imposing on future private property owners.

“It’s a delicate balance. I get that. Both privacy of owner and the desire to have communal access can be done,” Johnson replied.

Ozyck pointed out that neighbors would have a more difficult time negotiating public access to the beach with a private developer, as opposed to the city as co-developer.

The city aims to contribute engineering, land-filling and other engineering costs to offset a co-developer’s expense. That would keep the homes affordable, Johnson said.

So how will the city re-coup its investments? another neighbor asked.

“The city will have to put less money into vertical construction, but into making this parcel buildable,” Johnson said. He added that he sees the neighborhood as “unfinished” and wants the neighbors’ ideas for the design to inform that finishing. The city will re-coup its investment through revenue from future property taxes, he said.

The city plans to hold a second meeting on these plans on Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Benjamin Jepson School on Lexington Avenue.

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posted by: robn on February 4, 2013  10:08am

Good choice of barry Svigals. He’s a good architect. I hope the drawings illustrate a single model home that will be variously and slightly manipulated to avoid monotony

posted by: David S Baker on February 4, 2013  11:56am

Bemoaning!? I suppose this is what I get for hissing at you for sticking that damn camera in my face. What I also recall saying is that if they want enthusiastic adjacent properties owners who are having their amazing views blocked to be satiated by promises of public access to the river, provide some kind of guarantee for access.

I have asked this at three meetings and have only gotten, ‘we are still working on that’ and ‘we are just putting out feelers at this point’ type answers.

I completely aregree with Chris O and Erik.  This IS a best use for this land.  Get it back on the tax rolls and bring responsible home owners to the hillside.  BUT I can name four property holders that are not enthusiastic about this project and do not recal any official tally.  Most of us invested in our homes because the zoneing was NOT residential and do not look forward to several more years of construction in our front yards.  Especially construction that requires the Army Corps. Of Engineers.

I suggest knocking one home out of each of the three pods and expand the gaps between them.  Put someting in the deeds of the adjacent properties that guarantee water rights regardless of public access standing.  And sorry for moaning.

posted by: robn on February 4, 2013  12:12pm

I agree with David. Its a wee bit dense in plan. And were I an agreeing neighbor I would insist on defined massing and right of way to and along the seawall.

posted by: Fairhavener on February 4, 2013  2:09pm

15 is 3-5 too many—10-12 homes would strike a great balance with the rest of the street.

posted by: StinkEye on February 4, 2013  2:29pm

The plan is too dense and the cookie-cutter design does not compliment the architecture of the neighborhood. This is a historic district, at least try to duplicate what’s already here!Look what happened in the 80’s with the condo complexes further north on Quinnipiac Avenue. Poor design, bad planning, shoddy construction and greed has left us with a ghost town full of squalor. I would rather see the lot become a park or green space to mirror the park across the river, rather than see this project become just like the one up the street. There are enough beautiful historic homes in Fair Haven currently for sale at a reasonable price, just waiting for some tender loving care to bring back their glory. Why would homeowners buy a ticky-tacky cardboard box that is
identical to your neighbor’s ticky-tacky cardboard box? I don’t get it, and neither does the city of New Haven, if they think this is a good idea. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

posted by: anonymous on February 4, 2013  2:55pm

StinkEye, the city needs more housing, even if it looks cookie cutter.

That said, will these units be part of a condo complex with central utilities?  Have townhouses been considered?  It seems more sustainable, financially and otherwise, if each individual property owner doesn’t have to pay a huge heating and electric bill especially given rising utility costs.

posted by: StinkEye on February 4, 2013  5:15pm

Dear anon.
With the plethora of single and multi-family homes on the market in New Haven, (check the MLS real estate listings) there is plenty of “housing” available. Unless, of course, you mean low income and/or Section 8 housing.

With so many homes for sale, people are leaving New Haven in droves. We need to bring prospective middle class home buyers into the city. After all, who else but the middle class will actually pay their property taxes?

posted by: robn on February 4, 2013  5:50pm

I was curious about the question of affordable housing, found a list of public housing percentages and added New Haven to the list. By percentage of public housing units we have twice as many as most of the major cities on this list, barely less than the top (New York). If you add section 8 vouchers we top the list at 13% (2nd place is New York at 8.4%, and then most of the rest are half or less. HUD’s website says HAHN has a goal of 30% affordable housing but I’m not sure how they arrive at that number.

Public Housing Units
New York - 178,554 units - 5.4% of housing units (+99,228 section 8)
New Haven – 2,800 units – 5.1% of housing units (+4,400 section 8)
Baltimore - 10,000 units - 3.4% of housing units (+12,000 section 8)
Oakland - 3,308 units – 2.0% of housing units (+ 11,142 section 8)
Seattle - 5,200 units - 1.8% of housing units (+8,400 section 8)
San Francisco - 6,451 units - 1.8% of housing units (+ 21,000 section 8)
Sacramento - 3,144 units - 1.7% of housing units (+ 11,000 section 8)
Chicago - 16,500 units - 1.4% of housing units (+35,000 section 8)
Detroit - 4,000 units - 1.1% of housing units (+6,000 section 8)
Los Angeles - 9,300 units - 0.7% of housing units (+100,000 section 8)
Houston - 4,200 units - 0.5% of housing units (+15,000 section 8)
San Diego - 1,800 units - 0.4% of housing units (+ 12,000 section 8)

posted by: accountability on February 4, 2013  9:34pm

LOL. Rotsa Ruck with the ol’ flood insurance premiums on that site.

Don’t bother finishing any basements.

posted by: accountability on February 5, 2013  12:47pm

In all seriousness, this story appeared on the same day that the NYT ran a front page piece on Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to spend $400 million taking waterfront property out of use.

Interesting that we would head in the opposite direction. The homes are not in “the flood plane [sic]”? And how old are the floodplain maps? Do they account for 1.5 feet of sea level rise in the next century, or the fact that hurricanes like Sandy are likely to become more frequent and more severe due to climate change?

Ozyk’s original proposal to make the parcel a park is the right way to go.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 5, 2013  1:22pm

At first blush this seems like a terrible idea. For one thing, conflict over water and beach access seems inevitable despite vague assurances. For another, I’m not an expert on climate forecasts and flood plains but I suspect this proposed development is not as far removed from the danger of flooding as its planners might wish, and when these market rate houses are washed into the Quinnipiac River, its taxpayers (including the ones in the surrounding towns, who as regular readers know are responsible for all that ails New Haven) who will be on the hook.

The fact is, no one should be building on river banks or beaches anymore. Despite the obvious and increasing risk of flooding, shorelines are a public resource that should remain available for public use.

posted by: trylon on February 5, 2013  3:47pm

Just for clarity - 490 Quinnipiac Avenue has been there since 1790 and was not flooded during Sandy.  The house is not in a FEMA flood zone. 
The current situation of the property does not benefit anyone.

posted by: StinkEye on February 5, 2013  4:15pm

accountability wrote:

“Ozyk’s original proposal to make the parcel a park is the right way to go.”

I second that emotion.

posted by: accountability on February 5, 2013  5:24pm

Trylon: Perfect to refer to 1790, roughly when the industrial revolution really got rolling and human-produced carbon began warming the planet.

lolFEMA flood zones. How’d that work out in New Orleans and New Jersey?

Expectations and dangers are changing. the floodplain maps will change too.

Also, classic straw man—choose between this plan or nothing!!!!! Now!!!!

City should develop it as a park.

posted by: Chris Ozyck on February 6, 2013  9:53am

Yes 20 years ago I thought it should be a park but my thinking evolved. We watched three serious proposals make it through the historic district and city plan review. These plans were atrocious . High density units with little or no public accesss.  The site can allow for much denser development.
I applaud the forward thinking by Eric Johnson of LCI.  this is exactly what we are asking for by most local residents.  Yes the houses will be above the 500 yr flood plain, the site will fit the character of the neighborhood, The beach will be no be impacted and have public acces.
Parks are nice but the city does not have the resources to build or maintain and both the city coffers and local business will benefit financially from more homeowner occupied waterfront housing

posted by: robn on February 6, 2013  9:57am

Some insurers and developers are beginning to look beyond the 50 and 100 year frequency flooding because flood event frequency seems to be increasing. Nevertheless, from USGS topo maps it seems like the street (1st floor of the houses above the parking basemen)t is at @El:+20’ or 25’. Hurricane Sandy brought a record 14’ storm surge to battery Park in NYC.

posted by: anonymous on February 6, 2013  10:59am

In recent years, hasn’t the “500 year” flood zone become a de facto 50 year zone? 

Plus the melting of Greenland alone is predicted to add another 22 feet of water on top of what we have now, in the near future.

posted by: StinkEye on February 6, 2013  11:02am

@ Chris Ozyck:

Your choice of words in the first sentence of your comment above is offensive to all of us Neanderthals, whose thinking has not “evolved” to your lofty Darwinian standards. Also the “forward thinking” of your friend, Eric Johnson, implies that the rest of us are ignorant.

I protest this elitist Yalespeak. It is both discriminatory and insulting to those of us who don’t know what’s good for us. We will stage a protest later with our torches and pitchforks.

posted by: StinkEye on February 6, 2013  1:44pm

“Little Boxes”

Little boxes on the hillside,(riverside)
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,(riverside)
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Words and music by Malvina Reynolds; copyright 1962 Schroder Music Company

(words in parenthesis) liberty taken by StinkEye, 2013

posted by: Chris Ozyck on February 6, 2013  7:32pm

Stink eye made me laugh- We would welcome you down on our side of the river- to live under the Ferry street bridge

If this site (El 18) is under water in a flood so will all of Fairhaven, the cove, city point, Longwarf and the downtown-

Nearly everyone at all our community meeting commented on the cookie cutter nature of the “study” . This iteration is only a massing / feasibility study- not what is up for approvals. We are looking for more charm, variety and warmer facades.

Isn’t strange that you have a community meeting in a rabble rousing neighborhood and all were in consensus.

posted by: StinkEye on February 7, 2013  11:10am

I already live on the east side of the Quinnipiac river, and have been here since 1987. I’m a relative newcomer compared to some of my neighbors, who do not go to public meetings. Most of my new neighbors do not speak English, and fear going out because some of them are illegal. I stopped going to the meetings in 2001, because my minority opinions were publicly ridiculed and I’ve endured some of your colleagues passive-aggressive retaliation ever since. I choose to remain anonymous because, quite frankly, I just don’t need the abuse. You preach tolerance, but in truth, you don’t practice it.
(That said, perhaps you know already who I am )

“Isn’t strange that you have a community meeting in a rabble rousing neighborhood and all were in consensus.”

No it’s not strange at all. The people who still go to these meetings are, by and large, a homogeneous group of white “urban homestaders”, who already have much in common, so why wouldn’t you all be in consensus?

Like Malvina said,

“And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I really believe your aim is to be altruistic and do what’s good for the neighborhood. But please remember that there are lots of people in the Heights who are living in poverty, or working class schmucks like me, just trying to live week to week under the Ferry Street Bridge. We don’t go to meetings. We have nothing in common with you. I gave up banging my head against the wall 12 years ago.

You live in a beautifully renovated Victorian house. You worked hard, got a education and have the means to do good and give back to the city. Most of us don’t. Consensus from a minority is valid because the majority did not vote.