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$2.65M Sale Would Start “Restitching” West River

by Paul Bass | Dec 16, 2013 9:05 am

(7) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, West River

Paul Bass Photo The city and a developer have reached a deal to jump-start the revival of a stretch of New Haven destroyed by urban renewal—by building a 120,000-square-foot office and retail complex across from Career High School and rezoning 16 acres of land between downtown and the Boulevard.

The Route 34 West plan, two years in the making, officially gets submitted to the Board of Aldermen Monday night.

It consists of two main pieces.

Piece one of the plan: An agreement to sell 5.39 acres of land at 243 Legion Ave. to a developer. The developer would construct a new $11 million, 30,000 square-foot home for the not-for-profit organization Continuum of Care Inc., surrounded by 90,000 square feet of stores and offices and perhaps a hotel, plus some open space and a garage, on the land. A partnership between Continuum of Care and a Middletown builder called Centerplan (already busy preparing to launch this $50 million project on College Street) would buy the property from the city for $2.65 million. The land is currently used as a parking lot.

Google Maps The property sits across from Career High School between Orchard Street and Dwight and Ward streets.

Continuum of Care is a fast-growing not-for-profit that runs programs for people with psychiatric problems and developmental disabilities. It pays visits to more than 150,000 people a year in New Haven. It also runs 27 mental-health programs and 13 for people with disabilities. It employes over 600 people, 227 of them from New Haven. The new proposal would allow Continuum of Care to build a central home for all its various offices, and stay in town.

Piece two of the plan: A rezoning of the long stretch of parking lots in the middle of Route 34 dividing the West River neighborhood from the Hill, a bustling stretch that government bulldozers cleared a half-century ago to make way for a highway that was never built. The rezoning would cover 16.2 acres in all, from around Dwight Street almost all the way west to Ella Grasso Boulevard, between Legion Avenue and MLK Boulevard/North Frontage Road. It would allow future builders to construct not just detached one-family homes, but multi-family residences as well as businesses on much of the property.

City development chief Kelly Murphy and Livable City Initiative chief Erik Johnson put together the plan over the past two years, meeting with members of the West River Neighborhood Services Corporation along the way to reimagine that stretch of land. Not much had come of those plans. (Click here & here for background.) The idea now is to change the zoning in the hopes that the Continuum of Care project will spark similar building.

“This is the start” of a long-awaited revival, Johnson said Sunday.

“Having that corridor as a parking lot for Yale for years has helped maintained the separation in the neighborhood. Redeveloping it as something else that has jobs and retail and maybe residential helps restitch the neighborhood.”

That broad vision is spelled out in a series of documents being submitted to the aldermen Monday night, the start of a process including hearings and eventual votes:

Click here to read the proposed order coming before the Board of Aldermen Monday night.

Click here to read the land disposition agreement the city struck with the developer.

Click here to read the City Plan Department’s petition for changing the neighborhood’s zoning map. City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg put that part of the plan together.

Click here to read the development and construction management agreement between Continuum of Care and Centerplan.

The submission of the plan is the latest in a cascade of long-term projects presented by the DeStefano administration the past two weeks as it races to the end of its tenure Jan. 1. In the last two weeks alone officials have formally transferred the Shubert theater to a new not-for-profit owner, signed over the former Coliseum land to a builder looking to construct at $395 million new project, completed a general plan to build up the “Hill-to-Downtown” stretch between the train station and the Yale medical area, completed another plan for a “transit-oriented development” at Union Station, and received a neighborhood-approved resubmission of a plan to convert the old Star Supply factory into new apartments. Meanwhile, St. Luke’s Church submitted a plan for a $15 million makeover of its stretch of Whalley Avenue. The DeStefano administration will now hand over all these projects to the incoming Harp administration to shepherd to reality.

Jobs & Taxes

As part of the deal for the development of 243 Legion Ave., the developer has agreed to abide by city set-asides of contracts to minority-owned firms. It has also agreed to partner with New Haven Works to hire local people. Some $50,000 of the purchase price would go to the city’s Commission on Equal Opportunities to monitor minority hiring; another $50,000 would go toward city small-business and minority development programs.

The project is to take place in two phases. First the developer would build the new home for Continuum of Care, which would take up less a quarter of the property and remain off the tax rolls; along with the first 40,000 or 50,000 square feet of retail, which, like the rest of the property, would come onto the tax rolls.

The documents are vague on what else the new Continuum-Centerplan partnership will build on the lot. Johnson Sunday offered some possibilities envisioned in discussions about the plan: a pharmacy anchor, perhaps a bank, a restaurant, a convenience store. The second phase (involving building the rest of the project) would possibly include a hotel and medical offices.

The deal spells out what the developer may not bring into the neighborhood: a “discount department store, ‘dollar’ store, firearms and/or ammunition store, charity thrift shop or the like, adult bookstore/adult entertainment establishment, tattoo parlor or massage parlor of any kind, or liquor store.” The developer also promises to participate in a bike share program and “incorporate bike storage facilities and changing/shower facilities into any office or hotel space.”

Melissa Bailey Photo Hill Alderwoman Jackie James (pictured), whose ward includes the property, remained noncommittal when asked about the plan Sunday evening. She said city officials have done a poor job of communicating with aldermen about the deal as it evolved, changing along the way. “I’m not clear about what they’re actually doing on that parcel,” she said.

James said she “absolutely” supports the proposed zoning changes for the rest of the undeveloped Route 34 land stretching to the Boulevard to accommodate denser housing and retail.

“We’re in favor it,” said West River Neighborhood Services Corporation President Stacy Spell. He said he knows some people want more housing in the plan, unlike the first part of the deal with the Continuum of Care parcel. But he said mixed-use makes sense for the whole area, and the plans will include plenty of housing closer from Sherman Avenue down to the Boulevard.

Thomas MacMillan Photo West River Alderwoman Tyisha Walker (pictured), whose ward includes much of that land, also embraced that general concept. She said she remains noncommittal about the specifics of the two plans until she talks more with people and examines the details.

Walker said that the neighborhood made clear to city officials during the planning process that it didn’t want to see the kind of taller buildings envisioned for the downtown end of the corridor in the western stretch. Neighbors do like the idea of housing mixed with retail arising from the underused lots.

“It’s a good use for that land,” but people “don’t want to see the sky-high buildings. They want it to look like the rest of the neighborhood,” Walker said.

Walker made a point of praising city officials for meeting with West River neighbors to keep them informed and get their input throughout the process.

City Hall’s Murphy said that as a result of those discussions, proposed rezoning the Continuum property at 143 Legion to BD-2 and BA “to accommodate the development proposed,” also reflecting “past discussions about the uses for the site, which were commercial in nature and likely related to the medical district.” Then the rezoning plan would make the rest of the corridor a BA zone “for two long blocks” that currently don’t allow business development, and then smaller-than-before RM2 and RM1 zones closer to the Boulevard. The city also drew up a design guide for the district based on its communitiy conversations.

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Comments

posted by: anonymous on December 16, 2013  9:13am

What happened to the neighborhood’s plans for the site, which included smaller, walkable blocks, traffic calming, pocket parklets, and the restoration of the original street grid before it was destroyed in the 1960s?  This sounds like more asthma-inducing parking garages and development that is hostile to the surrounding neighborhood.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 16, 2013  9:41am

Here we go again. Another hypothetical Phase II used as a selling tool to encourage an overly-generous land deal by the BofA!

Please, please do not cede that highly developable land over to a non-profit for a non-taxable use. What I foresee as the probable outcome is the Continuum building surrounded only by surface parking.

At least make Centerplan/Continuum commit to the parking garage and additional 50,000sf of taxable development as part of Phase I. And why not make the deal for the last block of the Route 34 corridor instead of the one closest to the Medical Center. Is there a reason CofC needs to be right there?

Finally how much would Yale-New Haven pay us for that land? I’d trust them to come through on a final taxable/non-taxable deal much more than this vague proposal.

posted by: robn on December 16, 2013  10:40am

The deal should have a guarantee of taxable property so if CoC balks after building their own facility, they’re on the hook for property taxes.

posted by: anonymous on December 16, 2013  1:49pm

Anderson:

It seems that we are just repeating the mistakes of those who designed the Connector in the 1960s - if not making them worse.

The project is doomed to fail, and contribute very little to the neighborhood, if the existing 5.4 acre block is developed as a single block.

A typical city block in Portland, Oregon, which is considered the model for a healthy, job-rich, and walkable place, is just 1.6 acres. 

Perhaps the developer will consider adding some new streets?

Do any of the officials making decisions here regularly take walks around Career High School and the Frontage Roads, and along the massive new Yale parking garages?  In other words, do they ever put themselves in the position of a child or elderly person who is too young or too disabled to drive?  Or do they view everything from their car windshields?

posted by: Kevin on December 16, 2013  6:40pm

Anonymous, I also would prefer to see something like what the neighbors proposed, but I have no idea how you would pay for the infrastructure. In addition to the interior streets, someone would have to install electric and telecommunications lines and probably redo the interior water, sewer, and gas lines that have not been maintained for decades.

While the project is certainly “doomed to fail” using your metrics, I suspect the Harp administration will view $2.65 million and retaining a major employer in town as a win.

The city does have some leverage here. Under the agreement, the developer will have to gain several city and state approvals before it can shovel any dirt.  There is also potentially a good deal of space for parklets and at least some interior streets. The parcel is a bit under a quarter million square feet. Even if the buildings were only two stories each (less than the high school), their combined foot print would be 60,000 square feet.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on December 16, 2013  11:57pm

A bad deal pushed at the last minute to try to get it on the scoreboard before the current administration leaves office. 5 years ago New Haven was desperate for development. That’s not the case today. We have enough non-profits operating tax-free in New Haven. This is prime property, and the City ought to put the property out to bid. This is a Tier 1 site and the land ought to be reserved for tax paying businesses and middle to upper income housing; New Haven has enough low-income housing. CofC ought to be pushed to a Tier 2 site - somewhere on Whalley Ave. Plenty of developable land on Whalley which is on a bus route. And any offices built on Whalley would be an improvement to the Avenue.

Lastly, I agree with Robn; any deal should have a guarantee of taxable property.

posted by: Stephen Harris on December 18, 2013  2:20pm

I think there’s a missed opportunity in rezoning this area. It seems a good chunk of it might turn into Whalley Avenue; a parking Lot dominated dead zone. The entire stretch should have a new form-based zone to ensure it develops into a true Main Street.

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