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Star Supply, The Sequel: Neighbors Applaud

by Thomas MacMillan | Dec 11, 2013 9:04 am

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

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Housing, East Rock, Goatville

The last time developer Ben Gross showed up in the Hall of Records to pitch a plan to renovate Goatville’s crumbling Star Supply building into apartments, neighbors lined up to stop him. On Tuesday evening in the same room, those neighbors showed up to heap praise on his new and improved plan.

That was the scene at the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), in the basement of the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St. Gross appeared there with a new partner and a new plan for the Star Supply building, a complex of five brick structures at the top of State Street, bordered by Mechanic and Lawrence streets.

Click here to see the new plans.

Thomas MacMillan Photo Gross (pictured) has been trying to develop the site for months. His first proposal—to build 270 apartments at the 3.22 acre site—was squashed in April amid neighborhood concerns about parking and gentrification.

Following that failure, Gross teamed up with another former would-be Star Supply developer, Andy Montelli, of Post Road Residential, Inc. Montelli had sought to develop the site several years ago, until the 2008 economic downturn scuttled his plans.

Together, Gross and Montelli started over at Star Supply, this time by meeting with neighbors at the outset to win their support.

That effort was a success, as demonstrated by the line of neighbors who took turns Tuesday evening urging the BZA to approve the latest proposal.

The BZA sent the matter to the City Plan Commission for a recommendation. The item will come back to the BZA next month for a final vote.

The latest request is for a number of zoning variances, including to allow residences in an industrial zone and to have smaller yards than required.

Beinfeild Architecture Those and other permissions would clear the way for the construction of 235 apartments and 4,000 square feet of retail space. The development would have 273 parking spots—more than zoning requires—and 235 bike-parking spots.

Anthony Avallone, the developers’ attorney, told BZA members that the four of the five structures on the site would be torn down. The fifth, on Lawrence Street, would be 80 percent preserved. The retail space would be on the first floor of that building.

Architect Seelan Pather (pictured) told board members that the proposed design respects the different architectural characteristics of each of the three streets. The plan “creates a massing” that “steps away” from the residential area on Mechanic Street and rises on the eastern side, the side closest to I-91.

On Mechanic Street, the development would have three-story townhouses. The building would step up to a larger four story apartment building to the east, and finally to a five story “loft” style building, Pather said.

The plans call for underground parking and concealed first-story parking under the “loft” building. The roof would have a water tower, as a form of “branding” for the development, Pather said.

The development would comprise market-rate apartments, not affordable housing. That’s due to the high cost of environmental remediation on the site, said Avallone.

East Rock Alderman Jessica Holmes (pictured at the top of the story), who had helped lead the effort to prevent Gross’ last plan from becoming reality, told the BZA that’s she supports the new plan. She said the new plan addresses all of the neighborhood’s concerns about character, parking, and investment in the neighborhood.

“He really listened,” neighbor Stefanie Lapetina (pictured) said of Gross. In all, eight people spoke up in favor of the project, including representatives of the New Haven Preservation Trust and the New Haven Urban Design League.

There was no opposition.

After the testimony, Montelli said it’s too early to tell how much the project will cost. He said it would also be “premature” to talk about the financing of the project until all the permissions are in place.

The City Plan Commission will meet next Wednesday to consider the proposal’s impact on the Mill River.

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posted by: anonymous on December 11, 2013  11:00am

“The development would comprise market-rate apartments, not affordable housing. That’s due to the high cost of environmental remediation on the site, said Avallone.”

Actually, it’s due to the cost of providing dozens of unnecessary parking spaces. It’s sad that the people who purport to speak for this neighborhood are so anti-poor people.  Although new housing is far better than nothing, this development could easily have incorporated 20 units for moderate-income working families if the developer hasn’t been required to build so many parking spots. 

We need space for working families, not yet more car parking spots to service the city’s corporate elites, students, and professionals. It is a direct trade off, and the poor always seem to lose the fight.

posted by: shadesofzero on December 11, 2013  12:25pm

Glad to see the neighborhood get behind a new development plan. Interesting to see how it actually goes. Heck, they can probably get this development done before State Street construction is ever finished, comically enough.

Kudos to Ben Gross for going back to the drawing board and working with the neighborhood to come up with a new plan.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 11, 2013  6:03pm

It makes sense to put the 3-story clapboard style row/apartments facing Mechanic Street, and the 4-story masonry-clad apartment building on State Street.

However, does “clapboard” siding mean wood, vinyl, or aluminum? Does stucco mean a cement-based plaster, or EIFS? It seems like the 5-story portion of the building might be more appropriate as exposed concrete (see the World War 1 era Winchester buildings http://goo.gl/maps/t2kL5). What is the structural system for the new buildings?

How do the “row-style” units work? Can you enter them from the street and the interior corridor? Are they multi-level units or flats? Are they really going to have street-facing entrances or were those just drawn to make the project look better?

The area in front of the 4-story brick building on State Street is a bit undercooked. It looks like there will just a green patch along the length of the sidewalk separating the building from the street. I think this warrants a bit more design finese, otherwise the urbanism on this street of State will feel like this building (http://goo.gl/maps/OdyWa).

The brick work will also be very important. Hopefully this project will avoid the fat, white morter joints and cheap-looking brick that tends to plague a lot of contemporary construction. Thin, recessed joints with a heavy-aggragate and high-quality (preferably multi-colored) brick would be terrific.

While I think this particular site would work ideally as large business (or several small businesses), this proposal seems like a good alternative. Hopefully the ground level entrances remain, high-quality materials like wood, brick and stucco (or concrete) are used rather than vinyl or EIFS, and the State Street experience is fine-tuned with a more clevel design solution that a grass burm separating the building from the sidewalk.

posted by: Kevin on December 11, 2013  6:15pm

Anonymous, this site is in fact a brownfield. It was a brownfield when Ben submitted his original proposal and when the previous developer submitted his proposal. The site’s characteristics impose direct costs, in terms of cleanup, as well as restricting where the buildings can go.

As the article notes, the developers are providing more parking than the city requires. As I mentioned in an earlier post, they are doing this because they believe this is needed to get financing for the project. I would have been happier to have fewer parking spaces for this project, but I’m not paying for it.

While East Rock is predominantly middle class, the area closest to the site has plenty of working class folks, several of whom were involved in the negotiations on the project.

Finally, I also want to commend Ben and Andy. In addition to the meetings that Jessica convened, they came to the management team and listened to the concerns of the neighbors.

posted by: A Contrarian on December 11, 2013  9:59pm

Jonathan Hopkins:  If it’s exposed concrete you favor, why not strive for the polished British Art Center look?  And while I know of many cheesy facades on recent construction, I wonder if you could link to some examples of new buildings that might serve as models for the Star Supply project.

posted by: anonymous on December 11, 2013  11:46pm

Kevin:  The original proposal involved how many car spaces - 182?  The neighborhood rejected that original plan.  Adding nearly a hundred more now, instead of adding more affordable housing, is a tragedy. 

It is a direct trade off, financially - you can be forced by your community to provide four more parking spaces that will probably sit empty 90% of the time,  ‘or you can be forced by your community to provide one housing unit for a middle income family in exchange for not having to provide the parking.  The neighborhood chose the former because they saw that as the greater public benefit.

That said, I’m glad more people on and around the block were productively involved in setting housing policy for the rest of our city. This new development looks much better than an empty brownfield, and hopefully it can get fast-tracked for construction. Maybe the neighbors can help fundraise for more homeless shelters now.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 12, 2013  11:19am

Just realized there were section drawings at the end of the linked document. It looks like the structural system is wood light frame or light gauge metal, so there wouldn’t be any concrete structure to expose on the exterior. Hopefully stucco is used though and not EIFS.

A Contrarian,
The reason I used the Winchester Factory building was because if you look at the Star Supply proposed elevations, the design is clearly trying to look like a industrial-loft style building with large fenestration, heavily muntin’d windows, and clear structural expression on the exterior. Not really related to Kahn’s Museum.

posted by: Stephen Harris on December 12, 2013  1:56pm

This is welcomed news. State Street needs a bookend up there. I wonder why no one picked up the original approvals of several years ago? It would have been easier than jumping through the hoops again.

posted by: A Contrarian on December 12, 2013  4:18pm

Jonathan Hopkins:  I suppose my point was that since it’s phony—not a reused industrial building but a new apartment structure with open “loft-like” units—it might as well look pretty.  Kahn’s concrete looks like polished stone rather than ugly-old or ugly-new concrete beams.  San Francisco has plenty of reinforced concrete apartment buildings that manage not to resemble garages and factories.  Winchester Lofts is one thing, but why build a gun factory next to new townhouses?  Anyway, you see what I’m driving at…

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 12, 2013  6:14pm

A Contrarian,

I wish the new construction for this proposal were a concrete frame because it could be expressed on the exterior in that way that it is on the WW1 era Winchester Factory buildings, which I happen to think looks pretty good, particularly the renovated section. While I agree that Kahn’s polished concrete looks good, I would argue that aesthetics of new residential loft-style construction that pretends to be industrial is more appropriate on this particular site than something inspired by a 1970s art museum.

The structure, however, is not a concrete frame but some kind of light gauge metal or wood framing system, so it has to be clad in something - so our fondness of concrete frames is irrelevant. I think the choice of stucco was probably influenced by the white-washed building across the street (seen in the perspective rendering above and here: http://goo.gl/maps/h1D3V), the relative cheapness of stucco compared the brick, the 5-story height of this section of the building, and the desire to break up the State Street massing with a change of material.

posted by: wendy1 on December 12, 2013  8:58pm

Whatever you do, avoid stucco, the absolutely WORST building material known to man.

posted by: A Contrarian on December 12, 2013  11:09pm

Jonathan Hopkins:  I seem to have confused you.  I’m not “inspired by a 1970s art museum,”  I’m just talking about concrete—YCBA concrete good, A&A concrete bad, for example. If I say I love the brick on Union Station, I don’t mean that I think everything should look like Union Station, though one could do much worse than channel Cass Gilbert.  And really, I suppose I should ask why the loft building doesn’t try to look like the existing old brick building instead of something that’s neither fish nor fowl.  Anyway, this sort of exchange is better suited to the dinner table than the comments section.

posted by: Optional on December 13, 2013  11:34am

And some of us are left scratching our heads yet again, how could this be?

A project that was deemed a “gentrification,” that was opposed by our Alder and our Democratic Ward Committee Co-Chair for its lack of affordable housing is opposed and scrapped in favor of this?

And I quote, directly from an article in the independent almost a year ago, “Holmes said the area is the most diverse in East Rock. Bringing in 268 new tenants from one demographic—those who can afford the rents—would be “a game changer,” Holmes said. Cristina Cruz-Uribe, who lives on Bishop Street, said Goatville has the only reasonable rents in East Rock. Such a large development should have homes for families and condos for people who want to buy, she said. Several others expressed similar sentiments. Others said the design seems “closed in” or “isolated.”

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/star_supply_bza/

Really? Have any of those so vehemently opposed to the last project’s practically airy nature actually compared both sets of plans?

Closed in? Isolated? At least the last developer scored some points with a courtyard that was “private” yet accessible by the neighborhood.

Shame and praise on you Ms. Holmes, you have managed to sell out the people who stood beside you silently as the BZA shot down a plan far more open than the current one and you have still remained the hero for doing a complete about face and pushing for this less acceptable (by your old standards) alternative.

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/star_supply_plan_squashed/

And shame on those who stood beside her as the memory of a section of the city already dominated by Yale grad students and transplants, one of the most transient lots in the city, is lost to time.

Every thing I feared about the union dominated elections is coming to pass, so sad to say.

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