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Would-Be Star Supply Developer Returns
by Thomas MacMillan | Oct 22, 2013 1:33 pm
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Housing, East Rock, Goatville, Upper State Street
Six months after his plan to revamp the old Star Supply warehouse was squashed, developer Ben Gross has returned with a new partner and a new vision for the crumbling State Street building, this time with fewer apartments, more parking—and neighborhood support.
Gross said he hopes his latest development proposal will fare better than his first, which the Board of Zoning Appeals rejected in April (BZA), amid neighborhood outcry about parking and gentrification. Many officials and advocates of denser urban development saw the plan’s failure as a lost opportunity for needed new tax revenue and housing.
Gross is again trying to convert the abandoned Star Supply property (pictured above) at the corner of State, Lawrence and Mechanic streets at the edge of East Rock’s Goatville section into a mixed-use development with retail space, rowhouses and one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.
This time around, Gross is starting the process by meeting with neighbors before he submits a proposal to the city for approval. Saturday he showed up at a public meeting at East Rock School along with his business new partner.
Gross (pictured), a Yale law school grad, has teamed up with Andy Montelli of Post Road Residential Inc. Montelli was the point person for Fairfield Residential when that company wanted to develop Star Supply in 2008. Since then, Montelli has started his own development company and is now back for another try at Star Supply.
“Andy has a ton of experience developing multifamily residential housing,” said Gross. “We’re really excited about bringing him on because it’s going to give the project the experience it needs.”
“We showed a new plan which we thought was very responsive to what we heard from the neighborhood last time around,” Gross said. “It was pretty well received.”
The new plan preserves the historic building at State and Lawrence (pictured). The building would be restored and converted into retail space, Gross said.
“We’ve added a significant amount of parking,” he said. “We think we’re going to have about 269 spaces.” Last time, the plan called for fewer than 200 spaces. His original plan fit in with the perspective of new-urbanism advocates in town who want to see zoning changes allowing for new developments with less parking. (Read about that debate here. Click here to read over 100 reader comments on the broader debate surrounding Gross’s last plan.)
Along with more parking, Gross envisions fewer apartments than in his previous plan. The current proposal is for 210 to 225 units, Gross said. Of those, 40 percent would be two- or three-bedroom apartments, the rest studios and one-bedrooms.
The housing on Mechanic Street would be rowhouses, not “townhouses” as previously proposed. They would rise to three stories, maximum.
Overall, the height of the development would come down from seven stories in the original plan to no more than five stories, Gross said. The highest buildings would be in the back, away from Lawrence and Mechanic streets and near the skating rink. The lowest level there would be parking, with four stories of apartments above.
The new design comes from Beinfield Architecture, a Norwalk firm with “experience in adaptive reuse all over New England,” Gross said.
“We’re hoping for a mid-November submission to the BZA,” he said.
Gross said it’s too early to say how much it would cost.
“The new plan looks really good,” said Stefanie Lapetina (pictured), a Mechanic Street neighbor who had opposed the first plan.
“They took down the scale a little bit,” she said. The rowhouses would fit better on Mechanic Street and the parking would be more appropriate, she said. “They addressed pretty much all the issues we had with the last design.”
“I think the feedback was mainly very positive,” she said of Saturday’s meeting. Neighbors had questions about logistics and construction, but no serious grievances, Lapetina said.
“Ben was just very careful with picking partners who seem to understand the neighborhood,” she said. “I’m hoping this all works out.”
She said she hopes the new project will bring other perks, like new sidewalks and improved transportation to the train station.
“People felt that the proposal seems much more livable,” reported neighborhood Alderwoman Jessica Holmes (pictured).
“It’s been a learning experience,” Holmes said of the neighborhood’s evolving relationship with Gross and his plans. After the BZA rejected the plan in April, Holmes and neighbors were criticized for preventing a positive tax-boosting development and keeping Star Supply as a crumbling eyesore. Holmes said she heard comments like “Jessica Holmes loves blight.”
Holmes said that all along she wanted a project that fits with the neighborhood and takes neighbors’ needs into account. The site is three acres, which is “huge for this neighborhood.”
“I feel much better about the process this time around,” she said. “I’m as happy as anyone that they’re resubmitting.”
“We were never really opposed to having anything built there,” said Lapetina. “We just want it to be tied into the neighborhood.”
“I think it’s been a really good example of a dialogue between us and our neighbors being really productive,” said Gross. “I have a personal connection with the neighborhood and the site, having lived for four years right near it. Even after the BZA last year, I couldn’t really let it go. I thought it was possible to come up with a plan that would work for everyone, and the neighborhood folks really encouraged us to come back.”
Tags: Star Supply, Ben Gross, Jessica Holmes
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posted by: Josh Levinson on October 22, 2013 2:54pm
Great to see Gross back with a new plan after being rebuffed by the neighborhood. I still think the protests were a little loud regarding the last plan, but it sounds like he thought about what needed to be done and has some back with a very reasonable proposal. If the residents continue to throw a fit about this, then I don’t know what can make them happy.
So now there’s enough parking spaces being added to represent almost 125% of units.
This is not how to promote something ‘livable’
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 22, 2013 3:09pm
It seems like a good practice for developers to get in the habit of doing is to meet with neighbors prior to submitting plans to the BZA that will require variances.
It also would be nice if people didn’t try to mothball projects under the guise of erroneous (and really quite selfish) concerns like “lack of parking”, “too much density” and inadequate transit. While these are things to be concerned about, as a city, we’re not exactly in the position to turn away largely positive projects like the original proposal.
I’m glad to see that rowhouse-style houses are replacing the townhouse style ones, which hopefully means that they will have streets frontages that are compatible with the existing houses on Mechanic Street. While the actions of the BZA and neighbors seems to have worked out this time, this isn’t necessarily a good precedent to follow for future developments that aren’t 100% perfect for all of the neighbors’ concerns. Not that any development proposal should be rubber stamped without discussion, but we also don’t want to deter future development projects.
Neighborhood “leaders” here, including Alders, are simply advocating for more gentrification, even though Goatville is already the most rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in the entire State by any measure.
Fewer housing units = Higher rents. We’re already creating more homeless people by not building to infrastructure capacity.
More parking = higher development cost = higher rents.
If the neighborhood leaders cared about the city, they would push for 100 parking spots and 400+ housing units. The site can easily support that.
posted by: Kevin on October 22, 2013 3:35pm
How does adding 210+ units in what is now an empty industrial building equal fewer housing units? As the article indicates, the BZA turned down the proposal to build more units there.
For the record, I spoke in favor of the original proposal at the BZA. But, I live a mile from the development, not next to it (like Stefanie) or a block away (like Jessica).
Again, I want to commend Ben (and his new partner) for reaching out to the neighborhood and listening.
@ Kevin, it is obviously going to house fewer people than the previous plan, which was turned down by the BZA because of out of date “free parking” zoning regs that allowed the plan to be killed by opposition from the “cars not people” crowd in the neighborhood.
What would have been first-floor apartments for people are now set to house cars. More traffic, more pollution, less health and (due to reduced supply) higher city rents and less tax revenue. Likely, most of the spots that could have housed people will just sit empty, as they do at the zoning driven 360 State garage (although at least downtown they can be rented out to non-residents.)
Apartments-over-first-floor-parking is a uniformly hideous suburban look than only exists because it is demanded by bad zoning laws.
Same for the reduced height: fewer people, higher rents, less taxes—it’s lose-lose-lose.
But yes, still better than an abandoned factory and we are lucky that the developer is back.
Better approach with the politics of the neighborhood, better design in terms of scale, more parking (despite the howling of some new urbanists) without turning the development into a giant parking garage, and critical improvement to the tax base - this is a win for everyone, nail it down and get to work!
Let’s move SOMETHING forward in this city. I’m sick of seeing all these development projects in limbo with such a deficit of quality rentals. Need more YIMBY’s in this city!
This is all well and good, but to be clear, what this seems mainly to have been about was to preserve easy parking for people in the neighborhood who have the means to own cars. The older plan would have had more housing—good for keeping rents down, good for poor people—and less parking, which is good for the environment. The new plan just ensures that the current neighborhood residents can keep their cars as comfortably and hassle-free as before. That’s fine, but it’s not a progressive or pro-poor-people value.
Mark Oppenheimer, this is what you get when you allow regressive, anti-poor-people NIMBYs to hijack positive neighborhood development and change a perfectly good project into something that will just make gentrification and homelessness worse.
Kevin, the concern in a land use decision like this is the opportunity cost—not the marginal benefit of an additional 200 unnecessarily-expensive units sitting on top of a giant parking garage.
This is a transit-rich site that easily could have accommodated 400 units, including 50 set aside for low income working families with children - families that may be homeless now.
“The new plan just ensures that the current neighborhood residents can keep their cars as comfortably and hassle-free as before. That’s fine, but it’s not a progressive or pro-poor-people value.”
You should have stopped with, “That’s fine”. It’s the injection of polemic like the rest of the statement that was a part of what doomed the first proposal. The developer got it, even if some others didn’t. Projects that encourage more “middle-class” (whatever that means anymore) residents are progressive by any rational measure, even if they don’t address the issue of lower income housing stock.
@anonymous - how does a nice new development that brings in qualified workers and upper income people to a formerly derelict site INCREASE homelessness? It adds to the tax roll and improves the city’s economy. What you’re saying makes absolutely no sense, unless you’re totally Marxist.
@stylo—anonymous is explicitly making a comparison to a (hypothetical but likely profitable) plan for a denser development with 400 units of market-rate housing and 50 units of low-income housing.
Of course the new plan is better than the current derelict site and, given current zoning and politics, it should be approved. The point is that bad suburban-style zoning laws are preventing it from being even better.
I think you just misunderstood the comment, but an attack on unproductive government regulation (bad zoning laws) is not typically understood as Marxist.
Row house = townhouse (one just sounds better than the other).
As for zoning relief, there’s nothing in the regulations or statutes giving alders or neighborhood pressure groups veto power. I’ll never understand why such deference is given to these people.
Zoning relief is based on the merits of the proposal against the regulations.
The BZA should borrow a phrase from the infamous Sarah Palin and tell pressure groups and the politically connected “Thanks, but no thanks”.
Hope this one is approved.
Esbey is right. The plan should be approved, but a great opportunity to create affordable housing through zoning reform is being lost. If the developer were allowed to build 100 fewer parking spaces, the money saved could easily have allowed him/her to provide 30 units for lower-income working families with children.
Thanks to CCNE, misguided Alders, and pro-gentrification NIMBYs, we’re now guaranteed another 30 homeless families and 50-60 homeless children. People with low wage jobs can’t just pick up and move to the suburbs where opportunities are even more limited, particularly beginning next year as Federal subsidies for affordable housing dry up on an escalating basis due to sequestration.
We are witnessing the beginning of a catastrophe, and local groups like CCNE are more responsible for it than the Feds, because they know better. Hopefully on future development sites in New Haven we will think about everyone who lives here, not just ourselves.
@ esbey (regarding your first comment)
The zoning regulations generally require one parking space per unit. When I am king, I will repeal this requirement. In the meantime, it strikes me as fairly reasonable outside of downtown (I agree that 360 State Street was required to provide more parking than was needed). The zoning regulations do not require putting parking under housing, which is truly ugly.
I spoke with Andy Montelli earlier this year about parking. He stated that the additional parking in the revised proposal was needed to obtain financing. I’m a city planner by training and know something about development, but this is not day job; in this case I think we need to trust him on this point.
I think the idea that substantially more units could be built on this site is implausible. This is not 360 State and instead is located near the Hamden town line. While there are post-docs and Baby Boomers interested in urban living their number is finite and there are 800 units in the pipeline elsewhere in the city, not counting this development and the Coliseum site proposal.
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 24, 2013 9:52am
In the initial proposal, the developer called for 4 “townhouses”, which were actually 4 separate buildings each with two vertically-divided units sharing a party wall.
I’m hoping that by “rowhouses” he means its changing two a row of attached dwellings facing Mechanic Street.
I tend to call the typology in Boston’s Back Bay “townhouses” since they were built on individual lots usually by separate owners/developers. I’ll sometimes refer to more upscale rowhouses like those found on Orange Street as “townhouses”, and reserve the word “rowhouse” for more modest series of attached dwellings.
Except you’re forgetting the fact there was never going to be affordable housing period. That was one of the contentions with the original plan. More housing doesn’t automatically equate to cheaper housing. Supply and demand is more complicated than a cursory glance.
I don’t understand why “affordable housing” must be brand-new housing. Why can’t the worst existing properties be upgraded to “affordable housing”? How do “homeless families” benefit from “affordable housing” as this is not “free housing”? And I certainly fail to understand how any project that will take a few years to complete has any effect on homeless families today.
Contrarian and Madcap, many people disagree with you. A robust supply is the only way we are going to be able to maintain affordability - this has to be looked out outside the context of any one particular project or point in time.
First, consider that new houses that were once built for the wealthy, like the mansions on Sherman Avenue, are now solidly middle-class.
Second, consider that while a gigantic new luxury building in New Haven with $5,000/month rents wouldn’t be affordable to most people— it would help increase affordability for all (not to mention bring in tax revenue that would otherwise go someplace else) by meeting demand.
If you don’t build new housing, those same individuals are simply going to buy up 2 and 3-family homes in Goatville and convert them into single family luxury homes, which is exactly what is happening now. When this happens, everyone else gets pushed out to Waterbury or Derby and endures a 2-hour commute, or even becomes homeless, because they have no affordable options.
The resource allocation policies and parking requirements that NIMBYs and elected officials in East Rock are setting in place now may seem benign—but in reality, they are what is driving poverty, homelessness, and death in our area. We need to be more thoughtful about how we use our land.
anonymous: I don’t know why you think I disagree. I’m in favor of 8,000 more units rather than the 800 in the pipeline. I’m no Free-Market-Fundamentalist, but I think if you have nice but pricey new units, many who now live in dumpy, overpriced alts. will move into the new, freeing up the old. And if the supply increases any reasonable amount, the rates for the old simply can’t stay as high. And as much as the social engineers want everybody to live together, a tenant who can afford $3,000/mo. won’t want to live next door to somebody who can only afford $300/mo.
Anonymous, your idea is predicated on the idea that no matter will you build more housing units that it will increase supply and lower price(and hence increase availability for everyone). This just isn’t true. There’s a demand for higher income housing in the city. But if I build 6 more 360 State st towers, that will do nothing to help people in Fair Haven. It will just bring more people of the demographic seeking that housing into New Haven. Maybe one day one of those towers will become lower income housing like houses on Sherman, but that’s a change that can take generations. As it stands, in poor neighborhoods there’s not a lack of housing, the number of abandoned houses testifies to that. What there is is a lack of wealth going to the nation’s lower earners who can now barely afford to rent, let alone buy. Throwing up more units for the sake of units will not by itself lower housing prices and make housing more affordable. There’s a floor to how low prices will go no matter how many units there are due to the general land values in an area and the fact there will always be a demand for housing, even if there’s a surplus in overall units, people are still moving constantly. That floor isn’t going much lower in poor neighborhoods. What needs to be done is either more subsidies for affordable housing(and again, affordable housing near never comes around because of market surplus, it needs to be a direct investment as the floor is too low for it to make any financial sense for a company to build), or preferably, a change in our entire economic structure so the lower 1/2 of the country regains some of the portion of the nation’s wealth they’ve lost in the past 35 years.
I think many of your points are fair. But seriously, “driving poverty, homelessness, and death in our area”?
I’m all for clarifying the stakes of easy-to-ignore issues like zoning, even if I have the same concerns that Madcap is raising. I’m not an expert; I can see some of your points. But the escalation of the rhetoric here doesn’t really serve anyone, I don’t think. You’re going to lay all the responsibility for poverty, homelessnes, AND death on Jessica & Stephanie? Even if I agreed with you, that would be kind of a heavy claim. At least share some of the death-blame with the folks who wrote and/or maintain the parking requirements.