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Neighbors Question Star Supply Plan

by Thomas MacMillan | Mar 5, 2013 5:48 pm

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

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

Thomas MacMillan Photo Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel Architects As plans shape up for a new 268-apartment development at a sprawling abandoned building in East Rock, Stefanie Lapetina wonders if she’ll soon have a seven-story tower looming over her backyard, or new neighbors’ cars taking all the parking on her street.

Lapetina (pictured), who lives on Mechanic Street, said she welcomes plans to revive the long vacant brick Star Supply building at the corner of Lawrence and State streets—in theory.

Whether she’ll welcome how it plays out in practice is an open question.

The Star Supply property has been vacant or underused for years. It’s now under contract for purchase by Ben Gross, a Yale law school grad who’s leading a team of New York-based developers. Plans call for the construction of 268 apartments, mostly one-bedrooms or studios. Gross said he doesn’t know yet how much the project would cost.

Click here to take a look at the plans.

The project needs special zoning relief for a residential use in an industrial zone, and fewer parking spaces and smaller side and rear yards than are required by ordinance. The Board of Zoning Appeals will hear Gross’s zoning request at its next meeting.

Meanwhile, East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes (pictured) has organized neighbors like Lapetina to make sure neighborhood concerns are heard and addressed. Among the worries: parking, density, neighborhood character, building size, and retail use.

Gross, who’s 29, has twice visited the local Community Management Team to discuss his plans. He attended a special neighborhood meeting that Holmes put together on Feb. 24. He said he’s committed to listening to neighbors.

Gross’ plan calls for the construction of four “townhouses” on Mechanic Street and the construction of a large E-shaped building on State Street reaching six or seven stories tall. The “flagship” space on Lawrence Street (pictured) would be filled with retail on the first floor and commercial space on the second. It’s too early to know what sort of business would go into the 7,000-square-foot retail space, Gross said.

“I’d always thought it would be a great spot for a bank,” he said. Holmes said neighbors had mentioned a bank as a good possible addition to the area.

Allan Appel Photo “It’s definitely a medium- to high-density project,” Gross (pictured) said. Because of the cost of developing the site, it would need to have 268 apartments in order to be economically feasible, he said. A 2006 plan for the site called for only 139 units, and didn’t get built, Gross said.

“I view the density as good for the neighborhood,” he said.

The development would likely be home to grad students and young faculty from Yale and other universities along with “other professional folks in New Haven,” he said.

Holmes said neighbors are concerned about the development’s “impact on the character of the neighborhood.”  She said the area is currently the most diverse in East Rock, which is already a popular neighborhood for young Yale affiliates. A new influx of students could “impact the fragile and valuable diversity there,” she said.

Lapetina said she’s concerned that student tenants would be transient, not invested in the neighborhood. She said she’d prefer some larger, family-oriented apartments. “At least make some condos.”

Holmes said she’s asked Gross about the possibility of putting in “affordable or workforce housing” and making sure to market “not just to one demographic.”

Gross said the project is privately funded and wouldn’t include affordable housing. “It’s a market-rate project” without state subsidies, he said. “It’s very tough to provide affordable housing in new construction in a market like New Haven.”

He said he doesn’t yet know what the rents would be. “Some of the smaller units are going to be reasonably affordable to other folks in the neighborhood,” Gross said.

Holmes said people are also concerned about parking. They worry about spillover onto Mechanic, Nash, and State streets since the plans call for fewer parking spots than apartments.

Gross said the development would have a “parking ramp” onsite with room for 182 cars. Another lot across State Street could hold 20 cars. The site is close to two bus stops and a Yale shuttle stop, he said. The development would have “some kind of car-sharing arrangement,” possibly ZipCar. And it would have bike parking and storage for over 150 bikes, he said.

The project doesn’t need a parking spot for each car, Gross said. “We don’t think that the area is a one-to-one area. … Not everybody is going to want or need a car.”

Lapetina said she’s heard Gross make that argument. “I’m not buying it,” she said. “I walk and ride my bike, but you still need a car.”

Lapetina said she’s also concerned about reducing the distance between the building and her house. She said she figured something would be built there eventually, “but I didn’t figure it would be a seven-story building.”

Contributed Photo The plans call for a six or seven-story building to go up right next to Lapetina’s backyard (pictured), where she grows flowers and vegetables. She said it has taken seven years to get the garden to its current state. “It would be different to have a tower of 200 apartments to look into our backyard,” she said.

“The whole plan is designed thinking about neighborhood context,” said Gross. “We made a real effort to keep the bulk out of an many peoples faces as possible.” The taller parts of the development are on State Street, and the construction on Mechanic Street would be only two stories tall, he said.

Lapetina and Holmes both said Gross seems willing to discuss the plans.

“We’re hopeful,” said Gross. “We think the time has come for the site to live up to its potential and stop being such a blight on the neighborhood.”

“We really want something to happen with that site,” Lapetina said. “But it’s got to be the right kind of thing.”

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posted by: Stylo on March 5, 2013  5:56pm

Oh jeez. If you don’t want a view of apartment buildings, don’t live in a city.

People are ridiculous.

This city needs all the abandoned property revitalized if it wants to succeed. With dense housing that improves the safety and walkability of New Haven.

How is a nice, new apartment complex that brings good tenants and improves the local economy bad? A blighted old property is better somehow?

posted by: anonymous on March 5, 2013  6:27pm

If Alderwoman Holmes is concerned about housing affordability for families of color, and not just the NIMBY politics within her own Ward, she should be:
1) Advocating for 500 apartment units on this site, not 268, given our serious housing shortage.
2) Getting people like Bob Proto/CCNE to testify in Hartford about the expansion of workforce housing grants like those being used for Winchester Avenue, instead of spending all their time on how they can “control” Yale, aka drive all future Yale development to West Haven.

This project should move forward ASAP, or if it stalls, the city should increase taxes and blight fines on the property so that a different buyer has a chance to develop it. This ongoing “land-banking” of prime vacant properties from decade to decade is really killing New Haven.

Also, unlike most of the $100M+ properties that the DeStefano administration has been forcing upon our city’s fragile downtown over the past decade, it looks like this project actually includes active uses on its first floor.  Maybe its time to get Mr. Gross into a city government position?

posted by: SaveOurCity on March 5, 2013  7:07pm

Stylo

Well said.  People who want 2 cars per unit and don’t want to see buildings near them shouldn’t live in a city….I hope that New Haven sees clearly to work with this developer.  The idea that a weed filled abandoned lot is better than a development of housing and businesses is the kind of thinking that causes the city great pain in the long run. 

If it takes 268 smaller units to make it financially viable, that’s fine.  It would be nice to have a development that is built on its merits rather than using gov’t funding.

More people -> safer streets -> more support for local businesses -> expanding grand list….

posted by: Stylo on March 5, 2013  8:58pm

Also, “we want something there, just the right thing” is just how these improvements are endlessly stalled. Whoever came up with this proposal obviously thought it out and put a lot of work in it. It is a win-win to anyone with a brain. Just approve it and get building!

posted by: Elm City Luv on March 6, 2013  2:41am

So this has been a long time coming… a bank is a great idea and well needed but a jam packed building of students is not ideal for that cozy nook in East Rock.  How about a food coop spin off Edge of the Woods so people can eat reasonably priced food in that area…the other eateries have great service and food but East Rock deserves complimentary additions to the neighborhood.  I strongly disagree with a six-ish story building and am not a fan of fast new construction.  The developers are not required to invest in the totality of the outcome across that stretch of East Rock…it sounds like the numbers pertaining to the project being considered have more weight in this decision than the people it would impact.  So kudos to Holmes for listening to the concerns.  There is always a better way to accomplish anything in life.  I believe sustainable products and more jobs is something to at least consider… and there is not a housing shortage in New Haven…all these new apartments are causing existing rentals to become more competitive with pricing.  East Rock is a wanted area and the developers have a shot at making money but at what cost to the neighborhood?  What about sprucing up the connecting areas between Fair Haven and New Hall?  And can that part of State Street handle a few hundred more people and maybe as many cars?  Cyclists already have it rough in New Haven and State is not set up to handle all these cars pouring in and out twice a day, as well as pedestrians, business owners opening and closing shops…
Along time ago I envisioned that building as a food coop and market place for local produced goods and services with apartments upstairs… just a though.

posted by: AMDC on March 6, 2013  7:56am

Dear Ms. Lapetina,  I think you understand by now that anything goes for any developer willing to swoop into a neighborhood, grab property, and make a killing.  No affordable housing, no family-oriented units, no care for parking issues, no interest in what the community might need/like to have there. It’s all about the money and NH is so desperate for it that they will let anyone do anything.  I do agree that the blight fines are not used and should be to keep owners maintaining their properties.  But , if the property is a BIG BANK or POLITICALLY CONNECTED—— TOO BIG TO TAX OR REGULATE!!!
Neighbors & city rez: Keep fighting for the city we would like to see.  NH is worth the struggle against the rich &  powerful. VIVA NEW HAVEN !! VIVA EL PUEBLO!!

posted by: streever on March 6, 2013  8:55am

I agree with Gross on the car issue—I lived in New Haven for almost a decade without one and quite easily, although I was completely dependent on my car when I first arrived. There is a wonderful grocery store around the corner which charges the same or less for produce than any other grocery store in the area—Romeo & Cesare. Obviously if you want to buy weird gourmet italian things in a box you’ll pay a little more. I did all of my shopping there and never felt the pinch, and I’m sure that new tenants in this building can too.

With that said, I strongly disagree with Gross on affordable housing units. Regardless of subsidies, it is the right thing to do, economically and morally.

How full is 360 right now? 90%? I imagine there will be vacancies in this new building even 5 years in. It hurts no one and profits Gross & crew to make something on what would otherwise be vacant space.

posted by: TheWizard on March 6, 2013  9:37am

Neighbors:  Great feedback and ideas - please consider attending one of the future hearing and providing such information in person and as part of the group of stakeholders.  I attended Gross’ first presentation a few months ago and it is clear that he believes in incorporating community input in his plans - sadly, most at that meeting sat on their hands.

There are many directions that this project may take but one thing is clear;  since this project is being financed without gov’t (taxpayer) money, it needs to be financially viable or it will not happen.  The developer had initially envisioned a mix of 1BR, 2BR, #BR….etc units but once the full cost of building in New Haven and CT were applied (high costs for permitting, labor, energy, taxes….etc), the only way to break even was to build one story higher and trade larger units for more units.

Streever - based upon your comments about affordable housing units being the right thing to do economically, I’m sure the neighborhood and the developer would be interested to learn how selecting a few people to get discounts at the expense of others would improve the economics here.  IF there is a trick, we should apply it at Church St South and turn that into a goldmine.

posted by: robn on March 6, 2013  9:53am

Mr Gross’ unwillingness to do affordable housing is reasonable because construction costs in CT are extraordinarily high. As a former labor representative, Alderperson Holmes should know that you can’t demand high wages for construction workers and then expect the unit costs to be held low. Even if the developer is asking for variances, that doesn’t change the simple pro-forma math.

Ms Lapetina has a good point. The eastern E shaped building is strangely sited. I understand why it is where it is; its the cost of keeping the scale of Mechanic Street buildings low and neighborly; the majority of building bulk has been forced to the east. Nevertheless, I think the northern portion of the E could be chopped off and mounted above the proposed live work space on State Street…turning the E into an L and gathering the tall bulk along State Street where it belongs (it could even bridge the entrance drive like the Marlin building on Willow). The western portion of the L could be single loaded against the parking structure and ride over its top in the rear. This would free up a rear yard on the north end of the site which would make a nice amenity for the tenants.

posted by: TheWizard on March 6, 2013  10:16am

robn:  Great points on the desgin.  In fact, the current plan is to have a Marlin-like bridge entrance on the State St side. 

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/archives/upload/2013/03/packet_jh-1.pdf

posted by: Wooster Squared on March 6, 2013  10:44am

The City needs to hire robn as Head of the Department of Common Sense.

You’d think it would be obvious that high labor costs and high land value would require a developer to build higher priced units at a high density. There’s really no way around that. You can’t build housing that costs less to buy than it does to build.

This is an old city in need of more housing. Overall, the fact the we have demand for more housing in New Haven is a very good problem to have, just ask Newark or Detroit. We need to stop demanding that every development plan be absolutely perfect.

Also, I agree with Stylo. If you don’t like apartment buildings and are very worried about parking, then a city is not a good place for you to live.

posted by: Stylo on March 6, 2013  11:00am

We don’t have to subsidize every single apartment building in New Haven with affordable housing. That attitude is not going to attract developers. There is PLENTY of subsidized housing in New Haven, and those projects should be separate.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on March 6, 2013  11:38am

268 apartments plus retail and office space and a total of 202 parking spots.
Kiss any on street parking bye-bye, parking in East Rock is tough enough as it is. This makes no sense.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on March 6, 2013  12:07pm

The NHI New Urbanist Commentariat has spoken! According to the prior comments, residents of communities and their democratically-elected local political representatives apparently should be quiet and let The Developers unilaterally determine the future of who lives in the neighborhood and what that neighborhood looks like. If you have a problem, just turn to Stylo’s “Love It or Leave It” view of living in a city.

Fortunately, residents in the area do not share that top-down vision of economic development, and have gathered on multiple occasions to discuss concerns with the project both amongst themselves and with the developer. I have some of my own concerns about this Yale Residential College for Young Professionals being built at this location, and have tried to voice some of those by participating in the meetings & communicating with Alderwoman Holmes. I hope that Alderwoman Holmes & members of the community surrounding the Star Supply building continue to make sure their concerns are heard and addressed.

posted by: HhE on March 6, 2013  1:35pm

Some of the developments we see are bad, like that cheep and nasty building that will go up on Howe, at the expense of beautiful houses.

Now along comes a group that is trying to build something with a good gestalt, that will compliment the area, and turn a empty building into something good.  While their are aspect to their plan I may have doubts about, it is clear that they plan to build to as high a standard as they can afford.

It is not wrong for a community to address to speak to their concerns, but demands can be counter productive.  There comes a point for a developer that a project is no longer worth the risk.

posted by: robn on March 6, 2013  2:30pm

SOA,

I’m certainly not arguing for censorship of elected representatives, but I would like them to use logic. To leverage her point of view about affordable housing Alderperson Holmes made two weak arguments.

One argument is that “a new influx of students could impact the fragile and valuable diversity there.” Last time I looked, East Rock was filled to the brim with students from very diverse backgrounds. Besides, the developer noted that he anticipates a mixture of students and professionals.

Another argument is that New Haven needs affordble housing. We nearly have twice the amount of subsidized housing as many other American cities.

New Haven   13.1%
Oakland     8.7%
New York   8.4%
Los Angeles   8.2%
San Francisco   7.7%
Sacramento   7.6%
Baltimore   7.5%
Seattle     4.7%
Chicago     4.4%
San Diego   3.1%
Detroit     2.8%
Houston     2.3%

Let’s stick to zoning issues; use and form.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 6, 2013  2:41pm

Affordable housing units from a private developer perspective are never economically the right thing to do. I don’t know why anyone would even think that. Now from a moral and urban design point of view its an entirely different story. I do have to say though, she does have a really nice backyard. It’s not like though her yard or the others will be completely surrounded by the new building, or have it come right up to their fence. Most importantly it’s not tall/close enough to really block any sunlight in the summer.

posted by: anonymous on March 6, 2013  3:55pm

I agree, the hypocrisy is outstanding.

First, if Holmes is so worried about the fate of working families, where does she think that more housing should be built - in places like Meriden, where there is zero bus service to get to jobs? 

If State Street - near bus lines and walkable streets - is not a great site for 500 more housing units, then no place in New Haven is.

Also, graduate students these days are more diverse than New Haven residents.  By worrying that more housing will “impact the fragile diversity” of East Rock, are Holmes and other critics really saying that they are afraid that too many non-White, possibly foreign-born Asian or Latin American, possibly Muslim, lower income, single people with no children might move into their neighborhood?  That’s what is sounds like, especially given that there’s no guarantee that this building will primarily cater to students.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 6, 2013  4:08pm

Re: affordable housing.

Yes, it’s true, New Haven does have a higher than average. New Haven(and the state as a whole) also has much higher housing costs, whether you’re renting or buying, than just about everywhere else as well. Take Houston(and Detroit, and San Diego, and well most cities that aren’t very old cities on the east coast. We’re not only dense, but old and developed, land is at a premium here), it’s a sprawling mess. 2.2 million people vs New Haven 130,000, yet with not even 1/2 the population density. This makes rents and mortgages much, much lower. Even very young people can often afford houses in the outer parts of Houston.

posted by: robn on March 6, 2013  6:08pm

THEMADCAP,

More expensive than New York City or San Francisco?

posted by: lawrence st on March 6, 2013  7:08pm

As someone who lives a couple of blocks from the site, I am glad that neighbors are getting involved. Why does it have to be a take-it-or-leave-it proposal? We should be able to voice our opinion, and see if we can make this project better.

@anonymous: first off, Jessica Holmes is doing an amazing job of finding out what the ward wants, and making sure all of the voices are being heard. i don’t know if you’ve been to any of the meetings, but she makes sure that everyone gets a chance to talk, and listens to everything being said.

second, the diversity in question is not only one of race or ethnicity. it is also one of class. this area, goatville, is one of most economically diverse areas of east rock, and it makes it a great area to live. this building is likely to make it hard, if not impossible, for working class residents to stay here. i think some effort should be made to try to keep our area diverse, and make sure that it is not only for those making the county median income (which is higher than the city median)

posted by: TheMadcap on March 6, 2013  7:30pm

No, not more expensive than SF or NYC in general, but at the same time these cities have much higher residential densities.(in fact, 17,000/sq mi for SF and 27,000/sq mi for NYC compared to 6,500 for New Haven. Houston meanwhile is at around 3,000 and San Diego at 4,000) If we knock knock down large parts of the city to build more multi story apartment buildings, it’d probably naturally create some cheaper housing, but it’s probably just easier to just make some units affordable housing and not radically alter the city, and we’re about 300 years too late for the option of expanding the city.

posted by: robn on March 6, 2013  8:13pm

LAWRENCEST,

Please explain to us why you think this building will make it hard for working class people to stay in the Goatville neighborhood.

posted by: HhE on March 6, 2013  9:20pm

I think it is very important to bear in mind that the—potential—developers are very keen on public input. 

I don’t think this is a case of take it or leave it, but rather there is a concern that too many demands could kill the deal. 

I for one would not hold up Detroit as a good place to live, no matter what the price.

How exactly does providing more places to live make Goatville less affordable?  Unless the worry is that removing blight would drive up the fair market rate of apartments, or that property taxes would go way up.

posted by: Stephen Harris on March 6, 2013  10:36pm

I think the E shaped building is a bit too high. Everything I’ve read indicates that four to five stories can supply all the density a city needs to make it work. But if it does get built as proposed at least it’s in the rear of the lot and not fronting a street.

I think we should embrace density and mixed use. Take a look at Amsterdam or Copenhagen. They are wonderful places that are very dense, yet not overwhelming. That’s not an unreasonable model to emulate. “Old Europe” still has lessons to teach.

Living in America means car traffic is always on the front burner, but at some point I think we have bite the bullet and realize that a balanced transportation regime is the future and just get on with it.

posted by: AMDC on March 7, 2013  6:55am

Dear HhE,  I don’t think you have to worry about taxes going up in NH.  That will happen, no matter what.  The citizens of NH have a right to be part of the development of the city they live and work in.  Every Tom/Dick/ Harry who comes into town with some dough and a scheme should be carefully watched .  We don’t need anymore vultures swooping in to make a quick buck at the expense of the public good.  We’ve had enough of that. Haphazard development and neglect of existing infrastructure have given us what we have today.
We need a new way of doing things in the city. Let’s start now.  And let’s elect a new mayor who is outside of the power system.

posted by: HhE on March 7, 2013  9:54am

AMDC, given how low ball the assessment of my house is, from a strictly selfish standpoint, I am not overly worried about my taxes.  I am concerned for other people’s ability to pay, and even more concerned with the borrowing our city continues to do. 

I do not think I ever said that people do not have a right to engage with developers.  I did say that these potential developers are very open to this engagement, and I did share a cautionary note that too many demands might kill a very good project. 

I know I have never advocated for haphazard development, poor maintenance, or absentee land lords.  Rather the opposite.  Please keep in mind though, a developer needs to make money. 

Two years ago, I gave the maximum donation allowed to Jeffrey Kerekes, and spent an afternoon knocking on doors with him.  This year, I have already given the maximum donation allowed to Gary and Justin.

posted by: streever on March 7, 2013  10:08am

@Madcap
I think it is economically better to have a unit filled at lower than market rate if the unit will otherwise sit empty for the next 5 years.

I think a building like this will see at least a quarter of their units sit empty for a substantial time period, and I don’t think it hurts them to open 20-30 of their units to affordable housing pricing for at least a discrete time period.

posted by: mechanic on March 7, 2013  11:21am

What concerns me is that it seems like Gross is paying lip service to hearing the neighborhood’s concerns and considering them in his design.  In the articles I’ve read, he has immediately countered arguments against the concerns raised.  He says that it would be too expensive to execute different design plans, but he doesn’t have an estimate for the rents of the site.  I haven’t seen any quotes from him that he’s actually considering a community member’s suggestion or concern.

Also, I appreciate and love that our city is bike-friendly, but anecdotal evidence is not enough to satisfy reduced parking spaces.  I’m not saying who’s right and who’s wrong.  I’m saying that there must be some data somewhere to do the due diligence to support reducing the number of parking spots.  As much as I appreciate and respect Streever, it’s simply not enough to say, “I do fine with just my bike.”

In fact, most of Gross’s decisions or rationalizations in both of the NHI articles are preceded with, “I think.”  There doesn’t appear to be any research on actual market demands or demographics. 

Gross’s plan looks good in a lot of ways, but to get allowances from the BZA, he needs to back up his development’s needs with facts, not vague budgets and his own impressions of the state of the neighborhood and his potential renters.  And he would do well to appear less defensive and more collaborative with his future neighbors.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 7, 2013  12:29pm

Copenhagen and Amsterdamn are rather fantastic, but they are also dense cities. 19,000/sq mi and 9,000/sq mi respectively. We can not be be either of them though anymore than we can be San Francisco unless we want to demolish the entire city and start again. If we had a city of that density, 4/5 story buildings would be enough to work, because most of the city would in fact be an urban street scape of buildings of that size. We have to work with what we have. New Haven for better or worse is mostly detached single or double family homes. If people want to maintain that character then people are also going to have to get over possibly having a numerous story apartment building in sight as well. Unless we just start closing off entire neighborhoods, “Nope, there’s not 4,683 residents in this neighborhood, I’m sorry but that’s the limit set in the statute, we can’t possibly build more units”

@Streever
Oh, I agree. However, I don’t think an apartment building in East Rock is going to have much trouble filling up.

posted by: Henry on March 7, 2013  12:55pm

I’d love to see more ZipCars in the area ... and perhaps a coffee shop in the retail space? I hope this moves forward!

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 7, 2013  1:20pm

Hi Robn,

I’ll chime in for Lawrence St and give a reason why this development will make it harder for working class families—parking. I have lived on Lawrence for three years now, and parking has always been difficult, and nearly impossible on street cleaning days. Now that the Cross Annex has been redeveloped, parking has just gotten worse.

If this new development does not include adequate parking for its tenants (which it currently does not), it will make it impossible for working class people who do not have access to the yale shuttle to live here. We need cars and most of us do not have driveways and our jobs are too far away for you to suggest we ride bikes.

This development will completely alter the character of this neighborhood. This is not something to rush into. Thank goodness we have alderpeople like Jessica Holmes and residents chiming in. If the developer cannot alter his plans to meet the needs of the community, then we should not let him build. If we have to wait another few years for the right development to come along, so be it.

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 7, 2013  1:29pm

The development process of a neighborhood is a delicate one. You can’t go around saying things like “It is a win-win to anyone with a brain” or tell people who don’t like this developer’s plan to leave their homes (I’m looking at you Stylo). Many people live in this city. Many people have different points of view and different needs. It would behoove you not to come across as so arrogant. If the supporters of this developer make such thoughtless statements, it discredits whatever thought has gone into this developer’s plan.

posted by: robn on March 7, 2013  2:16pm

PNH,

I assumed the focus of LAWRENCEST was subsidized housing which I don’t think should be forced upon this privately funded development nor do i think it correlates with surrounding affordability (if anything it will flood the market with new units and drop rents.)
On the subject of parking standards I sympathize because I used on street parking for many years and it was inconvenient. I also think that motorized personal transportation, although damaging in many ways, has been very important in American progress and the economic development of families. On the other hand I think our single minded devotion to the automobile (at the expense of reasonable public transportation) has led to an inordinate amount of unsightly real estate being gobbled up by parking decks. I can guarantee you that the neighbors will not be happy with an as-of-right parking structure on this lot…the developer has hid it in probably the smartest way (low and in the middle of the block). I really want the car sharing idea to become a reality but back to your point, haven’t heard anyone speak intelligently about how to police tenants. Certainly there must be some way of auditing car ownership to prevent a flood of on-street parking and to guarantee use of the car sharing service?

posted by: TheMadcap on March 7, 2013  5:34pm

There’s more than adequate parking provided for the building. Some cars from the complex may have to find on street parking. So what? Welcome to the city. The only cities that don’t have parking problems are cities like Tulsa where there are so many parking lots the city looks like a post-apocalyptic asphalt nightmare. People don’t have reserved parking spots in the street, heck for all you know every car parked on your street right now might be people who live 5 streets over because their street is crowded. Such is life in a city. It’s not like 800 new cars are suddenly going to need to find new parking. When you account for those who won’t have cars(which is going to be substantially higher than average if the studio apartments get filled with students), but also remember some of the one bedroom apartments will be couples, some of whom have two cars, and remember even at 3am not everyone is going to be home at the complex, you’re looking at a few dozen cars at most trying to find spaces not provided. That’s nothing, if three people in the same vicinity were having a party in their backyard in summer, they alone could draw more cars. It’s such a red herring, if you live in a city, you have to learn to deal with cars, traffic and parking.

posted by: anonymous on March 7, 2013  6:10pm

Themadcap is right. Parking is a complete non-issue.

The real issue here is local NIMBYs and the shortsighted politicians who cater to them, instead of considering the best interests of working families who face an acute housing shortage that is destroying families’ lives as well as our economy:

http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-fink-towns-must-20130304,0,2024785.story

The developer will “collaborate” with these NIMBYs until he gets fed up with their unrealistic requests and leaves, which will allow the brownfield to sit vacant for yet another decade.  Meanwhile, the families who might benefit from the new tax revenue, jobs, improved night time safety, and housing that filling in a vacant lot would provide will continue to struggle to survive, or leave town for good.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 7, 2013  6:13pm

Site Plan (Current Proposal):
http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/87061762.jpg

Four new 2-story townhouse style buildings on Mechanic Street with a total of 8 units.

New six-to-seven-story “E” shaped building on State Street with single and double loaded corridors.

This “E” shaped building will impact pretty significantly the backyards of several properties on Mechanic Street. To address this the building should descend in height the deeper it goes into the lot and/or the windows facing the backyards should be small kitchen, bathroom or bedroom windows and not large living or dining room windows.
The Seabury Building at the corner of Howe and Elm consists of two components. 1) a very tall apartment tower on Howe Street and 2) 2-story townhouse style units on Elm Street that abut the adjacent residential properties on Dwight Street.

Site Plan (Alternate Proposal):
http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/87061764.jpg

Traditional lots on Mechanic Street that can be 3-4 story apartment flats with rear yards and garages accessible from the State Street entry and turnaround area. Each two-car garage can also have a small apartment above it - making for a potential of 12-15 units just on the Mechanic Street lots. Examples of this type of housing are abundant in Goatville.

Instead of an “E” shaped building, an “F” shaped 7-story building with all double loaded corridors could easily provide 200-250 studio and 1-bedroom apartments without disrupting Mechanic Street neighbors nearly as much.

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 7, 2013  9:31pm

Hi Anonymous and Madcap, You can declare parking a non-issue, but that does not change the facts on the street. It is more than reasonable to ask the developer to accommodate parking. That is the beauty of living in a city—we are citizens and we have a say in what is allowed to be built.

posted by: Morgan Barth on March 8, 2013  12:16am

No one has pointed out the biggest negative impact this will have on the neighborhood—longer lines at the Pantry!

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on March 8, 2013  11:32am

robn & others,

There is no way to “force” subsidized housing on the developer. My understanding is that the developer had not even considered the option before the possibility was raised by residents in the community meetings. At the meeting I was at, the developer basically said that subsidized housing was out of the demographic they were targeting with their housing plan for the site.

Personally, I think it would be great to seriously consider subsidized housing and pursue that option if possible. One thing that robn’s statistics on subsidized housing in New Haven do not show is how those sites are distributed throughout the city (I also wonder how Bella Vista may impact the high figure for New Haven). As far as I know, there is no subsidized housing in East Rock. Opening up the possibility for subsidized housing at this site in particular would potentially allow the project to connect neighborhoods, instead of becoming yet another physical barrier separating neighborhoods and exacerbating disparities in the city.

I worry that merely “sticking to zoning issues; use and form” is a revanchist way of suppressing debate on class and access, .

posted by: Stephen Harris on March 8, 2013  1:31pm

If the developer wanted affordable housing he could have brought an 8-30(g) application to the CPC.

posted by: robn on March 8, 2013  1:32pm

SOA,

I find the number of NH subsidized housing units a compelling argument against an increase and although you make an interesting argument about the location of public housing, neither of our points is really relevant. This isn’t a case of classism or revenge, its a case of following appropriate legal procedures.

When a developer asks for zoning variances (issues related to use and form), the requests are supposed to be weighed for their public benefit (or detriment). If there is some possible detriment, its appropriate for public officials to ask for unrelated changes to use and form (desired by the neighboring public) in return for consideration of the variance request. If a project with no public investment is going through a zoning variance process I just don’t think its appropriate for public officials to ask the developer to include subsidized housing in the conversation. Its perfectly fine to ask and to express the desire for subsidized housing, but its not fine to hold up the variance request in order to leverage this desire.

posted by: Stephen Harris on March 8, 2013  1:45pm

The city can’t negotiate a change to an application. It only consider it as is.

posted by: AMDC on March 8, 2013  2:21pm

I commented earlier and want to clarify that I am not asking for subsidized or public housing here; just a variety of units that might appeal to families as well as the Yalies and Yuppies the developer obviously hopes to attract.  Only Yalie folk will overpay and drive the prices out of reach. They will go slumming for a while , then move to suburbia to raise their families. Why not make NH appealing to everyone, single or family groups. Maybe even elderly friendly units could be added into the mix.  NH should be about recreating authentic neighborhoods, with a variety of units to help create that mix. Goatville is part of NH and no one carpetbagger should be permitted to come and dictate to the city and the other residents, what will be built.

posted by: fk on March 8, 2013  3:04pm

How much would it cost to provide another 68 parking spaces?  The parking problem is the mostly likely thing to kill this project.  Why do the developers keep trying to come up short on parking?  As a landlord, I know for a fact that off street parking makes my apartments much easier to rent and I can charge a premium for it.  This is not NYC folks.  Most people have cars here because it is extremely inconvenient to get round without one here. 
The project will be more valuable with the parking spaces.  Figure out the extra rent that can be collected with at least one spot for each car and then calculate the value of the property using the income approach, with and without the parking.  I suspect that you are leaving money on the table by not providing the extra parking but the only way you can tell is by doing the math.

posted by: streever on March 8, 2013  3:15pm

SOA
I agree with you that subsidized housing should be a part of this building: I think it makes practical sense for everyone involved, and is a good thing to do.

However, I don’t think that sticking to the zoning application when the city considers the zoning is revanchist or anything else.

The zoning board is a non-professional body of citizens who are supposed to hear the merits of the building as it applies to the zone. That is as it should be, because you don’t want this body acting inappropriately when it suits them, as they can if you give them the freedom to operate outside of zoning code.

As I’ve said before, Unite & Local 34 absolutely should be tackling zoning reform, because it would allow us to build our ideals and morals into this process in a way that isn’t so totally arbitrary and case-by-case. While I may trust some of the people involved right now, these are legal decisions, and they do have precedence issues when taken to a court, and they should be handled appropriately from start-to-finish.

The zoning code clearly needs deep reform in New Haven, and I think that citizens need to start agitating for a form based code like Harris has been describing for years.

I also think that a periodic review of said zoning code must be enshrined into law, so that changes in policy and demographics can be accounted for.

posted by: Wooster Squared on March 8, 2013  3:47pm

@fk

To answer you question, it would cost around $4 Million dollars to provide an additional 68 parking spaces. Why so much, you ask?

A typical parking space takes up about 200 square feet. this means 68 surface parking spaces would take up 13,600 square feet. Assuming a typical unit is around 1,000 square (estimate) that means the developer has to build at least 13 fewer units in order to provide the 68 spaces.

Assuming each unit goes for $300,000 (low estimate) or generates the equivalent rental value, that means the developer is losing 13 times $300,000 or $3.9 million dollars in income.

The alternative is to build stacked deck or garage spaces. The problem here is that structured spaces cost $25,000 per space typically (low estimate - see Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking). So, 68 more spaces at $25,000 per space brings us to 1.7 Million dollars. And, even with structured spaces, the developer would still end up having to build fewer units, bringing the effective cost up even more.

So 68 spaces is not about the developer’s hand wringing. It’s about whether the project is economically viable or not. If we want to see more housing in New Haven, and if we want to see abandoned Brownfields like Star Supply redeveloped, we can’t sit here putting in restrictions that make it economically unfeasible to build housing here.

As much as parking can be a hassle, just because we move somewhere doesn’t mean we get to shut the door behind us and deprive everyone else the opportunity to live there too.

posted by: anonymous on March 8, 2013  3:48pm

FK, why don’t you ask the developer how much it would cost to provide additional parking spaces. Either that, or pretend that you know more than him, and ensure that the lot sits empty for another ten years.

Note that in the cities around the world that are growing and adding jobs and housing for working and lower-income families, developers often have the parking requirements waived entirely.

If we cared about our community as a whole, we would do the same to remove these outdated parking “requirements” here. New Haven had a good start when, in the recent downtown rezoning, they significantly reduced the parking requirement. 

These parking requirements drive up the cost of housing for everyone, particularly those who truly have lower income levels and who are just starting out as families (who, unlike the homeowners who are bickering here, are rarely involved in the public debate).

posted by: robn on March 8, 2013  3:52pm

FK,

Structured parking is a significant player in a pro-forma. It can cost upwards of $10,000 per space. Add 50% if you dig down below grade.

posted by: fk on March 8, 2013  4:53pm

Wooster sq’d,
If your math is correct, at $300,000/unit, the residential portion of this project would be worth about $80million when it’s completed. With the commercial portion, the value is probably over $100 million. $4 million would be 4% of the value of the project and that doesn’t seem like it should be a deal breaker.

I took a look at the proposal and it looks like a nice project.  I noticed that the proposal has 286 parking spaces, not 202 as it says in the article.  What are the developers proposing, 202 or 286?  If they have 286 spaces and they manage them properly so that the comercial spaces can use them during the day and the residential people can use them at night, they should be fine.

posted by: fk on March 8, 2013  5:18pm

Anonymous,

Why the hostility and what is your interest in this?  I hope you are not in any way associated with the development team because your kind of attitude can cause a project to fail terribly.  We are having an intelligent discussion here and nobody is claiming to know more than anybody else.  I have never met anybody that knows everything about everything, only people who think they do. 
And to develop without hearing all the arguments regarding parking would be silly.  Parking is an important issue.  Parking can make or break retail space.  In a perfect world we would have fewer cars.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world right now.  I agree that zoning requirements are not the best way to determine the correct number of parking spaces but that is why we are having this discussion.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 8, 2013  5:30pm

@PNH,

Of course parking is always an issue, what I’m saying is it’s a non issue in this case, and it’s constantly brought up as a red herring in cases where it’s been more than addressed. There is more than enough parking provided, you do not need one for one parking period because there is never a time when every single person in a neighborhood is home, but from any urban perspective. You especially don’t need 1 for 1 parking though in a city where 1/5 of people report getting to work walking, or on a bus or bicycle in a city that has a substantial student population that doesn’t even have cars to begin with

posted by: fk on March 8, 2013  5:40pm

I’m not sure why anybody would want more subsidized housing in New Haven.  Don’t we already have more than any of the surrounding towns? 
I really doubt that having subsidized housing as part of this project would improve the economics of it.  We have one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country.  These units are not going to sit empty unless the developer really messes something up.

posted by: anonymous on March 8, 2013  5:41pm

The cost of a parking space can be $30,000 to $80,000 if not more, once construction and opportunity costs are considered. The equivalent increase in rent needed to cover that capital cost is about $500/month.  Does FK and Holmes think that families renting apartments in New Haven wish to pay an extra $500 per month just to have a parking space?

The politicians and residents commenting here and at the public meetings who are concerned about “social justice,” “jobs,” and “diversity” are hypocrites.  What they are really arguing for is 1) a neighborhood that only extremely wealthy people can afford, if anyone at all and 2) their own temporary gain at the expense of literally everyone else (and because we all sink or swim together, eventually themselves, too). 

If they really want to help low-income people, they should change the parking minimums into parking maximums.

Perhaps it will take another 10 or 20 years of neighborhood brownfields, high unemployment, bankrupt cities, and skyrocketing numbers of working families in poverty paying virtually 100% of their income toward housing and transportation costs, before they change their minds and do what is right.

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 8, 2013  6:14pm

Hi Wooster Squared,

I assume for your estimate of 200 sq. ft. per parking spot, the dimensions are 20 ft by 10 ft. That sounds a little big for a parking spot, but let’s use that estimate for now.

If the developer does not provide parking spaces for those 68 cars, then they will need to find on-street parking. That means they will take up 1360 ft of on-street parking. That is more than a quarter mile.

Where are we going to find a quarter mile to park those cars?

In addition, the East Rock Magnet School will be opening soon. That is going to put even more pressure on parking in a very small area (the school and the Star Supply site are nearly adjacent).

I really think that the effects of parking need to be studied and a comprehensive plan proposed. There may be some creative solutions, but right now, it just seems extremely inconsiderate for the developer to ignore the very real effects of what his development will do to the community.

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 8, 2013  6:15pm

One suggestion—once the Mill River bridge is opened, could there be some arrangement with parking at the old CT Transit site?

posted by: fk on March 8, 2013  6:29pm

anonymous,

Once again you are very hostile and I hope that you are in no way associated with the development team!

Even if the parking spaces did cost $30,000/year (which is absurd) 30,000/268 is only a little over $100/unit.

I will tell you what my experience is and you can take it for what it is worth.  I have 20 rental units.  They are all rented virtually all of the time (less than 5% vacancy).  All of my tenants have at least one car. Once in a while I will get a tenant without a car coming from out of state or outside the US.  After a few months of struggling to get around, they usually get a car.  Many of my tenants use public transportation to get around on a daily basis but still have a car and need to park it somewhere.  Having more cars than parking spaces creates a problem.  It doesn’t create a problem for me because I have off street parking for my units so I really don’t care if there are more cars parked on the street, as long as the city can plow it.  What I don’t want to see is a development that doesn’t turn out as well as the developer thinks it will because of false assumptions.  I am not saying that they are wrong.  I’m just saying that from my experience, I don’t see 25% of the people without cars.

posted by: Stephen Harris on March 8, 2013  7:19pm

Once you figure in the access isles, parking spaces are something like 320-360 square feet per space.

The city has reduced the parking ratios in the BD zones, and has made other parking related changes which are good. What’s obvious (at least to me and my other like-minded partners on the NHI Commentariat) is the need to modernize the entire code which would remove speed bumps to the type of development and urban form we’ll need in the future to compete. (I know, same ole song and dance).

posted by: TheMadcap on March 9, 2013  11:33am

In regards to parking costs, this really isn’t controversial. Parking spaces really do cost that much money, usually anywhere between $10-50,000, depending on price of land, local building costs, and whether you’re building upwards or outwards.(and all of this will also be compounded by the fact parking spaces are unproductive land) There’s a reason developers in cities don’t like building 1 for 1 in terms of units/parking, and it’s not because of their goodwill towards wanting more walkable cities. They really are that expensive. The developer is providing almost almost 70% parking slots for units provided.(67% actually, but let’s assume there won’t ever be a time where every single unit is filled). Given its urban location in a neighborhood with a high student ratio, let’s say 10% of people won’t have a car. Everyone can learn to share the streets with them. I mean my god, you’d think we were trying to talk about parking on Chapel St downtown or something. This isn’t some cataclysmic traffic event.

posted by: streever on March 10, 2013  7:58am

@Madcap
Amen!

These folks who adore their cars—literally adore them because I know folks in their 20s and 70s who SOLELY get around by bikes in New Haven, yes folks, even in their 70s—are acting like this has any real impact on anyone, when the biggest impact it will have is if they get their way.

Every spot of parking not only costs x per year in direct costs, but costs us even more in lost potential.

You are taking good, usable land and pulling it off the tax rolls, using it for an undesirable and unsustainable use, which everyone has to pay for.

We have to achieve a denser city, and the only way we’ll do that is with a combination of denser developments and increased public transit—while the city did a poor job of explaining their street car program to the laymen (including me!), the current Board should have dug a little bit deeper before killing the opening line in what could have been a transformative project for everyone in the city.

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 10, 2013  2:24pm

Hi Streever,

You are just wrong—this does have a real impact. You can promote biking, but it is just impractical for people who have to work outside of their neighborhoods, carry kids, are handicapped, injured, et cetera. There are also safety issues—I was an avid biker (i have knee injuries now, so I can’t do it that much anymore), and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but New Havens roads are not the safest. Besides potholes, we have aggressive drivers (I’ve been hit by cars, thankfully, no serious injuries), and other less common incidents of violent crime (I was mugged when I got a flat tire, and I know of other bikers who have been assaulted—you are more vulnerable on a bike than in a car).

I agree with you that we should encourage biking—it is healthy, less polluting, and really fun. It will lessen the demand for parking, but it is not a solution to the parking problem this developer will create.

Madcap,

The price of the parking spots is marginal to the price of the overall development. We need to make sure this development is structured so that this community thrives.

What happens when we have more restaurants and businesses come in cater to this new development? Where are their patrons who don’t live in the neighborhood going to park?

There is already a lot of pressure on parking. There will be more with the school, and quite a bit more with this new development, if accommodations are not made. It may not be “some cataclysmic traffic event”, but it will affect the development of this community. We need to make sure we make the best choices now.

posted by: anonymous on March 10, 2013  7:49pm

“The price of the parking spots is marginal to the price of the overall development.”

That is flat out not true.  Misconceptions like this are why we have brownfields, poverty, empty lots, higher crime, and families struggling with rent to the point of losing 10 years of their life expectancy.

For all of our sake, I hope there are people in your neighborhood who will set the record straight.

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 11, 2013  3:02pm

Anonymous,

One of the other posters said that the value of the property will be over $100,000,000, and another said that the opportunity cost to the developer for each spot will be between $10,000-50,000 (or $680,000-3,400,000 overall).

Whether or not that is a huge hardship on the developer, I don’t fully know, because I don’t know the specifics of the project.

I do know that it will be a hardship on the community. The developer would be expropriating over a 1/4 mile of available parking spots from the neighboring community (or to keep this in monetary terms, $680,000-3,400,000 from the city).

If the project can be built according to current zoning, then it should be. If the developer really cannot do the project with the required amount of parking spots, then the developer needs to get out in front and push some good solutions and initiatives, and not just say people will bike or use zipcars.

I like biking. I think the previous poster (streever) has the right instincts, but it is too simple for the developer just to say people will bike. If the developer wants people to bike, then there needs to be good access to services within the neighborhood and adjacent ones. That means the developer needs to push for bike lanes on State street, and make sure the new Mill River bridge provides good access. The old Swimwear Outlet and Erector Square have many businesses and can provide local services. It’s possible that once the old CT Transit site is redeveloped, it could support more businesses too. The problem is that those services are not currently accessible to most people by bike because the roads are too unsafe.

If the developer can present a vision where biking becomes a viable means of transportation for most of the community, and push for those changes to the road to support it, then I would not have a problem supporting this new development. In fact, I would do whatever I could to enable it.

posted by: streever on March 11, 2013  4:09pm

@ Proud New Havener

The access to services for transit/biking/walking/car pooling/etc are not the developers responsibility.

I think we can all take a cue from our neighbors in Europe: They do not require developers to accomodate citizens in transportation.

It is governments job to provide a robust infrastructure for transit and transportation that best serves the majority of needs.

Government often offloads this job onto the free market in America, and we all pay a far greater cost long-term as a result.

I view it as a multi-pronged approach, and I am constantly befuddled that citizens refuse to stand up and demand better transportation from their governments.

Indeed, in New Haven, Unite and Local 34 have actually let the government off the hook on transportation—although some poor families spend a majority of their income on transportation, a MAJORITY!—Unite Here and Local 34 gave Winstanley a huge tax cut and let the city evade their obligations in the Route 34 project and the street car system.

That right there is a bigger part of the problem then one developer bringing density into Goatville.

Increased density == increased tax revenues == more money for government to invest in transit.

The streetcar would have taken many cars off the road if it made a 15 minute trip many times a day from East Rock to Route 34. Missing that opportunity is frankly criminal, and will hold New Haven back in various ways over the next 50 years.

I can sit down and show you charts if you’d like ;-)

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 11, 2013  5:10pm

Hi Streever,

If that’s the case, then I don’t see how we can let the developer go ahead with his plan without the required parking. If the transit infrastructure isn’t there and the developer isn’t willing to champion it, then it doesn’t make any sense to make an exception.

I can understand your logic up to a point. If there is higher density, there will be more demand for better transit and the tax revenue to pay for it—but we already have a problem with our transit. Compounding the problem will increase the hardship on the community. We may solve the problem a little sooner if it is more painful, but it will not be soon enough—especially if you are right that the unions, et cetera, are conspiring against it.

I don’t see any reason for us to invite any more problems into our community, if we can avoid them. We have zoning regulations for a reason. Unless the developer can offer up a compelling reason to go against them, we should keep them.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 11, 2013  5:53pm

Extra parking spaces are not a small building cost. If the developer built the extra 80 people are clamoring for, it could cost anywhere between $800,000 and $3.5 million going by just average cost. You don’t become a successful developer by just shrugging off a few million here and there. That is also land that will never make money for the developer, and is a terrible tax base for the city.

And what business are we talking about? This a residential neighborhood, all the business around there are quite small, they’re not attracting dozens of cars. No one has ignored parking. Ample parking has been provided. At most as I said in past post, maybe around 20% of occupants will have to find street parking. This isn’t a 5,000 person development, we’re talking an extra two dozen or so cars that people are hollering about. If we took these arguments to their logical end, the only end result is to also ban house parties in the neighborhood. I mean two, or even one large party, can easily draw in more cars than that, and it apparently it will create parking Armageddon.

posted by: Proud New Havener on March 12, 2013  12:33pm

Madcap,

This isn’t about banning house parties, it’s about not granting exceptions to zoning regulations without having a compelling reason to do so, and a solution for the problems it might cause. We’re not talking about an extra dozen cars, we’re talking about 68 cars.

posted by: streever on March 12, 2013  4:31pm

@Proud
Why does the continual failure by our leadership lead to the assumption that we need to unfairly and arbitrarily penalize private investment in New Haven?

Investment that will grow our tax rolls and provide more capital for our future leadership to actually invest in these services?

The problem is complicated: on one hand, you have a real need for better transit and infrastructure. On the other hand, you have a government that doesn’t see the need yet.

So, increasing the drag/weight/pressure on them by allowing private investment to continue with sensible restrictions is possibly the only way, seeing as how our newly elected Board is completely disinterested in transportation equity except when it comes to the convenience of parking a vehicle which is largely responsible for New Haven being Asthma capital USA. (New Haven is #1! In the nation! for asthma!)

I know a LOT of New Haveners who own 0 cars. It isn’t some fringe group, and includes a few individuals in their 70s. I know men and women in their 20s and 30s and families with “low car” diets. It is possible, but as long as we build to the sloppy assumption of 1 car/person, we’ll never see it become more common.

We don’t need to build so that everyone in the city can park a car easily, and we should never require private developers to pay for the automobile addictions of local residents.

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