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Star Supply Plan Squashed

by Thomas MacMillan | Apr 10, 2013 8:26 am

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

Posted to: Housing, East Rock, Goatville

With two dozen neighbors standing silently by, the zoning board voted to deny a developer permission to rehab a vacant Goatville industrial building into hundreds of new apartments.

That was the scene Tuesday night in the basement of the Hall of Records, where the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) held its monthly meeting.

The BZA voted unanimously to deny an application from developer Ben Gross, who sought to renovate and add new construction to the long-abandoned Star Supply building at the corner of Lawrence and Mechanic streets in the Goatville section of East Rock. The plan called for a mixed-use, 268-apartment complex, rising in some places to a height of seven stories.

The plan required special zoning permission to allow a residential building in an industrial zone, as well as for fewer parking spaces and smaller side yards than otherwise required.

BZA members said Tuesday night that Gross had not demonstrated the necessary hardship to justify a development as tall and dense as he planned. The board denied the plan without prejudice, which means Gross can resubmit a plan for the site in the future.

Reached by phone after the vote, Gross said he and his development team need to regroup and figure out how to change the plans.

In voting against the plan, the BZA sided with concerned neighbors, who had expressed alarm at the proposed height of the building and the limited parking for the number of apartments. In the past weeks, the proposal has sparked lively public debate over just how much parking new developments in New Haven should have.

Tuesday night’s meeting was not a public hearing. Neighbors nonetheless made their message clear. When the Star Supply item came up on the agenda, two dozen people stood up to silently register their presence and their stake in the matter. The group included East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes, who has been organizing concerned neighbors, as well as Alderwomen Jackie James and Dolores Colon, and Pastor Scott Marks.

The group moved to the front of the room, where they had a brief testy exchange with BZA legal counsel when he told them they could not ask any questions.

BZA Chair Pat King began deliberations by acknowledging neighbors’ concerns about density. The developer had said such density was necessary to make the project work financially, but “economic feasibility is not in our purview,” King said.

Parking, however, is with the board’s purview, said King (pictured patching in absent BZA member Ben Trachten on speakerphone). She recalled that the developer had justified the ratio of 0.6 parking spaces per apartment as similar to what exists in Brooklyn. But East Rock is not Brooklyn, she said.

“I’m not sure we meet the requirement with regard to hardship,” said BZA member Regina Winters. She said she lived in the neighborhood for 16 years. “I find it hard to believe that the number of units added would not have a residual effect on neighbors,” she said. “I believe more needs to be done to bring the parking in line with the number of units.”

Other members agreed that the threshold of hardship had not been met. The board voted unanimously to deny the application.

“I’m happy,” Andrew Rae, who lives on Mechanic Street, said after the vote. “I felt that the project was way too big. I’m hoping they will come back with something better.”

“We actually do want this development to happen,” said Alderwoman Holmes. She said it was a shame the BZA hadn’t held the public hearing open as neighbors had requested last month, since Gross would have had more time to adjust the plan to address neighbor’s concerns.

“We’re both surprised and disappointed in the board’s decision,” said Gross. “We were hoping to get an approval through. We want the project to happen. We think it would be a real shame if the couldn’t make the project happen.”

Gross said it’s time to go back to the drawing board. “Our team is going to go back and regroup and see what’s possible. It’s too early to say what the next step will be. Our goal is to make something work on the site. … I can’t guarantee that we’re going to submit another application.”

“This isn’t the vote I expected,” said the Urban Design League’s Anstress Farwell, a longtime planning activist and BZA-watcher. “It’s really good to see that they were listening to neighbors.”

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posted by: shadesofzero on April 10, 2013  8:43am

I’m just glad these residents were able to protect this blight from being developed. I’d hate for this building to be anything but an enormous eyesore unless it can be an absolutely perfect development which will make everyone, everywhere, happy.

posted by: SaveOurCity on April 10, 2013  9:12am

Sad day for the city….are we really happy that this site will likely stay empty and contaminated rather than be developed?

posted by: EastRockIndependent on April 10, 2013  9:14am

There are of course NHI commenters who will try to tear individuals like Ald. Holmes down by declaring them anti-development. I hope we can steer clear of that today and I sincerely hope that the NHI will edit out much of the personal vitriol that can dominate these kinds of stories.

To the point, however: I think everyone who came out and testified last month that I saw was highly motivated to see the project happen and work with the developer to address concerns about parking and density - and to make sure that the building would be a place where ordinary working people could have an opportunity to live.  Had the BZA held the public hearing open, as all 24 neighbors requested, it would have allowed real time for a dialogue with the neighborhood and developer to generate good changes to the plan that neighbors could have come out to support.

Here’s hoping Ben Gross et al are not deterred by last night’s outcome - from what I saw last month and last night, there’s clearly an excited and motivated group of neighbors who are ready to get behind and support a project that addresses their concerns.

posted by: East Rock Holmes on April 10, 2013  9:18am

There is a lot of neighborhood support for this project, and the neighbors who testified at the first hearing were clear that they would like to see the site developed.  Our ask at the public hearing was that the BZA leave the hearing open so neighbors could continue conversation with the developer—we did not ask them to deny the application.  Our request to hold the hearing open was denied.  After the first BZA meeting, the developer had made verbal agreements to scale the building back from 7 stories to 5 and the number of units from 268 to 220.  If these considerations could have been added into the record, this would have made the project much more likely to pass since scale and density were the top concerns of the BZA.

I know some people will worry that the BZA’s denial means that the site won’t get developed, but I don’t interpret it that way.  I hope that the developer will submit another plan and that it will be one that more neighbors can support and that will meet the requirements for the variances requested.

posted by: Cristina Cruz-Uribe on April 10, 2013  9:25am

I am glad to see that our neighborhood’s concerns were heard by the BZA last night. However, I have been truly proud these past few weeks to see so many of my East Rock neighbors, and residents from around the city, standing up for a responsible project on the Star Supply site. This is a good moment to live in New Haven. I hope Ben Gross et al take the community’s position seriously as they rethink their proposal.

posted by: Wildwest on April 10, 2013  9:37am

I’m having a hard time believing this wasn’t pushed through without public input, especially in New Haven.

Its almost as if the developers didn’t grease the right wheels.

posted by: davecoon on April 10, 2013  9:39am

Great going.  Enjoy looking at the blight on Lower State for another generation.

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2013  9:48am

“I find it hard to believe that the number of units added would not have a residual effect on neighbors.”

In a city with an exceptionally severe housing crisis, is making sure that “neighbors” don’t have to walk around the block to park a few times per month the principal goal of our society? 

We need affordable housing and social justice leaders to come together and reign in the destruction that the BZA is causing to our city.  Step one would be throw out or reduce the “parking minimums,” as many other cities have done. 

Parking minimums are essentially an added tax on the poor, and are making it too costly to do anything in New Haven - which is the top reason why so many families here are struggling.  At a national level, these backwards policies represent the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

More than 2 out of every 3 households and families in East Rock have one or fewer cars. Is BZA trying to make sure that our city will eventually look like the Boston Post Road?  I’m guessing that Star Supply will now be turned over to Walgreen’s.

posted by: Henry on April 10, 2013  9:51am

It’s not clear to me that the BZA’s decision was influenced by the residents’ concerns—at least I’d hope that their judgment about appropriate building size and parking spaces is not based entirely on the comments of nearby neighbors. I think most of us very much want the development to happen; hopefully it’s not so much “squashed” as… delayed.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 10, 2013  9:52am

It is not the state, it is not the city, it is not yale, it is not a non profit. It is a for profit. And the size of the area does not allow for much profit…( not to mention the cost to rebuild and clean up). *sigh*

another one bites the dust. Sad.

posted by: DrFeelgood on April 10, 2013  10:03am

Great job New Haven.  Not very surprising they wouldn’t allow a developer to come in and spend money in the city.  Maybe East Rock residents want to knock the building down and make it a huge parking lot.
I am sure leaving that building completely empty will really fix up the area and keep the rent prices down…that’s what is important right?  Local restaurants and businesses must be thrilled that the building that could have had hundreds of potential customers is now going to be empty.

posted by: East Rock Mama on April 10, 2013  10:16am

I’ve owned a home, attended management team meetings and block parties, and raised my children in East Rock for 7 years now and I don’t recognize any of the faces in that picture as folks who live in and care about this neighborhood.  I do recognize some of the names in the article and I can only imagine the uproar if I were to show up in Colon’s neighborhood or Marks’ neighborhood to protest or support a development project and claim to be a member of their community. 

The consensus among my neighbors (the people who actually live here) has been that this is would be a great project—adding to the grand list and to the vitality along the State Street corridor.  I can only imagine the boon that this would be to businesses on State Street and to those of us who walk along State Street and would love to see the vibrancy and “eyes on the street” that would come with adding all of these residential units and street-level commercial spaces to the area.  I’m sure the residents on Mechanic Street and kids using the athletic fields in the area would also appreciate no longer being attacked by rats that occupy the area thanks to the state of disrepair on the Star Supply site.

I hope Holmes is right that the developer will come back and that my neighbors and I have a chance to support this application before the BZA (though I’m not sure why he would given that Holmes and her colleagues have just done their darndest to convince him that New Haven’s an impossible place to do business).

posted by: Wooster Squared on April 10, 2013  10:20am

To the East Rocks Denizens who opposed this plan:

Next time you find yourselves whining about the parochial selfishness of the suburbanites you all love to bash both here in the comments section, and elsewhere: you’ve done them proud with this one.

You’ve managed to block the redevelopment of a blighted industrial site, you’ve done your best to stop the construction of much-needed housing in New Haven, and you’ve made a move to close the door behind you and keep anyone else from moving to your neighborhood. All of course so that you wouldn’t lose the street parking space you never paid for in the first place.

The smiles of the residents of Guilford, Madison and North Haven are all shining upon you on this day. You’ve seen the light they saw long ago when they decided “me first” was a winning approach to town planning.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on April 10, 2013  10:30am

I am happy to see that the BZA had the sense to deny this.
Like it or not, parking is a big issue and approving this project would have been a slap in the face to current residents.

posted by: Stylo on April 10, 2013  10:32am

And so it continues, New Haven in a standstill, free from progress and improvement. Good job guys! Enjoy your blighted factory!

posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 10, 2013  10:40am

PS not that I don’t get the concerns of the people that live around this project. I just thought this one was they best one yet.

and Ben Gross I have several property’s in my area I would kill to have you develop!

posted by: stinkydumpster on April 10, 2013  10:44am

As a resident of East Rock, and one that does not have a driveway, I am glad the BZA denied the application.  The developer was planning to charge for parking and only supply 60% of the units with a spot. On-street parking is currently not zoned in East Rock and adding an additional 100+ cars to the mix would be a nightmare (especially during sweeping/plowing seasons).  The current plan had little regard for the negative effects it would have on the neighborhood.  Don’t worry Irish, this site will get developed, and hopefully by this developer.  Here’s to living in a world where affordable housing is plentiful, landlords are not absentee, and there are no tow trucks.

posted by: David Backeberg on April 10, 2013  10:47am

Congratulations, neighbors. You had a dilapidated, abandoned building before, and now you will continue to have a dead building for the foreseeable future. But at least the dead dilapidated building won’t be “too tall”.

Why is it the end of the world if you have to walk slightly farther to get to the place where you parked your personal car on a public street? On my street there was a foreclosed dead three family house. Investors bought it, rehabbed it, and now it’s gorgeous and fully occupied. Steet parking is less available on my street than it was before, but I’d rather have neighbors than worry that the place is going to get burned down by arsonists or left to rot and bring the whole neighborhood down.

posted by: Yaakov on April 10, 2013  11:04am

Ben Gross:

Come on down to Dwight. We’ll welcome your investment with open arms.

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2013  11:23am

Yaakov, Dwight? Is that your sarcasm showing? The anti-housing, pro-blight, pro-parking lot NIMBYs pictured here are in some cases the same people who are fighting to keep a housing developer from redeveloping the parking wasteland at Howe & Chapel in the Dwight neighborhood. 

The only thing that neighbors seem to have approved in Dwight recently is a new gas station situated within a few hundred feet of where hundreds of children live - something that would be clearly illegal in dozens of other countries.

posted by: Janetruth on April 10, 2013  11:25am

I wonder if those who think the development is best have tried to park over at the end of State St to eat in the good restaurants there already. I lived in the East Rock neighborhood for almost 40 years and now live in Fair Haven. PARKING is the key in most of NH. The city requires us ordinary people to have a parking place for every apartment so we have no back yard since we have a 3 apartment house near Grand Ave. Parking is REQUIRED, not suggested, to be legal. The developers knew they couldn’t find the parking but figured the city was ‘hungry’ enough to get this developed and therefore get permission.  The developers knew this, ignore the community [no public meeting] and arrogantly figured their making money scheme would just be passed because many Yale students live around there and wouldn’t care much. BRAVO for the COMMUNITY!!!!

posted by: davecoon on April 10, 2013  11:44am

I think the parking issue is a smokescreen.  The ‘community activists’ should know that 60% parking spaces for the residences should work fine.  At least half of the people in my office under 30 years of age don’t even own a car.  They share or use zip-cars.

posted by: TheWizard on April 10, 2013  11:50am

rumor is that Mr Gross will now expand his search for sites that will work better and allow his investors to get a return on the development.  Let’s hope he at least stays in New Haven.

Voters of Ward 9 should keep this fiasco in mind at the next election.  Do you really want an alder that supports a plan favoring the current landlords and keeping an eyesore in the neighborhood?

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on April 10, 2013  11:56am

The notion that concerned residents of the neighborhood shot down the project is absurd. I don’t know anyone who is opposed to the development project, but many who are clearly interested in having a dialogue with the developer to make it the best that it can be both for the developers and the neighborhood. As pointed out by East Rock Holmes above, a process that does not allow for public dialogue between the developer, the neighborhood, and the city is not a good process.

I know that the community and the developer took a lot of time to work out specific issues concerning the variances, and I hope that the efforts the community and developer have made to realize this project continue in a way that is beneficial to all.

posted by: Pedro Soto on April 10, 2013  11:58am

It is actions like this that are like a baloon burst, sucking away enthusiasm for this city sometimes.

Basically, the residents of this area are prepared to suffer more property tax and the ensuing rent increases because they don’t want to walk an extra block to park.

While I think that for homeowners living close to the property work can and should be done to mitigate the density away from their back yards, the parking thing is a crock. How many of these folks will even be living there when their property taxes increase so much that they are forced to move?

Developments like this are VITAL to the city. We need people moving into New Haven, and we need density, and we need it yesterday.

Your right to park in front of your house for free (or for whatever the pittance of parking permit cost is these days) basically ensure that all New Haven residents will pay more in property taxes, ESPECIALLY in East Rock.

posted by: stinkydumpster on April 10, 2013  12:15pm

If you pro-development folks were interested in seeing this pushed through you should have come down and testified on behalf of the developer.  That’s why it was open for public comment.  I missed you last month and again last night.  I decided to inconvenience myself and sit in and comment at the first meeting. This assures that, on future street sweeping days, I do not have to inconvenience myself further by driving around aimlessly looking for a vacant spot in order not to get towed.

posted by: Yaakov on April 10, 2013  12:54pm

anonymous:

Most of the folks I know who actually live here in the Dwight neighborhood really want that development at the corner of Dwight and Chapel. It will be a boon to the neighborhood.

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2013  1:13pm

Pedro is right.  What developer would want to come to a city that is essentially asking everyone to replicate the sprawl and blight of the Boston Post Road in Branford? 

If people wanted to live in boxes surrounded by asphalt parking lots, then they would choose to move to Branford (the most rapidly shrinking town in the State) instead of New Haven (the most rapidly growing town in the State).

Janetruth - if you want to see what a “money making scheme” looks like, there are a dozen or two newly-erected diesel stations, do-it-yourself-storage sites, DD drive thrus, and dollar stores in Branford that you can tour right now.  They look a lot like the Star Supply site.

posted by: Stephen Harris on April 10, 2013  1:18pm

Well. They didn’t get what they wanted. I wonder if they’ll come back for what they’ll settle for.

posted by: K Harrison on April 10, 2013  1:26pm

As far as the process goes, this seems like the right decision. They just did not convey hardship, which is required for a variance. If they wanted a different zone, they should have gone through that process instead of the BZA.

And as a resident of New Haven, I also think it was the right call. It’s true that as a city (state, country) we need to move away from reliance on cars, and I wouldn’t argue that one spot be required for every unit. But the numbers here are clearly out of whack—even 360 State has 0.67 spots per unit, and that’s in the most walkable part of New Haven, right downtown by the train station. I believe the proposal for the Star Supply site was for 0.6 spots per unit—doesn’t seem like enough for East Rock to me, especially at the projected cost of the units.

I’d like to see a project there. I’d like to see Ben Gross build a project there! We need more units, and everyone wants something better than an abandoned building But this one doesn’t seem to have been completely thought through; and I think the BZA was right for many reasons to vote to deny without prejudice. I’d also like to see a development with affordable housing in it, which this one didn’t consider, but that’s not in the BZA purview.

And all the folks who are angry about this vote and think it should have gone another way, I would honestly like to know: why wasn’t a single one of you there this week or, especially, last month? It was a public hearing meant for exactly this conversation, and I didn’t hear anything from the folks who are upset now.

posted by: KennethReveiz on April 10, 2013  1:28pm

I was there last evening and it was very obvious that the BZA had a number of issues with the proposal in and of itself. That, very clearly, is what stopped the development first and foremost.

With regards to the bashing and putting-words-into-other-people’s-mouths-ing that I’m seeing on this thread, none of the community members who were there wanted to “squash” the plan. On the contrary: people want it to move forward, but in a way that takes seriously the 110+ East Rock residents who signed a petition (presented at the first (and only!) public hearing by Alderwoman Holmes), that takes seriously the 20+ people who testified at the first (and only!) public hearing.

A win-win situation seems more than possible; all it takes is some dialogue and real listening. When it comes to building a structure that could fundamentally change the characteristic of a neighborhood, I think it’s reasonable to suppose that more time to work out details is better for all involved: for the BZA, for the developer, for the community, for the city, and I’m optimistic and excited for this to move forward.

posted by: jaymcp on April 10, 2013  1:43pm

I was very pleasantly surprised last night to see city government actually listening to residents’ concerns and taking them seriously. It seems clear that EVERYONE wants this site to be developed - from the developer to the commenters on this site to the East Rock residents led by Jessica Holmes. I truly hope the developer will continue working with the Goatville community to come up with a win-win plan (that’s why the 24 neighbors who testified to the BZA last month asked for the public hearing to stay open - so the neighborhood and developer would have more time to work together to make reasonable and essential adjustments to the plan).  I see no valid reason a win-win plan shouldn’t still be within reach.  Given the fact that this development will impact the neighborhood for decades to come, rushing a plan through without taking time to review and revise it to better suit the neighborhood is irresponsible.

NO ONE wants the developer to back out. In fact it seems that Alderwoman Holmes et al are inviting the developer into the neighborhood on a deeper level that will ensure a good working relationship AND good economic outcomes for years to come.

posted by: PH on April 10, 2013  1:47pm

I can’t believe that the BZA used parking as a a reason to stop the development.  Too tall?  Maybe.  But parking?  I can go down to the neighborhood around Star Supply and find five parking spots on the street in under a minute.  If I went a whole block away I’d find dozens more.  C’mon people, you have no right to park directly in front of your house and using that as a reason to stop absolutely needed development of a pitiful wasteland is short-sighted and foolish.  Who elects these BZA members…?

posted by: Doodles5 on April 10, 2013  2:34pm

As a resident of East Rock I drive by this blight everyday. As residents we want to see this site developed. We would like to see a few units made available to families. Our concerns are NOT just about parking. Hopefully the lines of communication will remain open between the developers and the residents and we will see the site developed.

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2013  3:06pm

K Harrison, Of the “0.67 spaces per unit” at 360 State, how many are actually occupied by residents of the building? It seems that the garage is mostly used by suburban commuters who work downtown, by people living in nearby buildings that have no parking at all, and by Elm City Market patrons.

If affordable housing is our shared priority, then the parking requirement should be eliminated entirely, or at least reduced to 0.5 per unit. For every two or three parking spaces that the BZA doesn’t force the developer to build here, he can probably afford to add another unit for low-income families. Parking is absurdly expensive to provide - that is why it is a “tax on the poor.”

We can probably reduce the requirement even farther, say from 0.5 to 0.2 per unit (i.e., the ideal situation would be 100 parking spaces for a 500-unit development with 100 low-income housing units), given that there are so many excess parking spaces on surrounding streets at all times of day and night.

The BZA is way out of line, and ensures that our neighborhoods can continue to be blighted for generations to come.  This has a ripple effect on the entire city and beyond, due to the dire shortage of housing.

posted by: S Brown on April 10, 2013  3:50pm

You can kiss this developer goodbye.

Why would he come back with another proposal when it’s clear that the BZA doesn’t act with anything resembling objectivity? That they decide cases based on their own personal opinions of the proposed developments rather than based on the facts at hand and within their legal boundaries.

My favorite part was the chair of the BZA saying that “Economic feasibility is not in our purview.” That’s a lie and she knows it. Certainly economic viability of a project factors into the finding of a hardship. Unless of course the city views an abandoned building as the highest and best use of this property.

Well no matter. At least the worsening housing shortage in the precious East Rock neighborhood ought to help my property values over in Fair Haven.

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2013  4:03pm

“At least the worsening housing shortage in the precious East Rock neighborhood ought to help my property values over in Fair Haven.”

Don’t count on that. Our ships all rise and fall together. The lack of housing in places where people want to live is a serious drag on the economy of the entire state.  The BZA’s move to zone the jobs, housing, and poor people out of East Rock means that all of our neighborhoods are much worse off in the long-run.

posted by: RR on April 10, 2013  4:29pm

Would it be possible to address the parking issue by requiring parking permits on the nearby residential streets (available only to neighbors who do not live at the complex) and allowing the developer to put as much or little parking as they think they need in the complex? That could alleviate neighbors’ concerns about parking (if it becomes a problem, offenders could be ticketed and/or towed) and would only “penalize” the developer if they are wrong about the market demand for parking at their development. I’m not familiar with laws about parking permits, and I know it doesn’t address the other design/density issues, but just a thought.

posted by: Eddie on April 10, 2013  4:32pm

Development over a barrel is inimical to democracy, breeds antagonism, and is destructive of communities.  Is it the case that neighbors must accept development with absolutely no input, or forfeit development?  The neighbors were entirely reasonable for asking that their concerns be addressed in the Star Supply plans.  I’m sure with a meaningful deliberative process the neighbors can have many of their concerns addressed while keeping the project economically feasible.  I hope that this process can now take place.

posted by: Gabe_Winant on April 10, 2013  5:01pm

There’s an odd notion in play here that literally any proposal should’ve compelled the BZA to approve it straight away, by weight of “the facts.” Folks, this is democracy: a desire for an affordable neighborhood and sustainable development, expressed through elected officials and community organization. Ben Gross wasn’t run out of town on a rail; the community let him know what its standards were to exempt its own rules so he could build there. Those standards aren’t insane, and there’s no reason Gross can’t now reapply if he’s willing to meet them.

I live around the corner, and agree with KHarrison: while we all want to move away from a car-centric society, many of us still have, and use, cars. It’s crazy to try to just wish that away while developing. Also, this gives Gross a chance to propose some affordable housing, which I think is the single most important thing here. We could let East Rock could finish its gentrification process and see real estate prices match Manhattan, or we could actually try to exercise some control over the market and keep the neighborhood diverse and affordable. Again, if we’re going to have a working democracy, that can’t mean “letting investors do whatever they want.”

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 10, 2013  5:06pm

Comparing parking ratios at 360 State to this site is useless unless we understand how it is used. Is 360 State’s garage packed to the brim with cars 24/7, does use fluctuate throughout the day, is it too big? Does Goatville need as many parking spaces as a large commercial development located downtown, where commuters, shoppers and residents all park, or will parking for Goatville only need to accommodate some residents and occasional visitors to State Street?
How many cars does the average household in Goatville own? What is the median income and housing price? Will the higher than average unit prices at Star Supply attract wealthier people who all have cars, or will Goatville’s convenient location offset this, as will lower-income students who tend to share apartments and not own cars?

Personally, I worry about former neighborhood commercial and civic centers being converted to residential use (Lehman Bros., Lovell School, and Star Supply) especially when places like Goatville have a pretty high population density already. I’d like to see our housing shortage addressed by allowing and encouraging - through zoning reform and incentives - the construction of granny flats, garage apartments, and basement rental units in New Haven’s lower density residential areas like Beaver Hills, Westville, Prospect Hill, and East Shore. I think that each neighborhood should essentially have the same proportion of residential to commercial and civic space, with the only major difference being intensity/character. If housing can be supplied in this way to meet demand, then that might encourage the redevelopment of Star Supply and other shuttered economic centers in New Haven’s neighborhoods into commercial space similar to Goatville’s Marlin Building or Fair Haven’s Erector Square. Once the existing building stock in the entire city is at the level of efficiency of Goatville, then I wouldn’t be surprised if 7 story residential buildings outside of the downtown become necessary.

posted by: lawrence st on April 10, 2013  5:24pm

I was there, and I was pleased with the results. I want Star Supply developed, and I think that the current group could do an amazing job. I want them here. What I don’t want is the plan as submitted. Parking and housing density need to be addressed, and I hope that they will come back with a plan that takes those needs into account.

I have lived on Lawrence St for 5 years, and I don’t plan on moving. A lot of the people at this meeting and the last were my neighbors. Those who say they don’t represent East Rock clearly aren’t spending much time in Goatville.

Also, I want to make clear that we were not upset about “not being able to ask question.” We simply wanted to understand what was going on—someone was being called on a cell phone so he could vote, and we wanted to know what was occurring.

posted by: factsifter on April 10, 2013  5:28pm

With the many residential parking zones already established in New Haven, couldn’t someone have come up with a residential parking zone that would have protected the current residents parking concerns on the streets nearby.  This seems like such a wonderful plus for the City.  Many new tax dollars, that could have (possibly) helped stabilized the property tax structure for all of New Haven will not be realized due to the concerns of the nearby residents.  Every neighborhood has different issues, sewage plants, airports, lack of parking, highway noise etc.  but there has to be a way that the such development that benefits all of New Haven can be recognized while residential concerns are adequately addressed to a responsible degree.

posted by: TheWizard on April 10, 2013  5:53pm

S Brown - wise move RE your property.  I’m sure part of the noise on State St was from landlords who want to keep rental supply low and thus rental cost high.  Another example of short sighted thinking by the city hurting the poor.

posted by: Nashstreeter on April 10, 2013  6:06pm

Anybody who calls Goatville the “precious East Rock neighborhood” has probably never been to Goatville. Our area used to be red-lined (literally!) by Yale Housing to warn students and staff away from renting here. The Yalies came anyway, because the rents were reasonable.
Those of us who have lived here for a while have had to put up with a greedy owner of the Star Supply property who refused to even clean up the weeds and broken sidewalks and trash in and around the place. He was sitting on it hoping to make a killing if someone wanted to develop it. Apparently he (or his son) has knocked off a million from the sale price after 20 years of waiting for their pot o’ gold. IMO he’s still asking too much for what is now known to be something like a “brownfields” property.
I can understand why a developer would want to maximize the income generated by their project. They (and their investors) are, on some level, most interested in the profit. This latest plan seemed to have a lot of promise, especially keeping and restoring the nice brick facade. But then they had a 7-story apartment building behind it, effectively forming a barrier between their development enclave and the neighborhood, public park and skating rink 8’ away. Kind of a middle finger to the surroundings.

After several meetings with people in the neighborhood, Ben Gross made vague promises to reduce the density, not charge extra for their parking garage and lower the apt. building to 5 stories. But nothing in writing. What they submitted to the BZA yesterday was exactly the same as what they had submitted the first time. No changes. All the things the BZA didn’t like about the project when it was first presented remained. Don’t blame the neighbors for that.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on April 10, 2013  6:15pm

It’s pretty funny that so many people who criticize the behind-closed-doors deal-making of the Destefano administration and developers/contractors are now critical of residents & community members demanding more public accountability here. Why? Because certain commenters on the NHI think this is a good development? Should that somehow trump a publicly accountable process?

According to my understanding, the developer made the choice to go the closed-door BZA variance route that bypasses the public accountability of the BoA. That appears to have ended up being a miscalculation, as community members were actively organizing and expressing their concerns with the initial development proposal, and it is the input of residents and community members (who all want this development to happen!) that would have actually made the proposal more likely to pass the BZA. People are absolutely doing the right thing articulating & presenting their concerns, and the notion that they ought to zip it & fall in line is pretty messed up.

posted by: Nashstreeter on April 10, 2013  7:05pm

Here’s something I don’t get: why do so many posters here, and even members of the City Plan Commission, seem to feel like we should be grateful for anything that any developer wants to do?  Especially, apparently, if it has to do with housing and parking? Just what is the objection to neighborhood people having an input into plans that might totally transform the character of their surroundings? It’s as if we as a city should just abdicate to profiteers our right to determine what kind of city we want.
It’s not like we don’t have options to control things. Eminent domain, for instance. Why couldn’t the city seize the Star Supply property for use as an extension of Bowen Field? Why can’t it be declared a brownfields or superfund site because of the pollution underneath—especially considering its proximity to the Mill River nearby and down hill?
Ultimately, it’s the neighborhoods that give New Haven its character, not the city-wide housing/vacancy rate parking ratio numbers. These data don’t take into account the specifics of place. The neighbors need to have a say; they want YIMBY as well as NIMBY.

posted by: bcrosby on April 10, 2013  8:54pm

This seems like the right decision to me.  It’s clear that everyone wants this development to happen.  I’m glad that the developer and the community will have time to sit down together in good faith and figure out a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

posted by: Esbey on April 10, 2013  10:07pm

New Haven taxpayers, throughout the city, will quite literally pay for this decision. We get an empty abandoned property instead of a couple hundred tax-paying apartments. 

The claim that “I want a development, but a different one” is powerful if you have the money to develop it yourself.  Opposition to building height is opposition to one of the few ways to make urban development profitable.  Once you dig a foundation and build a few floors, additional floors are relatively cheap.  Take away that option and many urban sites become unprofitable for development.

posted by: Stylo on April 10, 2013  11:04pm

Saying that we all want this developed, and that’s OK to oppose developers until everyone get what they want is a dangerous proposition. And it’s myopic thinking.

Developers see articles like this, they see how difficult it is to build in New Haven - and they move onto other cities. Why would they bother when it’s so difficult, if not impossible to get something built and turn a profit?

posted by: Jim Berger on April 11, 2013  12:17am

Seems to me this is a good instance of a community voicing its concerns about the details of a development project—and of government being responsive to those concerns.  And, from what I gather, this will not kill the project, but may well improve it.  So, a small victory for genuine democracy; and for New Haven Rising, which played an important role.  If we regain democracy in this country, it will happen in small ways, locally, with steps forward and a few backward.  Let’s see what more can be done.

posted by: Stephen Harris on April 11, 2013  8:04am

Economics are not a consideration according to the law.

posted by: Bob Frew on April 11, 2013  11:31am

Dear Residents, This decision is a disaster. we used to solve our problems before we went to the zoning board. As a landlord we have had a 40% increase in taxes two years ago and this year we expect another 11% increase. As tenants most of you have not felt the impact of the increase.  The parking can be solved, consider that there is 50 street spaces around this site and there is the ice rink parking that could be shared and the city could also help by using part of Blake field. There are solutions, if you want to be part of this community find the solutions don’t just object. This project is very important to State Street and the city. Regards,  Bob Frew
PS this site has a high cost of remediation and site acquisition, if Ben cannot see a profit he will walk, too bad it is a good design and we have a serious developer.

posted by: anonymous on April 11, 2013  12:42pm

Bob Frew you are correct, but those issues are obvious. To make progress, we may need to vote our inept politicians out of office, and make sure that everyone knows as Mr. Berger points out that “New Haven Rising” (a CCNE/Union-controlled lobbying organization, ironically now opposed to construction and affordable housing, not just good transportation) is partially behind this.

posted by: yayaya on April 11, 2013  2:33pm

As a homeowner in the neighborhood, I have to disagree that we need more affordable housing in the Mechanic, lower Lawrence, Nash, Eagle area. From what I see every day, there is plenty of housing occupied by subsidized tenants in this area, including many families put into rental units by IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), and also many units occupied by students from local colleges (not Yale, not wealthy students). There is a lot of turnover of units and landlords don’t feel responsible for keeping their properties clean. I am in favor of more expensive rental units in this area. Ms Holmes, before you assume that your constituents want more affordable housing in the area, try asking us. How about some affordable housing above Orange Street for a change?

posted by: DingDong on April 11, 2013  3:13pm

What do our mayoral candidates think about this decision?

posted by: streever on April 11, 2013  4:16pm

I am disappointed that a small group of narrow-minded people, led by a group of Yalies who think they know best and are beyond patronizing in their approach, managed to shoot this down, but I am not surprised.

How long is this city going to let a bunch of Yalies dictate how we grow? How long will we let Yalies dictate that East Rock be their own private walled garden?

This is a shame.

Those of us who can’t afford to own cars, who can’t afford to rent 1500 a month apartments, who would have loved an increase in density (THE ONLY REASON APARTMENTS COST SO MUCH IS BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TO MEET DEMAND), are also the ones who never see our hopes buoyed by this city.

Yalies get their walled gardens. The rest of us get to live under inattentive landlords who gouge us and rip us off because they have a steady stream of out-of-towners who are closer to the fiscal pinnacle than we are.

I hope that Gross doesn’t exercise his right to develop the zone as a truck depot and bring in 16 wheelers every day, and I hope that Holmes and her sycophants can get out of their own way long enough to work toward a better zone for part of her neighborhood than INDUSTRIAL.

posted by: Esbey on April 11, 2013  5:19pm

Streever, I am very much on your side on this issue, but I hardly think it is a case of Yalies vs. non-Yalies.  Whatever group is working here to stifle development, mandate free parking and increase taxes is very much working against the interests of the broad Yale community. 

The classic book “The High Cost of Free Parking” is by a Yale grad, by the way.  The e-book “The Rent is Too Damn High,” which shows how development restrictions drive up rents, is unfortunately by a graduate of the school up North.

Yale benefits from lower taxes, from lower rents (following on increased supply) and from the increased urban amenities that come with increased density.  All these features attract talent to Yale. Yale affiliates could easily bike from the Star site to campus, or walk to the shuttle.  They can pay for parking if they need it, just like they pay for food and clothes. 

The solution is more sensible zoning laws that aren’t subject to manipulation by very small (but angry) groups who insist on decisions that hurt both the city and Yale.  Getting rid of parking minimums and relaxing height restrictions would be a start.  Without that, developers will learn to stay away from New Haven.

posted by: Steve Harris on April 12, 2013  6:28am

I don’t think we have to worry about an industrial use because the site isn’t well suited for it: Bad access. Also, tall buildings don’t suit the neighborhood and are not necessary anyway because four story buildings can provide all the density needed. I think a mix of live-work, small craft and apartments would be a good use for this site.

posted by: anonymous on April 12, 2013  8:37am

SHH, the site was recently used for industry. Has any legitimate developer proposed “small craft beer live work” here? You might think that a museum about labor organizing history is the best use here. It doesn’t mean that one can or will get built. We are in a housing and development crisis and “New Haven Rising” is actively trying to maintain the site as a blighted lot.

posted by: Esbey on April 12, 2013  10:58am

New Haven needs a “Fantasy Development League,” just like the “Fantasy Football League.”  Folks could propose pretend development ideas and see if they can get virtually built with virtual profits. 

In the real world, there is no private developer or state agency that is proposing to build a 4-story mix of “live-work, small craft and apartments.”  If there was, that would be very interesting to debate that development proposal against other proposals. 

The two real-world development proposals are [1] the proposal that was defeated and [2] abandoned industrial site.  Those are the two proposals that need to be debated.

To those folks who say there is a third proposal: it is now *your* job to make that better proposal happen.

posted by: stinkydumpster on April 12, 2013  11:18am

New Haven Rising! Darn those pesky organizers! It’s like they want to have a democracy or something.  What gives?  Don’t they realize the developer could have helped in the complete gentrification of East Rock?  I guess I will have to just stare at an abandoned industrial site until this or another developer comes up with a more inclusive, sustainable plan.  My poor eyes.

posted by: Jim Berger on April 12, 2013  11:33am

Esbey is exactly right.  We do need a way to put our fantasies—or let’s say, our imaginations—to work in thinking about how we want our city to function as a place where all of us can live and prosper.  “Fantasy” is how we conceive of alternatives to a status quo that fails us.  Then, we adjust the fantasy, try to change the reality as well as we can, and come up with something better.  I question the “realism” of all my “realist” correspondents here.  It’s a reality in chains.  Undrape yourselves, as, I think, Walt Whitman advised.  Human fantasy, i.e. imagination, has a serious adaptive function.  Let’s use it seriously.  And conversation, and cooperation.

posted by: Steve Harris on April 12, 2013  12:31pm

There seems to be two SHH posters. My post was the dismissive “fantasy” comment, not the beer comment.

I’ll try to get that fixed.

posted by: Steve Harris on April 12, 2013  12:44pm

In the real world we don’t have any proposal or current use. So why not speculate about something that might make sense considering the new realities we are facing in energy supply. We need to think long term and not assume the world will always be the it is now. It won’t.

posted by: East Rock Mama on April 12, 2013  4:34pm

All this talk of democracy . . . voters, citizens, residents get to vote (indirectly, typically) on how publicly owned land is used.  If land is privately owned, as this land is, its use isn’t determined by a vote.  This isn’s a North Haven subdivision—if I want to put a damn birdbath in my backyard, I can put a damn birdbath in my backyard.  It’s private property and its use is determined, within certain legal constrants, by its owners.  There’s no good reason why the current-day occupants of East Rock should be able to close the doors behind them and say, “We live here now but we don’t want anyone else to live here unless they meet our predetermined view of who should live here” whether that predetermined view is families or middle class people people of a certain race.  In other words, as has been said by others, there’s no good reason for the views of the current residents of East Rock to take priority over those of the future residents of East Rock.  This is short-sighted territorialism.  It’s inconsistent with the advocates’ stated goal of increasing affordable housing and preserving the neighborhood.  The advocates’ emphasis on parking is completely counter to all current thinking on what makes neighbohoods like East Rock good places to live and their focus on density is entirely inconsistent with their stated goal of neighborhood affordability.  It’s too bad that the majority viewpoint wasn’t presented at the public hearings. That’s an issue of a poor showing by whoever should have been organizing support for the project (the developer and its attorney). But let’s not fool ourselves—these processes always favor those who have the time, energy, incentive and, yes, money to show up and that doesn’t make them democratic in the slightest.

posted by: Nashstreeter on April 12, 2013  5:41pm

ER Momma
these processes always favor those who have the time, energy, incentive and, yes, money to show up and that doesn’t make them democratic in the slightest.

Except for the money part, what you said also applies to voting. And the last time I went to the BZA, there was no charge for admission.

posted by: East Rock Mama on April 13, 2013  5:35pm

Nashstreet:

Not quite.  In CT, you get a 14 hour window, from 6 am to 8 pm, to vote.  When things work the way they’re supposed to work, you take your kids with you, you wait in line for no more than a few minutes, pull the lever (yes, I reminisce), and leave.  Even in those circumstances, I think you and I can agree that we should strive as a society to make it even easier to vote, embracing, among other things, early voting reforms such as those the NHI reported in a recent story. 

Municipal land use hearings are in the evenings.  There could be 1 or 5 or 10 or 15 items on the agenda and, to testify, you have to be able to show up and stay until your item is called.  I have been to land use hearings that go til 1 or 2 in the morning and interested parties have to wait for hours to be able to testify. 

On the night when this item was scheduled, I had to work late and my husband was home with the kids.  I was at work so I couldn’t testify and, had my husband wanted to testify, we would have had to pay for a babysitter.  We’ve never had a work conflict or a child care issue when it comes to voting.  The BZA doesn’t charge a fee but often times, for a project proponent or opponent to be taken seriously, you need to put forward a credible front that you will sue if the outcome isn’t in your favor and, to do that, you have to engage an attorney.  Attorneys, as I understand it, do charge a fee, as do babysitters.

Clever comment, I suppose, but not at all reflective of reality (not a surprise given your stance on this issue generally).

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