City planners granted the brand new owners of a Union Street property a five-year extension to complete the previous owner’s plans for a long-delayed mixed-use development on the downtown side of Wooster Square.
During Wednesday night’s regular monthly meeting of the City Plan Commission on the second floor of City Hall, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the extension for the developers behind 44 Olive LP to complete construction of a 299-unit, market-rate apartment complex with over 6,000 square-feet of retail at 87 Union St. The developers now have until Feb. 18, 2025 to complete the project.
City planners learned on Wednesday night that 44 Olive LP, which is a joint venture of two New York City development firms, Epimoni and Adam America, finalized its $10 million purchase of the 50,000-plus square-foot Union Street property just one night earlier.
Epimoni President Darren Seid, Adam America Project Manager Peter Antoniou, and local lawyer Carolyn Kone, who is representing the new developers, told commissioners that they don’t expect they will need until 2025 to complete the project.
They said they hope to begin construction as early as the end of 2018 and could have the new complex open as early as the end of 2020.
Seid and Antoniou are taking over a property, and a development project, initially conceived by local builder Noel Petra and Westport developer David Adam Realty. Petra received site plan approval for the exact same 299-unit complex that 44 Olive LP is now working with from City Plan back in 2015. City planners gave Petra until Feb. 18, 2020 to complete the project.
But Petra’s plans, along with an adjacent development at the old Comcast building at 630 Chapel St., were stalled for years by lawsuits and appeals filed by rival developers PMC Property Group, a Philadelphia-based company that owns the “Smoothie” apartment buildings across the street at 78 Olive St.
Although a Superior Court judge has continually dismissed PMC’s lawsuits as attempts to stall the 630 Chapel and 87 Union proposed developments, Kone explained, 44 Olive LP’s property has been free from any open legal issues since 2016. (Spinnaker’s development is still stalled by one of PMC’s appeals.)
And since 44 Olive LP plans to work with the same proposal that Petra received city approval for in 2015, she sees no danger of new legal delays to come.
“We don’t have to get any more zoning approvals,” she said. “We’re going with the old permit that the prior owner got. So there’s really nothing to appeal.”
Nevertheless, she said, the new owners could not reasonably complete the project by the original city deadline of February 2020. In requesting a five-year extension, which is the statutory maximum, the developers will be able to prove to their financial backers that they have the necessary leeway to complete the project on schedule, she said.
“Are you pretty confident that you can make it by 2025?” City Plan Chair Ed Mattison asked.
“Yes,” Kone replied with a laugh. “We’ll all lose our jobs if we don’t.”
“I think it’s pretty plain to see to most of the public,” Westville Alder and City Plan Commissioner Adam Marchand said in support of granting the extension, “that there was a strategy from the complainants in these lawsuits to try to delay, delay, delay and cause the developers to pull up stakes and leave and for the project just to die.”
If City Plan didn’t grant the extension, he said, that strategy may have proved successful. Instead, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the request.
Eataly On Olive Street?
After the meeting, Seid and Antoniou provided a bit more detail on their plans for 87 Union St. Although they will be working with the site plan that Petra received approval for from the city in 2015, they said, they do plan on making a few changes to the layout of the retail space with the hope of creating a commercial connection between Wooster Street and Union Street.
The only current tenant at 87 Union St. is Torrco Plumbing Supply. Torrco’s lease expires at the end of November. The developers said they hope to demolish the existing building as soon as December, and begin construction on the 299-unit apartment building soon thereafter. The complex will contain a mix of studios, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, and three-bedroom units.
Seid said they will are keeping the same 6,000-plus square-feet of retail included in the original site plan. But whereas Petra’s design had that retail space spread out across three corners of the building, their new designs will concentrate all of the retail in one contiguous space along Olive Street.
The development is bordered by Olive Street to the east, Fair Street to the south, Union Street to the west, and the old Comcast building to the north.
“We believe our retail product will create a destination in the neighborhood,” Seid said. “Something where it would be a blended use of all [6,000] of the square footage.”
One model that he and Antoniou are considering for the Olive Street retail space is Manhattan’s Eataly, a multi-story Italian market that includes a mix of to-go counters, cafes, and sit-down restaurants.
“One large space that can have multiple vendors working alongside one another,” Antoniou said.
Seid and Antoniou said this is their first project working together, and their first project in New Haven. Seid said he hopes it won’t be their last.
“We have some offers in on other pieces” of property in New Haven, he said.