Neighbor Concerns Delay Riverfront Project’s Zoning Quest

PATRIQUIN ARCHITECTSThe builder of a proposed new mini-village on the banks of the Quinnipiac River agreed to delay asking for zoning help from the city until neighbors get more of a chance to vet the plans.

The developer, the NHR Group, has been meeting for months with neighbors for months about a plan to build a mixed-use project to transform the east-side gateway to New Haven at the Grand Avenue Bridge, a project called New Heights. The project intends to provide housing to middle-class workers — like firefighters, teachers and police officers.

Isis Davis-Marks PhotoThen neighbors learn that NHR planned to appear before the city’s zoning board to request the creation of a Planned Development Unit (PDU) at the property to allow the developer to eliminate the basement, which would have taken up roughly 14,000 square feet in the development, because it would be in the floodplain.

Noel Petra, one of the NHR Group partners, said there is no plan to build a taller building. In fact, builders plan to reduce the density of the development from 67 units to 62. The reduction of units was made to further reduce the number of parking spaces. He said the unit and hallway sizes would stay the same.

“Nothing changes except the basement goes away,” he said.

At a community management team meeting held Tuesday night at Ross Woodward School neighbors expressed concerns that the PDU would be used to build a taller development and block views of the river. NHR agreed to hold off on the PDU request pending further neighborhood discussions.

“The biggest issue is proper recognition of the river,” Fereshteh Beckhrad said at the meeting. “Developers should be concerned with community events, and should fully utilize the waterfront. There over 210 feet will be used for this development, and we can do a lot of things in order to make people more involved with the community.”

“The neighborhood needs to be revitalized, but we have to push for quality development,” neighbor Patricia Kane said. “Middle-class families are not going to live in smaller studio or one bedroom apartments and pay $1,500 a month in rent for them. We want development to happen in the area, but we only want quality development.”

Petra said he was surprised by the sudden opposition. He sought to reassure neighbors and have them on board before making any trips to BZA, he said. NHR had planned to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals this month; Petra agreed to postpone the meeting until everyone has adequate information.

He also said he heard concerns from neighbors that PDU would give them blanket approvals, and he said that’s not the case. If the BZA grants the development request to designate it as a PDU, it will still have to go to the Historic District Commission and the City Plan Commission for site plan review.

Some neighbors also expressed dismay about the maintenance of the property, and whether or not adequate retail stores would be placed in and around the development.

“I can’t stand developers who build and the property starts going downhill when changes start happening in the neighborhood. We’ve seen property values go down significantly in the past few years, and developers don’t always retain their properties,” Donald Spencer, another resident, said.

Recently, the property value of many homes in Fair Haven Heights has declined for a variety of reasons. Some residents think that this is related to the deterioration in the Fair Haven Heights community and around the Grand Avenue Bridge.

“There is still more vacant land for more retail,” Kane said. “ We need to see more things like coffee shops, bakeries and sandwich shops in order to make Fair Haven Heights the vibrant community it once was. We also need to emphasize the beauty of the river — there is a nature reserve, but it isn’t very prominent. Developers should be pushing for this kind of community engagement.”

Petra’s project is aimed toward working middle-class renters like firefighters, cops and schoolteachers.

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posted by: Egocrata on June 8, 2018  8:49am

“The community is going downhill! We need more investment!” and “This developer is not willing to bow to our will and plans to build something in the community! Burn him!” are pretty contradictory statements. NIMBYs are a major roadblock to improve the city right now, and our insanely convoluted zoning and planning process does not help at all.

posted by: brownetowne on June 8, 2018  9:27am

This is insanity and totally out of touch with reality.  Why does Ms. Kane feel she is able to pass judgement on what kind of space people wish to rent?  Why should she be speaking out about the viability of project based on her personal opinion? 

Completely unwarranted prejudice against smaller living spaces is holding back the kind of development that’s needed in New Haven.  And the folks arguing against them are always 50+ year old people who live in a single family home.  Not everyone wants that.  Smaller is often better: less to heat and cool, less to furnish, less space for storing junk, less to clean and maintain.  This sounds like a pretty good price in a brand new building with possible views of the water and who knows what amenities or utilities are included as well.

“The neighborhood needs to be revitalized, but we have to push for quality development,” neighbor Patricia Kane said. “Middle-class families are not going to live in smaller studio or one bedroom apartments and pay $1,500 a month in rent for them. We want development to happen in the area, but we only want quality development.”

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on June 8, 2018  9:40am

Mmmm, exactly what I am TALKING ABOUT. Middle income. But, it is written into code?

I know a LOT of people who are paying MORE than $1500 for a one bedroom due to the nature of the unit.

If they go high end inside and out WITH water views? I can easily see this filling quicker than anything in East Rock.

This area has, truly, has the most potential within the city due to those sunsets over the river! Wow. So stunning.

I would do brunch on the patio there!  Maybe get a Coffee Ped / Nicas 2.0 out there?

I think we should truly get New Haven on this! Maybe a Bike share station along FRONT?!

Kayak rentals would also be very nice!

The only worry I have is that the development will be vinyl sided and cheap in the finale. What materials are you using to fit into the existing historic wood look?

posted by: Fairhavener on June 8, 2018  10:17am

This is a great project by NHR and should get built ASAP.

posted by: AMDC on June 8, 2018  10:20am

@EGOCRATA & BROWNSTONE—-  So sorry that there are 50+  plus and middle class people who want to live in something that is like a home,  rather than the playpen units you envision.  And since the 50+ middle class still pays most of the taxes around here,  you are going to have to consider. Even NIMY’s have a say .

posted by: Ryn111 on June 8, 2018  10:49am

Agreed - What a misinformed group. How many vacant lots and storefronts open river front or poorly run buildings are within 1/2 mile of this site ?! Do not create more road blocks to someone who wants to invest private development.

posted by: JCFremont on June 8, 2018  10:50am

Apartments like this could be a space for a single person, or roommates or married couple without kids, maybe for some 50+ people who are downsizing. The hope would be that if the family grows than they could buy a house, maybe even in New Haven. What is needed is that the people living in those apartments can afford to pay the rent and abide by the rules of the lease. If the city can not attract that type of renter than we will continue to fail, when taxpayers are paying some or all of the rent or the landlord has to raise rent to pay the tax bill all projects fail.

posted by: Esbey on June 8, 2018  12:11pm

The NIMBYs seem to believe that the zoning process exists so that they can design someone else’s building on someone else’s land, without putting up any money and without the slightest concern as to the financial feasibility of their proposals. 

It’s all “I want a magic pony and you won’t give me a magic pony because you hate magic ponies. What kind of awful people, like you monsters, hate both ponies and magic!”

posted by: 1644 on June 8, 2018  12:12pm

If coffee shops and retail are desired, the neighborhood needs lots of folks with disposable income living nearby to support the shops.  Lessening the density of this development just makes it harder to attract retail.
  As for middle class families, no, they aren’t going to live in a small apartment.  New Haven County is not so dense that most families with choices would choose to live in an urban environment. Families will want a detached house with a yard, and good schools.  Within New Haven, that means Westville, Prospect Hill/Livingston St., and the East Shore. OUside of the city, Orange, Milford, North Haven, Branford, North Branford, and Clinton also have lots of good houses under $400K, with good schools.

posted by: Patricia Kane on June 8, 2018  5:46pm

It’s amazing to read the uninformed comments of people who neither live in Fair Haven Heights, have not reviewed the plan for a PDU (Planned Development Unit) or attended any community meeting to review and discuss the plan.
  Fortunately ignorance of the issues never slows some people down.
  There are significant problems with the proposed design of this very key development on the Dragon Bridge and East Grand Avenue.
    One of the most glaring is the proposal for 35 efficiency (aka SRO) units of about 523 sq. ft.
    Small units like this were deemed inappropriate for the Strong School on the other side of the river and they are likewise inappropriate for the Fair Haven Heights side. There is more turn over in the rental of smaller units and more vacancy time.  The one elevator shown in the plan will likely be unable to handle the in and out of so many tenants. More importantly, people will not be able to expand should they add to their family. This being a family oriented neighborhood, that is important.
    Historically the bridge has been the heart of the 2 neighborhoods that share a river and a bridge and good retail has anchored both ends. The people want more than a coffee shop. We know because we will be the customers. We are a treasure trove of information that the developer has not spoken to.
  This new plan was not discussed with the community. We went to City Hall and paid to have copies made.
    We have invested our time and had the benefit of significant expertise to review the proposal.
    A PDU is supposed to be extraordinary and of such a quality of design as to benefit and revitalize the neighborhood.
    The 6 people who have prepared detailed concerns to review with the developer and with the ZBA will try to help the developer to achieve that high goal.
    We know the city is starved for taxes because of the principality of Yale, YNHH and Tweed leaching off the public, but the process goes on.

posted by: Esbey on June 8, 2018  7:33pm

There is nothing wrong with a 500 square foot apartment!  That’s a great size for a single person. It’s fine for a romantic couple as well.  Why would we use zoning to *force* single people into an apartment that is appropriately sized for a family? What’s next, you will force people to wear oversized clothing?  Only drive SUVs?  I mean imagine: if we let people buy small cars then what will they do when they have a family?  If we don’t make them buy oversized clothes what will they do when they get fat??  I mean *think about it*. 

Busybodies want to spend their time forcing people to live in oversized apartments, they want to hold up and prolong the development process,  greatly raising the cost of housing, and then they are very folks who will say: “apartments are so expensive, I don’t know why!” 

In large part, *you* are why.

posted by: robn on June 9, 2018  11:19am

I’d like to correct Patricia Kane’s terribly incorrect statement characterizing 500sf apartments as SROs. They are NOT the same thing.

APARTMENT
A typical 500sf apartment (aka “studio”) is a single living/dining/sleeping/room with a kitchenette and an attached private toilet/bathroom.

SRO
An SRO (single room occupancy) is just a living/sleeping room that’s often signifcantly smaller than 500sf room and which has separate shared kitchen/dining and separate shared toilet/bathroom. Those shared things are shared with all other residents and therefore, there is significantly less privacy. This is classically referred to as a “boarding house.”

posted by: robn on June 9, 2018  11:21am

PS

@500sf apartments in the Corsair rent for $1600/mo and are far from low income transient housing.

posted by: Ruth on June 9, 2018  1:21pm

I live 4 blocks from the bridge and don’t get illustration….WHERE is the RIVER?, the bridge and the street??  Hard to accept the architects care anything about site.

posted by: Shay L on June 9, 2018  2:12pm

Do you make all your evaluation and justification for any development by just comparing the size of
larger clothes for a skinny person and a smaller vehicle versus a large vehicle preference? And with no attention to the development proposed and the character of the neighborhood and significance of the location? Who are these single individuals who only need 500sqft of living area provided in a low quality development in units with no storage, only a 5 foot closet, no direct sun, limited light and air, no good views of the river, no open space or recreation area , no decent retail and are willing to pay $1,200 a month as the developer projected. Developer is saying the occupying people will be middle class teachers, police officers and firemen. Are they unmarried without children? What would be the length of their stay in the Fair Haven area in this kind of unit? In the downtown area single young executives and professionals, transient people, or students occupy these types of units for short periods of time and the turn over is above 50% per year if these size units were acceptable in Fair Haven the proposal for Strong School would not have been shot down. Besides, the plan of development as proposed by the developer, there are a lot of desirable elements needed and missing for development of this size, to be located right on the Quinnipiac River over the magnificent historic bridge, which is the heart and the most important area of the Fair Haven neighborhood and Quinnipiac River.

posted by: abby31 on June 9, 2018  3:32pm

When we are reviewing and evaluating this proposed PDU development plan, we need to pay attention to the significance and the necessity to such a proposal fitting within in its environment, neighborhood, and specific location. The PDU plan need to provide complete and coordinated design development and management and operation for each and all of the parcels and properties included (for now and for the future). Included in the PDU and how each components relate to and compliment others, and be able to provide for their needed services in the PDU plan. This proposed PDU plan only deals with development of one parcel and leaves the other three parcels included in limbo. The other parcels need to get the possibility for proper orientation, light, air , sun, necessary parking, requirements for loading and unloading, deliveries for all uses residential and retail , business and commercial in the future. This proposed PDU plan does not deal with any of that. The future success of this PDU development depends significantly to a proper plan which deal with all of those. The properties are not owned by one entity, the method of implementation, management, operation, and ownership should be clarified upfront.

posted by: Patricia Kane on June 9, 2018  10:53pm

@Robn: An SRO may or may not have a kitchen. I think it’s fair to compare these units to an SRO, when the size is 500+ sq. ft.
  As for your nod to “romantic couples”, I didn’t know you cared.
  But thanks for referring to the Corsair, a project with excellent construction, sound proof windows on the I-91 side, spectacular amenities, including covered parking, an outdoor pool, fitness center, library, bar and social area plus high end kitchens and interior design. Also excellent closet space. And the rooms I saw were all big enough for a queen bed.
  As for amenities in the the PDU: there is a small gym. Aside from that, the amenities are the parks on the Fair Haven side of the river.
  Some of us think it’s worth trying for quality development as opposed to the rampant mediocrity we have been seeing.
  Which reminds me of Nixon’s nomination of Harold G. Carswell to the Supreme Court.
  ‘’Even if he were mediocre,’’ Mr. Hruska declared, ‘’there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.’’
    The outrage that bubbles up out of some people when any development plan is questioned also reminds me of “Babbitt”.
  “The men leaned back on their heels, put their hands in their trousers-pockets, and proclaimed their views with the booming profundity of a prosperous male repeating a thoroughly hackneyed statement about a matter of which he knows nothing whatever.”
― Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt

posted by: robn on June 10, 2018  8:05am

PK

Esbey made a “romantic” comment; not me. At least try to get your responses straight.

As for SROs; you don’t know what you’re talking about; I do. In the world of real estate, a hot plate and a mini fridge that an SRO might have doesn’t qualify as a kitchen or kitchenette that a studio apartment must have.

New Haven apartment building was fine for 300 years before 360 State came along introduced us to over the top amenities (a gated community in the sky). Nevertheless there’s only so many properties that have enough land to include lavish amenities and there’s a finite number of customers willing to pay for it. You’ve pretty much tipped your hand….is it safe to assume now your opposition to a more modest apartment building is opposition to lower income people moving into the neighborhood?

posted by: Patricia Kane on June 10, 2018  10:54am

Sorry, Esbey: you are the romantic
  Bottom line on 500 sq. apartments is that they were turned down for the Strong School on the other side of the river and won’t work here unless they and the entire project are extraordinary.
  Randy Salvatore publicly stated that the Novella was a better project because of the neighbor’s input. Community dialogue should be a part of every new development

posted by: Esbey on June 10, 2018  10:59am

I am romantic about this kind of apartment because my first New Haven apartment was a 600 sqft one bedroom and I thought it was grand. My girlfriend was teaching out of state but lived with me 4 months of the year. We were saving to get married, buy a house in town and have kids. All those things happened and that first apartment helped a lot!

Why do Patricia Kane and the rest read my story as a horror story? Why devote your considerable civic energy to making sure that other people can’t have my happiness? There are many actual problems in this town. Please don’t spend energy opposing the *solutions*.

posted by: robn on June 10, 2018  7:02pm

PK

Sorry but the Strong School project failed to win approval primarily because the developer had a track record of failure.

I really don’t mind a bit if neighbors want to complain about the possibility of low income housing and the crime that often comes along with it. What I mind is that you’re not willing to just say it because it conflicts with your professional persona of a social justice warrior. You should get in touch with your true feelings and just let it out.

posted by: Patricia Kane on June 10, 2018  10:13pm

@robn: Strong school failed because of massive community opposition to a bad plan.
As for your fantasy as to my position on low income housing, I will leave you with your delusions and your hilarious fit of outrage.

posted by: robn on June 11, 2018  7:44am

PK

No outrage; just annoyance. If you’re going to run around town making a living defending the downtrodden, don’t deny them housing in your neighborhood. You should practice what you preach.

posted by: 1644 on June 11, 2018  10:34am

If PK wants large, family size apartments,  it will be low-income housing simply because families don’t want apartments and middle class families can afford less dense housing with room for swing sets, pools, etc.  Connecticut housing prices are still low, and, while interest rates are rising, they are still historically low. For most middle-class Nutmeggers,  apartment rental is a way station on the way to homeownership..

posted by: Egocrata on June 11, 2018  10:51am

The zoning process is this town is a centrally planned Soviet economy. No wonder the real state market sucks.

posted by: Patricia Kane on June 11, 2018  11:04am

Neither the Strong school nor the Heights on the River project aimed for “affordable housing” or subsidized housing.
  Alder Kenneth Reveiz of Fair Haven spoke at the first community meeting when the plan submitted to the Historic District Commission was being discussed and said he questioned the goal of having teachers, fire fire fighters, etc. as the target tenants because, despite his educational level, his income would not support a rent of $1500 a month.
  I remember when Randy Salvatore was pressing on his project at Howe and Chapel, site now of The Novella, when anonymous commentators wrote in about how much affordable housing was needed in the Dwight neighborhood. When finished, the Novella was clearly marketed to a more affluent population.
  So all of you anonymous sources trying to create a bogus issue and make me the focus, it won’t work. Too many knowledgeable people have specific concerns and will discuss them with the developers. A good process involves a conversation, not sniper attacks.

posted by: robn on June 11, 2018  11:44am

As far as I can tell from the reporting, this project was as-of-right, and the recent ask for a PDU is just a mechanism for not building a basement in the flood plain (which would be insane).

Sorry you want coffee shops and bakeries and no low income housing PK, but this housing project is historically appropriate to the neighborhood and neither needs nor wants to be the Corsair or 360 State.

posted by: Patricia Kane on June 11, 2018  12:26pm

@robn: if your opinions are based on the reporting, then you know very little of the details of the PDU. I would love to know your connection to City Hall because the lack of facts does not deter you from offering an uninformed opinion. Until you know what you’re talking about, I will not waste my time responding further.

posted by: robn on June 11, 2018  12:37pm

PK,

I’ll do you the courtesy of responding. I have zero connections to City Hall.

Sorry but your excuses are a thin classist veneer over your fear of the possibility of low income housing in your backyard. Once again I really wouldn’t blame you for it, but it would be nice if you were honest about it.