Beulah Unveils A Promised Land In Dixwell

Markeshia Ricks PhotoDixwell neighbors are used to developers trying to woo them with plans for apartments, leaving them asking “‘affordable’ for whom?”

They were pleased not to be asking that question after hearing Thursday night about the details of a new planned gateway to their neighborhood with 70 mostly lower-income apartments on a now-vacant lot once known for barbecue.

The neighbors heard the details at a meeting at Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church at 782 Orchard St. The meeting was the neighborhood’s first opportunity to hear in depth about what could become of the long-vacant Joe Grate’s automotive and ribs business lot at 340 Dixwell Ave.

Beulah’s nonprofit development arm, which has already transformed the former crack houses on its own block into stable homes, now is looking to put affordable housing across the street, built safely but quickly, with environmentally sustainable materials—namely wood. In the process, they hope to provide local jobs, and perhaps even a new local industry.

Darrell Brooks, project manager for Beulah Land Development Corporation, was joined by the organization’s new partners Jeff Spiritos of NYC-based Spiritos Properties and New Haven firm Gray Organschi Architecture to unveil the plan to put 70 apartments and commercial space at a site that welcomes people traveling south from Hamden and Newhallville into the Dixwell neighborhood at the confluence of Dixwell Avenue, Shelton Avenue, and Munson Street.

The preliminary layout of the triangular lot calls for a five-story building at the intersection. As the lot heads into the heart of the Dixwell neighborhood the apartment buildings step down in height to four stories. On the Orchard Street side of the development would be eight three-story townhomes with one-bedroom attachments. The rest of the apartments would be two and three bedrooms. The plan also envisions storefronts for small businesses and possibly a small pharmacy or a cafe.

Brooks had previously shared some details and introduced Spiritos to the Dixwell Management Team last Thursday. (Read about that meeting here.) At this Thursday night’s meeting they laid out the vision for housing and jobs and took the time to answer neighbors’ questions about affordability, financing, and the safety of wood construction.

“I believe that it is going to be so transformative for the Dixwell neighborhood,” Brooks said of the proposed project. “I believe it will be transformative one in how we do housing and what housing looks like and who is actually benefiting from the process.”

Equitable, Affordable

Brooks, a retired firefighter, said with that job he couldn’t afford to live in any of the market-rate apartments that have been developed or are being developed all over the city. He said that working-class folks like him and people with lower incomes should be able to live in the communities that they serve and that their families have lived in for generations.

In other projects going up in the city,  developers have agreed to set aside — sometimes after a little arm-twisting on the part of the city—10 to 30 percent of their apartments as “affordable” or “workforce housing” for those who make up to 80 percent of the area median income. Prime example: The brewing development nearby at 201 Munson St.

The Beulah project turns that formula on its head: 80 percent of the Dixwell Avenue apartments would be rented to people who make between 25 and 60 percent of the area median income, while 20 percent will be rented to those who can pay market rate.

That means that there could be households in the building making as little as $18,162 living in the development. Brooks promised that those tenants would not be relegated to shabbier, no-frills apartments while those who can pay more live in sumptuous accommodations. Everyone will be treated equally in their quality of housing and equitably in their ability to pay, he promised.

“That’s the beauty of a project like this,” Brooks said. “It brings equity across the board for individuals who can live in a home that is quality affordable housing.”

Brooks said Beulah has owned the land since 2007. It was initially going to be a site for Arrow Pharmacy; the deal fell through when Arrow went bankrupt. Beulah pursued a chain pharmacy like CVS for the lot and a doctor’s office, but nothing panned out. Brooks’s board members then pushed for a change of focus to housing.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity that we have in front of us,” he said. “This project is really going to be transformative in a very dynamic way and I think some of the ancillary benefits of this project is going to be about creating a long-term industry here in New Haven and taking advantage of the port.”

One neighbor asked how the site can accommodate so many apartments. It won’t, Brooks said. Beulah is seeking ways to expand the footprint of the site.

Though they can build apartments on the site as of right, the zoning ordinance requires one space of parking for every apartment. The developers would need to seek relief to reduce that parking to just 50 spaces. Neighbors suggested that they consider providing all 70 spaces since there also will be commercial activity on the site and parking is already at a premium.

To pay for the development, the developers plan to seek low-income housing tax credits and loan programs through the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and the Connecticut Department of Housing, according to Jeff Spiritos. The commercial space would have to be developed with private funding, he said. The goal for the developers would be to get their application into the state by its Nov. 1 deadline. The state would make a decision on such applications by the spring of 2019. If the Dixwell Avenue project is selected, construction would begin in the fall with completion envisioned in 14-15 months.

An East Coast Model

The development team believes it can get the project up so quickly because of a new building technology called mass timber construction.

At its core, the process takes large pieces of wood — in this case, prefabricated into panels known as cross-laminated timber, or CLT — that are glued together so they can be used as structural panels that can replace concrete slabs.

The glue is environmentally friendly, said Spiritos. It does not contain formaldehyde.

He also noted because they are panels of wood and not individual sticks of wood, they are more prone to char and burn slowly in the event of a fire. That means that an apartment fire is less likely to spread throughout the entire building.

Spiritos said because those panels can be manufactured offsite, they can also be cut using a computer cutting machine that will carve out windows, doors, electrical outlets, and ductwork.

“That means they come to the site already prepared for everything that happens on site and that frees up the usual costs of construction,” he said.

“These new wood systems are really healthy and good but they also get assembled very quickly,” Alan Organschi added. “It takes less time, so there is less disruption to the communities in which you’re building, less cost for the developers and the communities to carry while you’re waiting for construction to happen.”

The building gets enclosed sooner and allows tradespeople to get inside sooner to do things like plumbing and drywall. Organschi said this new technology could also be a boon for New Haven because it would make a good site for fabrication facilities.

“New Haven is at the intersection of highways, freight lines for railways, it’s got an incredible harbor,” he pointed out. “We could start to build not only housing but people who build houses. Construction jobs aren’t the dirty jobs that they used to be. “

“They can be better and better and there is a need in the construction industry and we think we can be a pilot program for members of the Dixwell community and other people in New Haven to learn how to build this and be leaders in the industry so that they can not only work here but export their own work,” Organschi added. “They can go outside because they’re the experts in how to put these buildings together.”

There are some 600 mass timber buildings in England. Spiritos estimated that there are only a dozen multifamily residential and office buildings built with the technology in the United States. He did note that there are a lot of plans for such buildings, particularly on the West Coast in Portland, Vancouver, and northern California.

There are two mass timber buildings in New Haven. Gray Organschi Architecture built them: Common Ground High School and Firehouse 12 Music Studio.

The Dixwell Avenue project would be a first of its kind mass timber mixed-use, affordable housing venture, and the developers hope a model for other communities.

Prospect Hill/Newhallville/Dixwell Alder Steve Winter said the project hit many sweet spots for him.

“It’s affordable, it’s extremely environmentally friendly, it has the potential to be carbon sink maybe even carbon negative, who knows,” Winter said. “It’s right in the heart of the community and it’s being presented in a way that is respectful to the community and a real dialogue I think. I’m very excited.”

Brooks gave a shout-out to former Beulah Land summer intern Yanbo Li. Along with fellow Yalie Juan Pablo Ponce de Leon, Li built a small model, that’s now on display at the church, of the proposed development area three years ago as an independent project to show what a future development could look like on the 340 Dixwell Ave. site. (Read about that here.)

After Li graduated with his architecture degree in 2016, he went to work for Gray Organschi Architecture where he started learning about the mass timber technology. But Li didn’t forget Beulah and since he was working in town he wanted to be of some help. He decided to reconnect and eventually helped put his current employer in touch with his former internship host.

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posted by: Hill Resident on April 27, 2018  8:27am

I am truly excited about this project. I remember when the two (then) Yale SOA students presented the design concept for housing on that lot and was disappointed when it didn’t take off. But Beulah Heights Church and its Development Corporation are committed to its community and I applaud the transformative they are doing on that part of the Dixwell corridor. And the icing is that “It brings equity across the board for individuals who can live in a home that is quality affordable housing.” as Brooks said. Good job Beulah and I look forward to what you have planned next!!!

posted by: HewNaven on April 27, 2018  8:37am

This is the kind of housing development New Haven needs. Congratulations to this neighborhood.

posted by: robn on April 29, 2018  6:06am

As the mass timber idea began to emerge it was my understanding that it had a potential economy if we were headed towards a cap and trade system with respect to carbon (this system is good at carbon sequestration). But cap and trade never came about so it will be interesting to see if this method really is economical for this development group. Also there’s classically been union resistance to prefab tech even though in most cases, prefabrication is done in much more controlled, factory circumstances and is safer for workers.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 29, 2018  5:21pm

Concrete vs wood buildings
Which is better? Concrete or wood frame buildings?

Concrete buildings, although generally more expensive than wood frame buildings, are worth it in the long term. It’s important to always look long term, in all aspects of life. The same thinking can be applied to when investing in your next condo.

Although wood frame buildings are cheaper for developers and thus cheaper for the potential buyer, the costs in the long run are more expensive. Wood frame buildings can see a much quicker depreciation in the structural aspects of the building. We get so much rain in Vancouver each year, should the roof or siding fail and water penetrates it, it runs the risk of getting to the wood frame. Should this happen, the dampness can lead to structural issues down the road.

Wood frame buildings also don’t insulate noise as well as concrete buildings. Concrete is considered to be the premium when it comes to new developments as the overall maintenance over time is generally less and can better withstand the natural elements

http://vancitycondoguide.com/concrete-vs-wood-buildings/

I would stick with the concrete.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 29, 2018  9:18pm

3/5ths, do you read the articles you link? The 2+ year old linked article does not address mass timber construction, the technology proposed for this project. It instead compares traditional wood and concrete technologies. The article does note that “wood frame buildings are advancing” and mentions a building using mass timber construction that was being built.

Robn, I don’t know that cap and trade is a major factor behind this technology. Connecticut participates in a regional cap and trade system for power plants (RGGI), but sequestration is not part of that system. This technology would help if a comprehensive cap and trade system or carbon tax were adopted, although neither is going to happen anytime soon.  I also suspect that using this technology would be helpful in obtaining a LEED rating.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 30, 2018  7:25am

@ Kevin McCarthy

I did read it. The point was that concrete is still better.

ARE THE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF WOOD USE IN CONSTRUCTION OVERSTATED?

The use of wood in mid to high-rise buildings is widely promoted due in part to its supposed environmental and climate-related benefits. However, recent research sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Building Resilience Coalition and others suggests these benefits are greatly overstated. Both consumers and policymakers are not being told the full story.This has led to building code changes in many jurisdictions which now permit the construction of mid to high-rise structures comprised mainly of engineered wood structural systems, namely Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).Such structures are purportedly less expensive to build, more environmentally friendly than concrete or steel structures, and have the added benefit of indefinitely storing embodied carbon, that is carbon that was originally absorbed by a living tree.Recent research has seriously challenged the less expensive to build assertion, but more important is the fact that most long-lived, wood-based building products come with a carbon debt long before they find their way into an actual building.

https://buildingresiliencecoalition.org/carbon-controversy-are-the-environmental-benefits-of-wood-use-in-construction-overstated/

posted by: concerned_neighbor on April 30, 2018  7:53am

“The Beulah project turns that formula on its head: 80 percent of the Dixwell Avenue apartments would be rented to people who make between 25 and 60 percent of the area median income, while 20 percent will be rented to those who can pay market rate.”

(1) what is the market rate on Dixwell in this fancy new apartment building? $1200-1500/month in a one bedroom?
(2) who would pay market rate to live on that block?

posted by: robn on April 30, 2018  8:03am

KM,

MTC and C&T are exclusive but related. Cap and Trade was related to the idea that there would be a carbon tax. It was to be a mechanism for a private market to manage penalties (taxes) for carbon emission. In this case the project might be incentivised by a tax credit for carbon sequestration and that credit would probably be flipped into a world of C&T. Long and short, MTC is a process which has more raw material and is more expensive to fabricate and ship (compared to stick construction). That could change. As of last year there were only about 2-3 fabricators in North America and about 15 in Europe. More fabricators could make it more affordable and it could become more attractive with carbon related tax incentives.

I think the primary reason why the church’s project may be affordable is because they’re a non-profit with a social mission and won’t have an aggressive profit projection. I do hope they build long term maintenance into their rents so the project doesn’t suffer the same fate as some of New haven’s coops.

posted by: robn on April 30, 2018  8:19am

3/5,

The “Pacific Northwest Building Resistance Coalition” is a group of concrete manufacturers and fabricators who are protecting their financial interests.

This is not to be confused with the “Resilience Building Coalition”, an neutral organization of construction industry participants (govt and NGO) interested in the science of how buildings withstand averse events.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 30, 2018  2:39pm

Robn, just to clarify, cap and trade and a carbon tax are policy alternatives. Cap and trade markets were operating decades before a carbon tax was proposed. FWIW, I was staffing the Energy Committee of the legislature when the RGGI cap and trade system was created. A broader cap and trade system or a carbon tax could incentivize MTC. Certainly, more producers would certainly help make the technology more affordable.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 30, 2018  3:19pm

posted by: robn on April 30, 2018 9:19am

3/5,

The “Pacific Northwest Building Resistance Coalition” is a group of concrete manufacturers and fabricators who are protecting their financial interests.

May be true.but the Bottom Line is Concrete is still better.Remember the Three Little Pigs.Which one’s house Stay Up.

Timber Vs Concrete - Difference Between Timber And Concrete

https://youtu.be/W5XehqQ2PSk

posted by: LookOut on April 30, 2018  6:02pm

did I really just read a string of comments debating wood vs concrete where the only argument left is based on a fairy tale?  If this is the basis for our decisions, we should also study “The old woman who lived in a shoe” for structural engineering guidance.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 1, 2018  8:41am

Concrete or wood, I suspect 3/5ths and I agree that this is a good project.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 1, 2018  9:45am

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 1, 2018 9:41am
Concrete or wood, I suspect 3/5ths and I agree that this is a good project.

If it is lower-income apartments.

posted by: 1644 on May 1, 2018  2:29pm

Lookout:  Have you not read of “coy wolves”?  The eastern coyote is a hybrid of Ontario folk and western coyote.  While we cannot be sure or its pulmonary strength,  it has reached the inner suburbs.  When was the last time you saw a straw house in Madison?  The danger is real.

Seriously, my concern is fire.  I note the stairwells are still concrete.  While the laminate may burn more slowly than natural wood, does it really burn slowly enough in a multi-story building?  Obviously, it has met whatever the standard is, but I still be interested in comparative times to collapse between stick, wood laminate, and concrete/steel.

posted by: robn on May 1, 2018  3:29pm

3/5,

Do you want affordable housing or not?

BTW I can’t quite tell from the footage but my guess is that the Sao Paulo Federal Police building that burnt from a squatter fire, probably had a concrete or steel core.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 1, 2018  4:24pm

posted by: robn on May 1, 2018 4:29pm
3/5,

Do you want affordable housing or not?

I want Both.

BTW I can’t quite tell from the footage but my guess is that the Sao Paulo Federal Police building that burnt from a squatter fire, probably had a concrete or steel core.

Concrete stills last longer then Wood.

posted by: robn on May 1, 2018  4:48pm

3/5,

Its generally correct that concrete will last longer but a correctly designed heavy timber structure will be built with a one hour fire resistance. Being in a burning building for a small fraction of that time will usually result in death by smoke inhalation. Just for reference, the Sao Paulo building collapsed within 1.5 hours. Concrete can degraded to the point of catastrophic failure when temperatures are over 1200 F (not too much hotter than your average New Haven pizza oven.)