53,000 Square-Foot Chapel West Plan Pitched

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA multimillion-dollar development could transform a parking lot at the corner of Chapel and Howe streets into a new 136-apartment building with a street-level storefront—if Randy Salvatore can convince zoners to let him build it.

Salvatore (pictured), a Stamford-based developer pitched his plan to members of the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) Tuesday evening in the Hall of Records. He said he wants to put up a five-story apartment building in the Chapel West neighborhood. The project would be privately funded at cost yet to be determined, but in the millions of dollars, Salvatore said.

To build it, Salvatore seeks a special zoning exception for less parking than is required, and a whopping 10 zoning variances for increased lot coverage, small yards, and less open space than is required under law, among other exceptions.

The BZA did not vote on the application, referring it instead to the City Plan Commission for advice, as is standard procedure with applications that deal with parking requirements.

A number of neighbors and neighborhood groups voiced their support for Salvatore’s vision. He also faced opposition from the owner of a building next door at 70 Howe St.; the owner’s lawyer said that Salvatore has not shown the hardship necessary to be granted special zoning relief.

The board also heard opposition from a woman who lives in an historic building on Chapel Street that would be demolished or moved to make way for the new apartment building.

Two other historic buildings, on Dwight Street, would be preserved as part of the project. Salvatore’s plan combines properties at 1229, 1245, and 1249 Chapel St. and 169 and 175 Dwight St. into a large, irregularly shaped, 53,000 square-foot site, most of which is now a parking lot. The other historic house on the site is at 1249 Chapel.

Salvatore told zoners the new building (pictured) would have 136 market-rate apartments, 56 percent of which would be studios, 33 percent one-bedrooms, and 11 percent two-bedrooms. There would be a 4,000 square foot retail space on the ground floor on Howe Street. The rest of the building’s ground floor would comprise, a lobby, parking, and an “amenity space” for the building—possible a gym, lounge, or theater. The building would have a 3,500 square-foot roof terrace.

Plans call for 90 parking spaces—50 in the building’s first floor and 40 in a surface lot nearby. He would also include covered secure parking for 36 bikes, according to a City Plan Department advisory report.

The building would have a brick-fronted first floor, with synthetic “wood” siding on the upper floors, Salvatore said. He said he’d like to start building next spring and have the structure up in 10 months.

“We’re ready to go,” he said.

Salvatore said he’s spoken about the project with a slew of local groups and individuals, including the mayor, Dwight Alderman Frank Douglass, area business owners, the nearby YMCA, Yale, and the Urban Design League. All are in favor of the plan, he said.

He acknowledged that he has encountered some objections.

One issue has been parking, he said. Regulations require one per apartment, or 144, counting spaces for the eight units in the Dwight houses. “We believe that’s way too much,” Salvatore said.

Traffic engineer Joe Balskus, with the Tighe and Bond engineering firm, told zoners that having 90 parking spaces is in line with the city’s goal of reducing traffic and “single vehicle occupancy trips.” He said the Chapel West has some of the lowest parking use rates in the city, and it’s trending downward. 360 State St., the new mixed-use tower downtown, includes a garage that has turned out to be too big, he said. If it turns out after the building is up that the parking is not sufficient, more parking can be secured nearby, he said.

In response to questions from zoners, Balskus said the planned parking spaces are smaller than normal spaces, at 124 square feet instead of 180. But they will not be “high-turnaround” spaces like you might find in a shopping center, he said.

“The tenants who do own cars, in view of the small sized apartments being provided, will most likely drive compact cars,” reads the City Plan advisory report.

Salvatore’s attorney, Carolyn Kone, ran through the many variances her client seeks. They are justified by hardship created by trying to build on an irregular lot, she said.

Kone produced letters of support from Miya’s restaurant, right next to the site of the proposed building, C.A. White, a nearby property company, the YMCA, and Rudy’s bar, across the street.

Eight people testified in favor of the application, including city Deputy Economic Development Director Tony Bialecki, Chapel West’s Brian McGrath, members of the Dwight Community Management Team, and Yale’s Lauren Zucker, who also wanted to put on the record that Yale should not be asked to provide parking if it turns out the building doesn’t have enough.

Not Everyone Pleased

Susan Bradford (pictured) was the first to speak in opposition to the application. She’s one of two principles at 70 Howe St. LLC, the company that owns 70 Howe St., which is just north of Miya’s restaurant. She said Salvatore’s plan poses a threat living conditions for her tenants.

Bradford said the first questions all prospective tenants ask her are about light, air, and noise. All three of those would be negatively affected by the new building, she said. The rooftop terrace would be “an attractive nuisance” that would create a great deal of noise for her tenants, she said.

Salvatore has not shown a hardship that would justify zoning relief, said Bradford’s lawyer, Steven Rolnick. Salvatore cited the irregular shape of the parcel, Rolnick said. “That’s self-created. It’s created by the applicant.”

Former Alderwoman Olivia Martson, who lives nearby at 228 Dwight St. requested that the board not vote on the proposal, but wait 30 days to give the neighborhood more time to talk about it.

Celeste Greer (pictured), who lives in 1249 Chapel St., said she objects to the plan. She called the house a beautiful historic structure that should be preserved.

Given a chance for rebuttal, Salvatore said delaying the vote wouldn’t help, given the amount of community input he’s already sought and received. And extra time won’t create solutions, he said.

As for Bradford’s objections, Salvatore said there will be more than 40 feet between her building and his, and the rooftop terrace will be on the opposite side of his building, “fully screened” from her tenants.

“I’m optimistic. I think we have a great plan,” Salvatore said after the meeting.

On the opposition, he said, “You can’t please everyone.”

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posted by: yz on September 12, 2012  10:50am

Our zoning laws, if strictly followed, would probably turn downtown into the commercial area of a suburb. The zoning laws seem to be just a barrier so that development proposals can be evaluated by government on a case-by-case basis.

Looking at google maps, I find it interesting that neighboring apartment buildings, such as 70 Howe, seem to have no parking at all. The owner of 70 Howe is of course mainly objecting to the competition that newly built apartments would offer.

I like how the proposed building is urban in structure, and I hope that more storefront fronts the streets than parking garage. Does the building in fact need any parking at all? I have no knowledge of the occupancy of the Yale garage right across the street, but perhaps some agreement could be worked out?

One worry however, is that the street-level storefront space will remain unoccupied. That aforementioned Yale parking garage containing Yale Security’s headquarters also has empty storefront space I believe.

All in all, the general direction of change will be the replacement of a surface lot with a structure with urban character.

posted by: fair_havener on September 12, 2012  10:59am

Too many things revolve around cars in this city. I have never seen a suburb, town, or city so full of officials and departments obsessed with cars and messing with peoples’ cars.

posted by: tina tucci on September 12, 2012  12:55pm

Yale does not allow public parking in their largely empty garage on Howe Street.  They made promises that 25% of the spaces would be made available to the public, however they have so far reneged on that promise. Evidently they don’t want to pay New Haven property taxes.  The storefront spaces in the Yale garage are empty because the rents have been kept artificially high in order not to have to provide public parking.

posted by: Anstress Farwell on September 12, 2012  1:01pm

The League and residents of the Dwight neighborhood met with the developer on Monday to discuss the plan. The League  does not support the current RMS plan. A few issues:

1. Demolishing 1249 Chapel Street, a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is not appropriate. The building is in excellent condition, and it is a handsome asset to the streetscape.

2. The 2006 Conceptual Plan developed by Dean Sakamoto for Chapel West Special Services District (CWSSD) provides an excellent and thoroughly considered plan for development. In it, historic resources are preserved, and new buildings are proposed which compliment the scale, orientation, materials, and uses in the district. The RMS Companies plan is not designed to be congruent with the CWSSD Conceptual Plan or the urban setting that that plan addressed and enhanced. See: http://www.dsarch.net/projects/chapel_west.html

3. The parking, while reduced, is excessive. This area is within walking distance to Downtown, Yale, and the Hospitals and it is on multiple bus and shuttle routes. If this quantity of parking was below ground, its negative impact would be reduced, because the first floor of the building could be dedicated to active uses. The RMS plan places parking along the Chapel street sidewalk, creating a dead zone that is unfavorable to pedestrian activity and safety.

4. The proposed building’s synthetic “wood” siding, massing, irregular roof line, narrow bays do not complement the architecture of the district. Large buildings in the district are invariably brick. The prominence of this corner lot adds to the importance of getting the design right.

5. The process has also been problematic - it is customary for proposals to be reviewed at the Dwight Central Management Team prior to review at the BZA. Because this was not been done, residents of the Dwight neighborhood contacted us for advice and assistance.

It is not reasonable or respectful of people’s time and effort for developer’s to come late in the game with a single plan and present a “take it or leave it” scenario, where only minor modifications are possible. This practice, common now in New Haven, leads too often to poor results, and diminishes people’s faith and confidence in the value of their participation in civic affairs. To build a strong and vibrant city, we need a process which encourages developers to meet with residents and community groups early in the processs.

posted by: DwightResident-NH Teacher on September 12, 2012  1:11pm

As a resident of one of the buildings to be affected and an advocate for the Dwight neighborhood, I am strongly against this proposal.  A building of this nature would ruin the historic, residential, community feel of the neighborhood, which is one of its biggest assets.  Big apartment complexes don’t build community, gardens do (like the ones in front of and behind my house).  If people wanted to live in a big high rise, they would live in one of the ones downtown or on Howe St.  Historic houses like mine are what give the Dwight neighborhood character.  If this proposal goes through, I will be forced to leave my home and the neighborhood I have lived in for the past 4 years.  Please remember that just because something makes “sense” (and cents) economically does not mean it is best for everyone.

posted by: anonymous on September 12, 2012  4:52pm

This proposal should be fast tracked for approval, but with some of the concerns listed by the Urban Design League and neighbors addressed. The parking requirement should be eliminated entirely- as many other cities have done. 

If anything, the building should be larger than what the developer has proposed. I think most people, other than NIMBYs, would prefer to see a high rise here if presented the facts. This is a dense urban core and its continued development is crucial to the economic success of our State. If we want to reduce traffic and pollution, we need to build denser, mixed use projects like this, and build them with minimal parking requirements.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 12, 2012  5:50pm

Oh god will people stop the love affair with the automobile. Someone wants to build an apartment building that will provide over 100 new small living spaces downtown and will also be encouraging less automobile traffic and on top of it be providing retail space on the first floor to increase foot traffic? For the love of god build this thing. To heck with the zoning ordinances that are from a time where everything was done to encourage as much car ownership and ridership as possible.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 12, 2012  6:00pm

The Urban Design League and the Dean Sakamoto plan have it exactly right.

The one thing to take away from this image:
http://www.newhavenindependent.org/images/sized/archives/upload/2012/09/TRM_091112_0045-550x367.jpg is “brick”. The irregular roof line and synthetic siding remind me of the worst kind of new “town center” style designs for suburban shopping plazas.

The Sakamoto plan also calls for the building to prominently sit on the corner by actually turning it, then transitioning to a smaller scale building on Chapel Street (next to the one that is now being considered for demolition), which keeps with the density of Howe Street as well as the small scale of Chapel Street’s buildings.
http://www.dsarch.net/IMAGES/project gallery/chapel/big_images/Pic3.jpg

Replacing the parking lot with a better use is an important goal, but this current proposal comes of sort in terms of appropriateness and finesse.

Also, this lot isn’t so much in the Dwight neighborhood as it is in the West Village/Chapel West district, which is a mix of a village center, a residential community, and a high density urban district. Its separate and distinct from both the more residential area west of Dwight and the city’s Downtown to the east.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on September 12, 2012  6:37pm

As a person that works in the area I understand some people’s reluctance. But I think it has more to do with the lose of the parking lot more than the building of the building. I think what every goes in if it is not a parking lot it will be met with resistance.  Everyone knew this was not going to be a parking lot for ever. It is prime real estate for a new tax payer. I for one can not go against having the grand list grow. I looked at the plans and think that alot of thought went into the visual appeal of the building and can not see it being a downgrade to the residential appeal of the community. in fact if done right it can make the community even more of a community and more self substantiating. But I personally think that a development like this will add to the safety of the area. Just my 2 cents…or with the taxes of this city a buck fifty.

posted by: SaveOurCity on September 12, 2012  7:21pm

sounds like some nice progress for a neighborhood that really needs it.  Hopefully this progress won’t be blocked by progressives.

posted by: Billy on September 12, 2012  7:29pm

“Given the amount of community input he’s already sought and gotten”...hmmm. Mr. Salvatore is deluding himself, and more important the Board of Alderman, and the people of New Haven, if he thinks he got “input” at the Dwight Central Management Team meeting earlier this month. He led a completely confusing presentation, during which many of the people in attendance were trying to figure out the orientation of the building, which was very unclear in his drawing, and missed portions of his totally underprepared presentation. In addition, he completely dodged the question of what he means by “fair market” rent, though he was asked more than once for a number or range. I am completely sick of these out-of-town developers coming to request support from community groups, then assuming that their attendance alone means they have our blessing. Mr. Salvatore is yet one more developer playing a BS game, and seeing community groups as an impediment to his grand scheme to turn a profit in our city.

posted by: Curious on September 13, 2012  10:32am

As someone who lived at 80 for years, still lives at Dwight & George, and works and walks in this area, I am 100% behind this.

I do agree that the building should match the character of the other buildings in the area, that there is less need for parking than you would think, and I wonder how viable the street-level shops will be. 

There are already plenty of empty storefronts in town, and in this area.  Do we really need more?  “Retail” is too vague, what does the developer think will thrive there?

Lastly, Tina Tucci, I parked in that garage for years, and usually it was on the upper floors because it was pretty full.  Not sure what you’re talking about.

posted by: Jason Stockmann on September 13, 2012  11:03am

I sincerely hope that the zoning board approves this design.

For five years, I lived on Chapel Street half a block east of this site.  The parking lot always stood out as an ugly hole in the otherwise dense and intricate urban fabric of the neighborhood.  Filling it in with a context-sensitive development is an excellent way to make the neighborhood more attractive, walkable, and safe. To say nothing of adding a big property to the tax rolls in a cash-strapped city.

There is obvious demand for housing in this area, with the city’s vacancy rate at a historic low. 

The City of New Haven’s parking ordinances requiring one space per residential unit are badly out of date.  They should be revised to reflect the current trend toward urban living without cars (or with car shares).  There is really no sound argument in favor of the current zoning requirements, on economic, urbanistic, or environmental grounds.  Ideally there would be a parking *maximum* on infill developments like this (as there should have been on the 360 State St development…).  But for practical purposes, why not let the market figure out how much demand there will be for parking?

It’s fantastic that a developer has come forward with an attractive design that is sensitive to the surrounding buildings and streets at Howe & Chapel.  If this gets built, everybody wins. 

My only criticism is that the complex doesn’t provide many family-friendly multi-bedroom apartments.  While it’s good to include different options, including studios that students can afford, it’s important to also encourage families to stay in the neighborhood, since they are a stabilizing influence.

posted by: tina tucci on September 13, 2012  3:39pm

To Curious: The last time I checked, which was only a few days ago, the garage was approximately two thirds full.  The entire upper floor was empty.  This was a weekday, late morning.  When I called Yale parking and transit concerning my eligibility to park there, I was told all Yale University lots/garages are for Yale employees, students and those with
Yale affiliation.  I am not affiliated with Yale, so I cannot park there.  You, evidently, are part of the in crowd.

posted by: Olympia on September 13, 2012  10:49pm

I hope we can get this right. The “Stamford Model” does not work here. There are many problems with this plan. A.Frontage along Chapel St. has no active uses. B.Proposal to tear down a perfectly good historic structure C. Materials are inappropriate for the area.  With all the great Architects in town
why not put together a few of them with the developer and his team and come up with ” the New Haven model”. Back to the drawing board i say.

posted by: DwightResident-NH Teacher on September 14, 2012  8:52am

Ratings of another RMS building in Stamford:

0% of reviewers recommended this building.

Some excerpts:

“Terrible management, poorly maintained building, and a dishonest ownership. Stay away”

“It is evident that the originally management said lies and promises to perspective tenants to attain 100% occupancy of the building after construction, then ran off leaving the lies and problems with a new management company that is not going to change anything either.”

“Security and a drastic slashing of access to the building’s amenities has turned The BLVD into an undesirable place to live. For what was marketed as an upscale, hotel-like atmosphere, it’s been effectively turned into an empty box with pretty wrapping paper.

RMS pushed hard on the amenities and security features during lease-up and then turned around and dropped the building off with a buyer who in turn decided that they didn’t have to honor any of the promises made despite charging a bloody fortune. It’s pretty despicable. It now seems that they are raising rents, charging additionally for insecure parking and charging additionally an “amenities fee” all while cutting back on access to any of the said amenities.”

“They turn a blind eye to any illegal or dangerous activities occurring on their property to negate liability. The parking is terrible, as is the construction of the building itself.”

I am sickened by the thought that I might be removed from my home and no one has even done their due diligence on this development company.

posted by: Sven Martson on September 14, 2012  12:08pm

My thanks to Dwight Resident-NH Teacher for a highly informative post.  An excellent bit of sleuthing!  Up until this point I’ve been of two minds concerning this project.  As a small time landlord in the area, I’ve worried about the impact this will have on my ability to attract tenants, but on the other hand, the prospect of having a developer drop a bundle of money in our neighborhood to build the only new construction here (except for Yale) in the 30 years I’ve lived here seemed a very positive sign and if done correctly could provide a significant boost to our neighborhood.  But after going to the link provided by NH Teacher, I see that this “developer” has some very serious problems and evidently cannot be trusted to do the right thing.  This is beginning to bear similarities to the fiasco at 99 Edgewood Ave, where the “developer” is simply taking the cheapest route to profits with no attention given to neighborhood concerns.

posted by: Stephen Harris on September 14, 2012  7:00pm

I like the concept but it needs some tweaking. The architecture is bad IMO. It’s trying too hard to look like something. A simple, well built building without the kitch would be nice. See Steve Mouzon’s website for ideas http://www.originalgreen.org.

The parking reduction is good. Since we (city, state, feds) aren’t serious about transit we have to accommodate a reasonable number of cars (eventually, and most likely in the not too distant future, the price of oil will force transportation changes). But, in any event, they should be as far away front the street front as possible.

posted by: Frank M on September 15, 2012  7:08am

Mr Hopkins, I take exception with you trying to remove the said lot from the Dwight Neighborhood. I feel that we should be trying to uplift entire neighborhoods, instead of carving out the more desirable parts and re-naming/re-branding them ..

“Its separate and distinct from both the more residential area west of Dwight and the city’s Downtown to the east.”