Church Street South Endgame: Raze, Rebuild

Paul Bass PhotosThe owner of Church Street South almost reached a deal with the city two years ago to demolish the crumbling subsidized apartment complex across from Union Station to build a bigger, more diverse development. Now it would like a second chance.
Aliyya Swaby Photo

Some decision-makers might want to see someone else do the job.

Either way, that’s the endgame of the current maneuvering over the 301-apartment complex, the plight of which has bedeviled the city for years.

The short-term game involves pressuring the owner, Newton, Mass.-based Northland Investment Corp., to make repairs to the apartments so people can live there safely. For years city inspectors have chased after the owners, who receive $3 million a year in Section 8 rent subsidies from the federal government. The owners have patched roofs and made other slapdash repairs that saw the same apartment condemned again when water and mold returned, while structural problems worsened.

After 30 fresh orders from the city, backed by pending legal challenges from tenants represented by legal aid, Northland promised this week to make repairs again, and roofing and electrical crews appeared on site (pictured) Thursday. In the past two weeks, the city has condemned four and a half apartments and ordered Northland to put up four families and a single adult in area hotels.

Longer term, people on all sides — the city, neighbors, the owner — agree the 46-year-old concrete-clustered complex, nicknamed “Cinderblock City” and “The Jungle,” needs to come down. The question is what should replace it, and who should build it. And what should happen to the 834 people who officially live there. (The true number is believed to be over 1,000.)

DeStefano’s “Regret”

Markeshia Ricks PhotoIn the waning days of the DeStefano administration, the city was close to a deal with Northland to demolish the complex, then spend $361 million constructing an 800-unit development.

The city and Northland had agreed to the terms of the deal in a memorandum of understanding as far back as Jan. 2012, according to Lawrence Gottesdiener, Northland’s chairman of the board.

He told the Independent that he and City Hall had agreed that 20 percent of the apartments would remain “affordable.” One hundred sixty of the Church Street South families would have a “right to return” to them. “The city and Northland agreed to work with all the residents to find interim and permanent housing,” Gottesdiener said.

Then, he said, “at the 11th hour, Northland was informed that political support was not there from the alderman, unless the affordable housing component was increased to 28 percent.”

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “that change made the complicated development impossible to finance.” Northland had invested $1 to $2 million and “thousands of man hours” on the planning.

Former Mayor John DeStefano said he recalls the deal falling apart more gradually. “My recollection is we went back and forth,” he said.

Northland “genuinely wanted to come up with a deal,” DeStefano said. The two sides sought to break the project into two phases so it could get started, but still couldn’t finalize the deal.

DeStefano agreed the affordable housing formula was a key reason. He said the city had planned to contribute some money for “infrastructure” and the housing authority’s development arm, Glendower, “was at the table as an equity partner.”

Failing to rebuild Church Street South “is one of my regrets,” the former mayor said.

A Round 2?

Markeshia Ricks PhotoGottesdiener (pictured)said Northland is still interested in pursuing a new version of the deal.

The company “would like to try again to build consensus for a redevelopment that is responsive to the Hill-to-Downtown planning initiative and is sensitive to the families that live at Church Street South today and would like to return,” he said.

That was Gottesdiener intention when he bought Church Street South in 2008. On a drive around town, then-mayor DeStefano showed him the old Coliseum site. (For years DeStefano’s team would negotiate with Northland to build a new project there, but the recession squashed that arrangement.) DeStefano also showed Gottesdiener Church Street South on that drive. He said the rundown place needed to come down, that a bigger, mixed-income development needed to take its place across from the station, part of a new push for “transit-oriented development” (aka “TOD”).

That was music to Gottesdiener’s ears. He had started his company as Essex Partners in 1991, then bought Northland in 1997. The company doesn’t own fully subsidized properties like Church Street South; it specializes in market-rate housing. Most of its 22,400 housing units are market rate (like the Hartford 21 luxury tower). But it does own mixed-income projects—some with 10 or 20 percent affordable housing. And it has embraced TOD, with projects like one it’s building outside the Waltham, Mass., train station (with 10 percent affordable apartments).

“I bought it,” he said, “to build something better there.”

Instead, it has poured $4.6 million into repairs just to keep it up in its current state, Gottensdiener said. He said the company will continue spending money for necessary repairs. But like some city officials, like DeStefano, he argued that complex has outlived its useful life. “It’s obsolete,” he said. “It’s a losing battle.”

Mayor Toni Harp said she too wants to see a mixed-use, mixed-income complex built at the property that fits in with the “transit-oriented development” planned for the broader Hill-to-Downtown corridor. She said the city would be committed to finding comparable subsidized housing for all displaced Church Street South tenants.

For instance, the administration would like to see some of the tenants relocated to the new apartments envisioned for a $100-$150 million proposed development under negotiation to be constructed blocks away with builder Randy Salvatore. The project would not be seen as the location for all of the displaced Church Street South tenants. (Asked Wednesday night about including subsidized housing in the mix, Salvatore said he’s open to all ideas for the project, which remains a work in progress.)

“It’s right here at [one of] the busiest train stations in the United States,” Harp said of Church Street South. “It is old and appears blighted. I think the ideal thing is to build new there.”

But not necessarily with Northland doing the building, she said, given its recent track record.

“They have been derelict and negligent,” Harp said.

She said Northland must “make it safe for those who live there” now before the city considers any deals about future development.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAnother change from two years ago: The neighborhood, concerned about gentrification, has made it clear it will not support only 20 percent affordable housing at the development. Based on neighbors’ input, the city’s Hill-to-Downtown plan for the area’s development calls for a minimum of 30 percent affordable housing at a rebuilt Church Street South. (Click here to read about one 2013 planning session, pictured, at which neighbors weighed in on the complex’s future.)

Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, head of the Livable City Initiative (LCI), said the city will “hold” to that “at least 30 percent” figure in any negotiations over a rebuilt Church Street South. She added that officials have not discussed next-stage development with Northland.

Markeshia Ricks PhotoIf the city does, it should make sure its “development agenda does not shortchange the tenants’ rights,” remarked Amy Marx (at right in photo with client Laynette Del Hoyo), the legal aid attorney representing a growing number of households battling leaks, mold, and crumbling walls and ceilings. “There must be no delays nor lenient enforcement, as the city negotiates with Northland over possible development plans. In addition, any development plan must take the tenants’ rights to relocation and return into account.” The city’s development administrator, Matthew Nemerson, was present this week in discussions with a Northland vice-president about conditions at the complex.

Hill Alder Dolores Colon, who represents Church Street South, called herself “ambivalent” about the prospect of Northland controlling the property’s future as developer of a new complex.

“On their website, they have lots of luxury housing. They know how to do tasteful, decent, stable housing,” she said.

On the other hand, “what they have down at Church Street South is criminal,” Colon continued. “Maybe,” she said, the city should “make them swear on a stack of bibles” to do better.

Big Dreams, Bigger Disappointments

Aliyya Swaby PhotoNew Haven has been dreaming big about Church Street South for 70 years (Read here about how architects and city planners reimagined Union Station and Church Street South back in March.). For over 50 years, a produce market occupied the land. Late Mayor Richard C. Lee once described the market this way: “a tangle of stress, often so congested that normal business was impossible. Most business was conducted from the tailgates of trucks. This was a truck market in every sense of the word, with little tax return to the City and few permanent jobs. The buildings that were used were obsolete and inefficient, relics of a bygone age. Streets were too often littered with refuse and filth and infested with rats and vermin. This was the sight that greeted visitors to New Haven as they left the railroad station. One can hardly imagine a less impressive entrance to a city.”

That quotation came from “A Nowhere Between Two Somewheres: The Church Street South Project and Urban Renewal in New Haven,” a 2012 academic paper written at Yale by Emily Dominiski. The paper details how the city’s original plan was to build “New Haven’s Fifth Avenue” there to connect Union Station to downtown. By 1965 it had evolved into a plan for luxury housing. Then, amid public pressure for more low-income housing, the city switched the plan to a co-op for lower-income families.

Even that idea got watered down. Initially the city was going to create a co-op with a federal loan under the federal 221(d)(3) program, which created the Florence Virtue Homes and Dwight Gardens, among other communities across town. That program required a not-for-profit organization to serve as sponsor. The Jaycees signed on. Then they signed off.

The eventual project became a straight-up, privately-owned complex for poor people, supported by federal money. Architect Charles Moore designed the series of three and four-story concrete collections of duplexes linked by pedestrian paths. He included apartments for large families, up to five bedrooms; New Haven now has a shortage of such apartments.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoMoore made a fatal philosophical error, however, in the view of New Haven’s current City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg (pictured): He pursued an “Italian Hill Village” design, “with narrow pedestrian streets, joining up in plazas,” not designed for cars. That works great in Italian villages, Gilvarg said. It doesn’t work “in a monolithic” dense urban low-income housing complex. The pathways became drug hot spots where dealers shot out lights and cops had trouble gaining quick access. Church Street South became known for crack gangs like The Jungle Boys, who became targets of federal drug sweeps. To this day it remains one of the most crime-ridden spots in New Haven.

Babz Rawls-Ivy, who grew up in Church Street South in its early days, remembers a successful community where families moved up from poorer surroundings. She said the complex did work, but even as a child she understood that the city at large didn’t want low-income families of color living across from the train station. She remembers realizing: “Well, you can tolerate poor white people. You don’t want to see poor black people.” (Rawls-Ivy, the managing editor of the Inner-City News and host of WNHH radio’s “LoveBabz” program, is a former alder; she spoke about Church Street South in two on-air discussions ( one beginning at 19:30 in this audio file, the other beginning at 52 in this file.)

Rawls-Ivy disagreed with the argument that the “Italian Hill Village” approach or high density explains Church Street South’s demise. The management and the tenants were responsible over the years.

“I thought the design was amazing,” she said of her time growing up there. “It fostered a sense of community. There were trees and grass; nobody could drive through.”

Church Street South went through a succession of owners, including one, Community Builders, that promised to add social service support to help families thrive in the development. All the plans failed. Northland swooped in on the project in 2008 with dreams of creating successful downtown developments, not just there, but at the old Coliseum site. Instead, it became the area’s newest slumlord.

Tall Order

Aliyya Swaby PhotoNow, Gilvarg said, echoing Lawrence Gottesdiener, Church Street South has reached “the end of its useful life. That project has been beat. It really needs to be redeveloped with the residents’ right to remain in decent safe affordable housing preserved.”

How to get there will involve a dance with Northland, whether or not it ends up serving as developer.

It owns the property. The city can’t force it to sell.

The city theoretically could convince the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to withdraw the company’s $3 million annual Section 8 subsidy lifeline. That would be an uphill effort. It could take years.

Even if those subsidies evaporated, Northland could theoretically pursue a completely market-rate plan, given the hot market for rental housing in New Haven and the project’s proximity to Union Station. But any developer needs cooperation from city government, especially on a complicated project that could involve regulatory approvals. The city could make a building project too difficult to pursue.

Beyond the players involved, a rebuilding project itself is complicated. The city has a shortage of the three- and four-bedroom apartments prevalent (although they tend to include small bedrooms) at Church Street South. The tenants won’t disappear. Their “right of return,” or at least to obtain safe housing elsewhere, will remain high on the public agenda.

“There are lots of challenges for everybody here,” DeStefano observed. “You can’t just shut it down. It’s a community…. [and] our quantity of apartments for larger families in the Hill is limited.”

On the other hand, he noted, “folks shouldn’t be living in those conditions” as they exist now across from Union Station. New Haven has reached consensus on that question — which means, challenges aside, it will struggle to get Church Street South’s next incarnation right.

Previous coverage:

Flooding Plagues Once-Condemned Apartment
Church Street South Hit With 30 New Orders
Complaints Mount Against Church Street South
City Cracks Down On Church Street South, Again
Complex Flunks Fed Inspection, Rakes In Fed $$
Welcome Home — To Frozen Pipes
City Spotted Deadly Dangers; Feds Gave OK
No One Called 911
“New” Church Street South Goes Nowhere Fast
Church Street South Tenants Organize

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posted by: Nathan on August 21, 2015  1:16pm

Why are there only three options in the poll?  It seems like push-polling in an attempt to force at least 20% mixed income housing plans.  What if that’s a recipe for failure?  What if that site isn’t best used for mixed income housing?  I might be interesting to see some follow-up stories on how the mixed income housing has worked (or not) in other city developments over the past decade or so.

[Ed: Thank you. Point well taken. Poll has been redone.]

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on August 21, 2015  2:29pm

The city should let development progress at market rate and use the tax money to help move along projects in less valuable areas.

It’d be interesting to see a running tally of all the projects the city squashed or soured in the name of “fairness”, historical preservation, or whatever only to let blight fester in it’s wake for decades.

This city needs to get out of its own way.

posted by: Pedro Soto on August 21, 2015  3:46pm

Northland has been a terrible corporate citizen, but there is very little room for any sort of pressure. They own the property. They can simply do nothing and let the people suffer, or the city can work with them to get a plan in motion and guarantee housing somewhere in the area that is worlds better than what they are living in.

The people who are living in Church Street South are living under absolutely deplorable conditions. The city needs to figure out how to keep an affordable housing mix in the overall area. It does not make any sense to push for a 30% deal, if 30% is going to kill Northland’s will to do the project and allow the current tenants to live in the conditions they are living in indefinitely.

How does that help anyone currently living there?

posted by: DrFeelgood on August 21, 2015  4:16pm

The reason is clear why these projects still exist in these conditions…the city wanted to increase the affordable income housing back in 2012 so Northland went ahead and spent its money on another development out of state. The developer wants to make money not build a beautiful development for subsidized apartments. This is prime real estate and I’m sure that is why Northland made the purchase. The city needs to work with the developer to get this jungle razed as soon as possible that way there won’t be anymore living condition issues. Would be nice to enter the city from the train station without feeling unsafe right??!

posted by: 1644 on August 21, 2015  6:36pm

Low-rise housing like that is hardly “high density.”  There is nothing wrong with the design.  With upgrades (kitchens, AC, etc.) this could be premium housing with the location right be the train station.  The major thing wrong with this project is the residents.  Remove them and the city would have a good community generating taxes for services.  Alternative, one could build a mixed use complex with 6 or so story buildings with commercial, office and residential.  This might be the best use for such a prime location.  No way should this location be low-income.

posted by: NewHavenerToo on August 21, 2015  8:45pm

These units have been in sub par conditions for too long.  During the last Alderman campaign, a couple of “bright young individuals” working for Ms. Colon’s campaign knocked on my door informing me on how Ms. Colon is fighting to get Section 8 for these unfortunate families.  Well, it looks as if not much of a fight is needed.  These families cannot afford the rents on their own as it is, and if or when this horrible complex is shut down, they better go knocking on DSS’s door for some vouchers.

posted by: Bradley on August 21, 2015  8:53pm

I believe the statement “the city can t force it [Northland]  to sell” is misleading. Unlike the property that was the subject of Kelo v. New London, this project is clearly blighted. The statutes provide a couple of mechanisms where the city can acquire the property, for fair market value, using eminent domain. I’m not arguing for eminent domain, and understand why 3/5ths and others would oppose its use. But it is an option.

Wikus, hundreds of families will be displaced and have their lives disrupted if the redevelopment is solely left to the market. Even if the displaced families get Section 8 certificates, they will have tough time finding appropriate apartments, particularly in the case of larger families. How many four- or five-bedrooms apartments have you seen listed recently?

posted by: robn on August 21, 2015  10:22pm

So in other words Alderperson Dolores Colon killed the rebuilding because she demanded too much. Nice going. Good riddance to the retiree. This is case in point why the parochial 30 person board of amateurs should be discarded for a professionalized board of 10 (in line with every other municipality in the country).

posted by: NewHavenerToo on August 22, 2015  7:14am


Low income housing is a sad necessity in this day and age.  There are some landlords who have advertised units for $950 and then put in a request for $1200 when they find out that the family is subsidized by Section 8.  This practice has to stop.  Luckily there are workers who do their due diligence and take that extra step to ensure that those landlords are not charging subsidized families more than advertised in the private market.  It’s a tough road, but the alternative is outpricing unsubsidized families.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on August 22, 2015  7:34am

While I agree with Robn that New Haven should probably have a smaller Board of Alders, the last thing we need is “a professionalized board of 10” (aka a bunch of white lawyers who can afford to be full-time politicians).

posted by: Paul Wessel on August 22, 2015  7:58am

Looks like Yale’s Bruce Alexander sits on the Loomis Chaffe Board with Northland’s President and CEO, Steven Rosenthal.  (See Perhaps he could assist in brokering an arrangement between the City, HUD, Northland, and the tenants. Seems like a ripe opportunity with potential for an alignment of everyone’s self-interest. Would be great too, in lieu of protracted litigation, to squeeze out a Northland contribution to New Haven Legal Assistance for continued representation on low income housing issues.

posted by: nh resident on August 22, 2015  8:23am

Having lived in New Haven for over 15 years, I often pondered the following about Church Street South:

1) Why would anyone fight to remain living in a place that is in such a state of squalor?  My suspected answer:  The people living there are being subsidized to live there.
2) As a parent, how could one want his children to be raised amid such fear and threat from the pervasive crime and drug dealing?  Answer:  The people living there are being subsidized and feel they have no where else to go?
3) How bad do living conditions have to be and how bad does crime need to get before those living there say, to hell with these subsidies!

One other question, what is the employment rate for adult tenants living in the complex.  I suspect its low by comparison to the city at large (this maybe a completely erroneous assumption), but if it is correct, why aren’t we thinking completely differently about this model of low income housing and wondering why we should keep such a project in the city and find a way to move more people to a suburban location that might be closer to job opportunities.

We keep hearing how the “city” needs to create more job opportunities for its people.  Unfortunately that’s always going to be a losing battle because the city doesn’t have that power to create job opportunities (maybe on the fringes it can influence things). Real job opportunities, like those that drove tens of thousands of people to New Haven (Winchester, Marlin, Sargent etc) are gone and not coming back. We are imprisoning people to the city with housing subsidies and have created an incentive for them not to follow the work! We need to bust this cycle.

posted by: citoyen on August 22, 2015  9:58am

At the risk of bringing down the wrath of God (or at least 1/2 of New Haven) upon my head, I am going to go one step beyond Bradley and say yes, eminent domain *is* an option that should be pursued here (partly, but only partly, to bring down the wrath of God upon Northland - or at least as a negotiating tool).

I know the words eminent domain are dirty in New Haven, because of the experience during mid-century redevelopment when legions of traumatized people were displaced from their homes. So unquestionably the first priority in any discussion of the future of the Church Street South cite has to be about providing suitable housing for the people now living there, like in the nearby development proposed by Randy Salvatore.

But the people currently living in Church Street South are going to *have* to relocate somewhere, sometime. The housing has become literally unfit for human habitation. Period. Everybody knows this. There are no possible fixes. It needs to be demolished. Period. Everybody know this.

Northland has proved to be a despicable owner and an utterly irresponsible (non)citizen. Nobody is going to shed any tears over a taking of their property, for just compensation.

Eminent domain, under the Constitution, is to be used for “public use.” Perfect. The city could design a roadway (i.e., publicly owned space) on axis directly connecting the train station with Church Street South - the roadway - perhaps redesigning the Union Square envisioned in the Hill-to-Downtown plan into a welcoming plaza directly in front of the station, on Union Avenue, incorporating greenery, new approaches to the station, pickup and drop-off points, taxi stands, etc.

If the city acquired the property outright through eminent domain, it would then have a free hand in determining the site’s future, as both a welcome to New Haven and a direct link to downtown.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 22, 2015  11:55am

He is not going to do anything.He is holding on until he can find a buyer.

posted by: robn on August 22, 2015  11:58am


As it stands now the BOH work load weighted against the $2000 annual stipend makes the job untenable for any working class person who needs to work enough hours to maintain an income that can support their family. So that leaves us with candidacies of future absentee Alders, independently wealthy alders, retirees who may be out of touch with the realities of today, those supported by a richly employed spouse, and labor activists whose public and private jobs align to their employers benefit.

I won’t dignify your racist comment with a response but What I mean by professional is anyone with actual management or business expertise (George Perez, Jessica Holmes and a small handful of others fit this description) who will be compensated enough so that the public can hold them accountable as a public employee; not just the “oh well, that person does a thankless job for a pittance so they deserve some sympathy Alderperson.”

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on August 22, 2015  10:15pm

This city is not agile or organized enough to do anything with eminent domain.  First of all if they did seize the property it would be abandoned and sit rotting for at least a decade before they sold it in some shady deal, and then it would sit for another decade before the next person it got sold to got permission to raze it and rebuild after it nearly collapses in on itself.  And then secondly, they’d get sued by the property owner, and either settle for millions of dollars or lose and have to pay millions of dollars.

If 30% low income housing kills the project financially, it doesn’t matter how many people you take the proposal to after you’ve stolen the land.  The guy you get to start it is going to find a way to run off with your money after he figures out the deal’s a loser.  Likely you’d have to front a large chunk of cash to add to the pot to make it palatable; which you could just take right now and buy up every abandoned house in the city and put these people up in.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on August 22, 2015  11:20pm

My comment wasn’t intended to be racist—its what happens when you end up with “professional politicians”.

posted by: NewHavenerToo on August 23, 2015  12:13pm


Did you forget when the city did that with some of the residents in the hill in order to build the Daniels school on Congress Avenue?  Of course, this would be for a different reason, but it has done it in the past.  Housing is tight enough in this city and little by little the stock has shrunken.  There were at least 4 single family homes and 3 6 family buildings torn down in just 1 block on Washington Avenue to expand Truman School as well as the rest of the homes on the next block.  I would personally like to see some more 2-3 family homes built in the Hill.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 24, 2015  10:53am

Excellent article.

While I would approach the redevelopment of Church Street South differently today, here are my thoughts on the issues from 3 years ago:

To me, it seems like the primary issues with Church Street South are twofold:
1) The development was poorly conceived from the beginning and
2) The complex was not adequately maintained as it could and should have been throughout the years

The article accurately states above that in the early 1900s, the area that is now Church Street South was envisioned as an elegant urban boulevard giving access to a new train station from the Green. George Dudley Seymour, Cass Gilbert, and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. imagined cafes, hotels, and boutique shops clusters around plazas along the boulevard leading to the new station.

The train station was eventually built in 1918 and a smaller version of the boulevard was completed around the same time connecting Orange Street to the train station (the section of Orange Street south of Route 34 is what remains of the former station approach).

Rather than becoming New Haven’s Fifth Avenue, the area around the station continued to develop as a wholesale and warehouse district right up until the Second World War. After the war, the area declined significantly as more modern facilities opened up on the outskirts of the city.

Early Urban Redevelopment Plans for the area called for new commercial space in the district. As again correctly stated in the article, however, later plans switched to mixed-income housing, and then were finally realized as low-income housing. Prior to Charles Moore being brought onto the project, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had been commissioned to design several high rise apartment buildings and a school set in park-like landscapes and parking lots. Thankfully, Charles Moore took over the project and envisioned something much different and much better.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 24, 2015  11:22am

When Moore was initially brought onto the project, the proposal was envisioned as a mixed-income development with low and moderate priced units. Originally, Moore wanted to include much more commercial and community space in the program, but funding was tight and government housing agencies at the time had neither the grasp of the importance of retail near housing nor the apparatus with which to implement much else besides housing.

Moore also wanted to include a narrow road through the center of the complex to connect pedestrians with downtown and the train station, but the city’s traffic engineer at the time said that all streets had to be a minimum of 36 feet and so Moore’s narrow street instead became the pedestrian-only walkway that now exists.

The overall scheme called for organizing units around green spaces with parking hidden behind or underneath the units and each unit cluster connected by the central pedestrian spine which gave access to plazas, retail, and community space. The units themselves are large, each with its only small balcony and views to green spaces.

Towards the end of the design process, the moderate-income units were dropped and during construction numerous problems with the builder resulted in 100 out of the 400 total units never being built towards the north end of the site.

A summary of the program and design flaws are as follows:

-Not enough commercial space
-Not enough streets through the complex
-The green spaces are too accessible, resulting in outsiders using them to sell drugs and intimidate residents
-No moderate- and market-rate units
-Flat roof construction resulting in chronic leaks

These issues could be resolved by adding commercial space along Union Avenue, building new market rate units at the north end of the site, opening up Columbus Avenue and adding another street through the center of the complex, adding gates and fences to privatize the green spaces, and adding pitched roofs like McConaughey Terrace.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 24, 2015  11:33am

If one really wanted to get fancy with Church Street South, some 4- and 5-bedroom units could also be converted to moderate- and market-rate units by renovating them into larger 3-bedroom units with upgraded kitchens. Some surgical demolition could also help with adding streets and removing hidden corners and crevices, while also making room for some new construction.

This type of work of course would require people that are interested in working with Moore’s flawed but also extremely interesting design.

On the other hand, starting again from scratch provides an opportunity to create something truly great for the city in the form of a new neighborhood and grand entrance to the city from the train station. I worry, however, that instead of getting great architecture and spaces, we would merely get parking garages and cheap construction.

I would like to see a proposal that attempts to renovate much of the existing complex, perhaps converting some existing units to market rate, and uses some select demolition to open up space for new residential and commercial buildings.

Absent of that type of proposal, a full redevelopment would need hidden parking, a station plaza or park, solid construction, and an architecture that is inspired by its surroundings ie Trowbridge Square, Cass Gilbert’s station, and the Ninth Square.

posted by: citoyen on August 24, 2015  12:38pm


It is always so terrific to read what you say about New Haven planning issues, from your deep knowledge of the city’s history PLUS your highly trained design sense. Now seeing it again, I remember being bowled over by your master’s thesis a while back.

If I understand correctly, the piece of Orange St. you cite above would not really have been a partial realization of the Gilbert/Olmsted boulevard, because their idea was to connect the train station directly to the Green (Temple St.), not to a place east of the Green.

I think they also envisioned some sort of plaza/civic area directly in front of the station, at the station end of their boulevard, which I suspect might have been the genesis for your Union Square concept—an idea that’s been incorporated into the city’s Hill-to-Downtown plan.

I love the Union Square idea, joining the neighborhood to the station and to the downtown link, and I love the boulevard idea, and I love the station plaza idea—and I wonder if they all couldn’t become a long-term goal for New Haven. A potential “boulevard” already exists—it is Church Street South, the street, which goes directly to the Green. All it needs is a direct roadway link to the station.

Perhaps instead of being only on one side, Union Square could straddle Church Street South (the street) and become a turn into a Station Boulevard on axis with the station, leading to a station plaza in front of the station. An updated 21st-century version of Beaux-Arts City Beautiful ideas.

Wild dreaming, I know—but achievements always have to start with a dream. I say, plan big, rather than try to renovate the failed Charles Moore design for the existing housing project, as you suggest. Set a civic goal for the future of New Haven that will inspire people *not* to accept mediocre and cheap construction of the sort you fear.  A big plan did not work a hundred years ago.  But a potential boulevard already exists this time around.  It just needs to be supplemented.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 24, 2015  1:40pm

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 24, 2015 11:53am

These issues could be resolved by adding commercial space along Union Avenue, building new market rate units at the north end of the site, opening up Columbus Avenue and adding another street through the center of the complex, adding gates and fences to privatize the green spaces, and adding pitched roofs like McConaughey Terrace.

Market Rate? So where are the people who liv there now are to go,Because they will not be able to pay Market Rent.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 24, 2015  10:12pm


I’d like to see a proposal to substantially renovate the existing complex for the existing residents. In addition to that, I’d also like to see:
1) the green spaces privatized for the residents with tasteful fencing and gates,
2) pitched roofs added to the existing buildings like what was done with McConaughey Terrace about 5 years ago (see here:
3) surgical demolition to remove hidden corners that are difficult to police and make room for a new street through the center of the complex where the existing central pathway is,
4) new construction of market rate residential and commercial space along Union Avenue and on the north end of the site where there is currently a surface parking lot,
5) possibly some conversion of existing units in the complex to market rate units,
and 6) re-open Columbus Avenue to multimodal transportation.

This envisions that most or all current residents can remain, but also welcome new residents from different socio-economic backgrounds as well as additional commercial space. Many of the leaking issues on the site could be addressed with upgraded roof construction. Much of the crime issues could be addressed by creating new streets and privatizing the courtyards.

I very much doubt that a full renovation of the existing complex could be financed without including some new market rate residential and commercial development.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 25, 2015  7:52pm

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 24, 2015 11:12pm

I very much doubt that a full renovation of the existing complex could be financed without including some new market rate residential and commercial development.

Not true.Check out the Mo” Vaughn housing program which buys up buildings like this and puts the same people back in.

A new landlord has completed the nearly $12 million renovation undertaken a little over two years ago, completely transforming the buildings.“It was as extensive a rehab as you can get without knocking the buildings down,” said Eugene Schneur, the managing director of Omni New York LLC, the real estate development company founded by former Major League baseball player Mo Vaughn, that owns 7,400 units of affordable housing across three states.

MOGUL Mo Vaughn, the former big-league slugger, has built a business rehabilitating low-income housing. Mr. Vaughn, center, with his partners, Robert Bennett, left, and Eugene Schneur, at Thessalonica Court in the Bronx, one of the team’s first properties.Since then, it has bought and rehabilitated 23 sites in New York, Massachusetts and Wyoming for a total of $503 million. Other deals worth $205 million for 1,000 units, most in the Bronx, are scheduled to close in September.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 26, 2015  11:13am


Financing is not the only reason to construct new market rate units and commercial space. Other reasons for construction new residential housing include encouraging higher-income households to live closer to the things they use ie the train station, the medical district and downtown, rather than having them commute in from elsewhere contributing to asthma and congestion and not paying city taxes; additionally, part of the issue with Church Street South is that it’s an insulated monoculture deprived of socio-economic diversity.

While I’d like to see most of the existing complex renovated for most of the existing residents, I also think it’s vital to integrate moderate and market rate units as well as commercial space with new construction on underused areas of the site, of which there are several.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 26, 2015  3:59pm

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 26, 2015 12:13pm


While I’d like to see most of the existing complex renovated for most of the existing residents, I also think it’s vital to integrate moderate and market rate units as well as commercial space with new construction on underused areas of the site, of which there are several.

The problem is that the people who can pay market rent do not want mix income people living with them.You read about this.

Poor Door’ in a New York Tower Opens a Fight Over Affordable Housing

Victoriano Oviedo at the side entrance for lower-income housing in the same complex as the Edge, a Brooklyn development.

I like Mo” Vaughn housing program which buys up buildings like this and puts the same people back in.