Downtown Builder Plans 29 More Apartments

Thomas Breen photoIn a sign of a continuing residential boom, a Greenwich-based developer plans to convert downtown office space into 29 new market-rate apartments just around the corner from where he plans to build a six-story, 60-unit apartment complex atop a currently vacant parking lot.

Joseph Cohen, the co-founder of the New York City development firm East River Partners, presented his latest downtown apartment plans to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on Wednesday night in the basement meeting room at 200 Orange St.

Those plans include converting the second, third, and fourth floor office spaces of 742 Chapel St. into 24 residential units and converting the second, third, and fourth floor office spaces of 754 Chapel St. into five residential units. 

Cohen and Bethel attorney Peter Olson requested that the BZA grant them variances to allow for zero square feet of open space for the two projects. They also requested special exceptions to allow for zero on-site parking spaces for the two projects. Zoning regulations currently require 742 Chapel to have 600 square feet of open space and 12 on-site parking spaces for 24 dwelling units. The law also requires 756 Chapel to have 125 square feet of open space and three parking spaces for five dwelling units.

“We’re trying to essentially finalize these buildings that are for the most part vacant and unutilized,” Cohen told the zoning commissioners. “And it’s very difficult to tenant them given today’s demands for an office tenant. It just doesn’t work for them. But it works pretty well for apartments.”

The BZA referred the two applications to the City Plan Commission (CPC), which will provide an advisory report before the BZA commissioners vote on the proposals at next month’s meeting.

The 742 and 756 Chapel projects are not the only planned developments that Cohen is working on at the corner of Chapel Street and State Street.

In June, Cohen presented to the BZA his plans to build a six-story, 60-unit mixed-use apartment complex atop a currently vacant parking lot at 294-302 State St. At a recent public meeting, Cohen said that those apartments will likely rent at a “mid-price” that falls somewhere between affordable and luxury.

Cohen said that the planned apartments for the 742 and 756 Chapel developments will be market rate, though he did not share a proposed price range.

The four-story, 24,148 square-foot building at 742 Chapel currently houses a Subway sandwich shop, a National Guard recruiting office, a nail salon, and a few other businesses in its groundfloor retail spaces. Cohen said the top three levels are currently office space.

He said he does not plan on moving out any of the current groundfloor tenants, and that he plans on converting the top three floors into 18 studio apartments, three one-bedroom units, and three two-bedroom units.

“We’re proposing adaptive reuse of the building,” Olson said. The four-story, Greek Revival building, known as the Street Building, dates back to 1832.

Cohen’s application for 754 Chapel proposes to convert the second, third, and fourth floors of that building into five apartments: four studios and one one-bedroom.

Cohen said that that 5,823 square-foot building is currently fully leased by the U.S. Postal Service, which leases space on a month-to-month basis. He said he believes that USPS plans to move out of the property, but that he submitted the BZA application for 754 Chapel as a “backup plan.”

For both applications, Olson argued that the projects deserved open-space variances and on-site parking reduction special exceptions because both building predate the current zoning regulations, both occupy almost the entirety of their respective lots, and both provide ready access to the New Haven Green for open space, and to bus stops and train stations for public transportation.

Cohen noted that he doesn’t just won 742 Chapel and 754 Chapel, through the respective holding companies Chapel & State LLC and Bassett Building LLC. He also owns 756 Chapel through Chapel Goldie Libro LLC and 760 Chapel through Monson Building LLC.

During the BZA public hearing for the 742 and 754 Chapel applications, city Deputy Economic Development Director Steve Fontana read letters of support for the project from Bernblum & Bernblum, the owners of 770 Chapel St., and from the Town Green Special Services District.

“The addition of residential units to the neighborhood will be a great attribute for the area,” Fontana read from Bernblum & Bernblum’s letter, “especially at a time when there is a need to increase foot traffic to retailers nearby.”

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posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 13, 2018  11:13am

Elmcityboy, I think your comment was posted to the wrong story.

posted by: robn on September 13, 2018  12:02pm

Has the city officially cut off the 7 year tax phase in for new developments or will this development be another pig at the trough? If the city hasn’t cancelled them, thats just another example why non of them (the mayor, the BOA) should be in office).

posted by: elmcityboy on September 13, 2018  12:30pm

yes, my comment did post to the wrong story. can an nhi staff member delete it here?

i do have some thoughts on cohen, though—he should stay off the state house’s turf! and he’s building more apartments in the 9th square, where rents are already ludicrously high, he should be obligated to build more affordable units.

posted by: wendy1 on September 13, 2018  6:19pm

Today I noticed the cheapest rent at the Corsair is $1800 (plus utilities ?)..  Even the middle class here like me are being priced out.  Affordable rents must be demanded of developers otherwise they should move on up the “gold coast”.  A new neighbor from Oregon complained to me about lousy city and utility services here that she did not expect along with shocking rents and crappy mail service.  What renters and owners are getting lately is a whole lot of grief and aggravation along with dirty air and the threat of coastal flooding (when will our weather ticket get punched?)...not to mention the never ending fiasco’s and fubar’s of Toni’s regime.

posted by: Cove'd on September 14, 2018  12:41pm

Many things affect housing costs and affordability - more than I know of.  But I believe one of the biggest reasons why housing prices are high boils down to supply and demand: Rents are high because there are more people (more demand) wanting to live in those places than there are number of housing units (supply) available.  The solution includes building more housing, especially in locations that are near transit and/or highly walkable/bikeable.  Moreover, things like zoning regulations/ordinances - like minimum parking requirements - that effectively put limits on development density need to be eliminated from the books. 

Articles like this seem to provide insight:
https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/smallest-springtime-rent-increase-of-the-decade-for-seattle-area-as-new-apartments-flood-the-market/