MOD Makes Downtown Moves

Aliyya Swaby PhotoThe same developer creating an extended-stay hotel on George Street is seeking permission to put 64 apartments in two commercial buildings in the downtown market.

Brothers Jacob and Josef Feldman of MOD Equities asked the Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday night for special exceptions and variances to build apartments and commercial spaces in the former Harold’s bridal shop at 19 Elm St. and part of the Joseph English building at 418 State St.

The board did not yet vote on the matter, sending it first to the City Plan Commission next week for a hearing.

The proposals are the latest in a wave of downtown building projects, focusing on apartments and denser development. The brothers received zoning permission to put 108 studios in an extended-day hotel at 323 George St. in December.

At 19 Elm St., they asked Tuesday for a variance to build sidewalls taller than allowed by ordinance — 60 feet instead of 43 feet on the west side and 6.6 feet on the east side — and to have no front yard where 5 feet is required. They also asked for a special exception to allow 19 on-site parking spaces where 25 are required.

The building is located in a business zone. The Feldmans presented their plan to the Downtown Wooster Square Community Management Team last May.

The building’s plan calls for five stories with 46 apartment units with a 1,200 square foot commercial space on the bottom floor, Jacob Feldman told zoning commissioners.

MOD Equities’ lawyer, Matt Ranelli, said Tuesday that the plan meets the city’s updated Comprehensive Plan for the next 10 years by accommodating alternative transportation to cars. The building is close to the State Street train station “and every bus route in New Haven,” he said. They asked for the special exception to decrease parking in order to include 20 outdoor bike parking spaces, along with an additional 20 indoors.

The complex would include two-story duplex units and one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Two neighbors spoke up about the plan. Joe Mirrione, who works at 27 Elm St. said he doesn’t know how he feels about it, except that “parking is a concern.”

The Feldman brothers also requested a variance to allow no usable open space where 450 square feet are required and a special exception to provide no parking instead of 13 spaces at 418 State St. They bought a portion of the building from PMC Property Group and closed the deal in the fall, Josef Feldman said.

They plan to put 18 apartments on the third and fourth floors of an existing commercial building, and keep the existing office and commercial first-floor uses. The building cannot accommodate the required amount of open space for a residential or mixed-use building of this size, said lawyer Greg Muccilli. The roof construction makes a roof deck physically impossible and no space is available on the lot, he said.

But Pitkin Plaza, Wooster Square Park and the New Haven Green are nearby, to provide open space nearby, he said.

The building is located “within minutes of mass transit” and tenants will be able to “walk anywhere to downtown,” he said, making the decrease in parking reasonable. It will have a fitness room, game room, and bicycle storage.

They are still deciding what to do with the basement space underneath the building, he said later.

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posted by: robn on March 9, 2016  8:57am

(sound of an eraser flying across the room and hitting the table)
...hire an architect…

posted by: Elm City Resident on March 9, 2016  11:24am

Have the other, new downtown apartment buildings been leased?  What’s the lease rate of the older downtown apartment buildings?  Doesn’t really make sense to build more apartments if the existing ones aren’t already leased.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on March 9, 2016  11:46am

It’s hard to say how many apartments are leased—only the Novella is really “done.” College St. Apartments are sort of done, but the building is clearly still under construction. Same with The Union.

It may well be that these apartments are not quite in that same level of luxury housing as the other new developments and instead seek to compete with some of the slightly less upscale apartments, but who knows. Vacancy rates are still incredibly low overall, no?

posted by: HewNaven on March 9, 2016  12:30pm

Elm City Resident,

A development is a BET placed on a given location and time (future projection of value). If the odds are in a developer’s favor, they’ll put their money down on the table, just like any other high-stakes gambler. Developers aren’t city planners or community activists and they don’t necessarily care about history, or the long-term health of the community in which they develop. It’s all about short-term payouts for investors and developers. New Haven is simply a good bet right now.

posted by: Renewhavener on March 9, 2016  2:11pm

@roby, ah come on, it looks pretty good.  Contextually appropriate in any case as there really aren’t any architectural gems on this block to begin with.  Don’t know these fellas, but they appear to be working with a solid local architect for their other project:

As for kicking this back to CPC, sometimes entitlement delays are the result of the dysfunctional process, other times they are self inflicted by a lack of respect for that dysfunction.  This is the latter.

posted by: Renewhavener on March 9, 2016  2:52pm

@HN.  Or stated more objectively a developer sees a need and attempts use their resources to address it.  In exchange for addressing it, they expect and are right to receive compensation.  No different than a food cart serving you lunch just now because you are hungry while rightly expecting and receiving $6 for doing so.  (The arepa was as nice as the weather today btw, so make sure you write city hall asking them to abandon this foolish plan so that lunch need not cost us each $10: )

Would argue that assuming unless a project is undertaken by a centralized planner or community activist that the needs will not be met is a misguided assertion.  Whether executed in a communistic, socialistic or capitalistic fashion, the need can still be met.  How efficiently they are met however is the question upon which preference turns.

posted by: Bradley on March 9, 2016  4:14pm

I think the open space requirement does not make sense when it comes to properties that are easily walkable to the Green or other large parks. While I would not want to deny my friend and former colleague Matt Ranelli any billable hours, I think the Board of Alders should eliminate the requirement in cases such as this one, rather than requiring developers to get a variance.

Elm City Resident, it often takes a building a year or more to rent out 90% or more of its units. Picking up on Josh Levinson’s point, it is simply too early to say whether the rental market has been overbuilt. But the fact that (1) the proposed housing development in the Hill is moving forward and (2) according to a recent article in the Yale Daily News, the LiveWorkPlayLearn developers are proceeding with a much larger development on the site of the former Coliseum suggests that there is still a market for apartments.

HewNaven, some developers hold on to their buildings for an extended time. In such cases, the developers are making a long-term bet that the rental income stream plus the tax effects of depreciation will allow them to make a profit. In this case, I have no idea what the Feldmans plan on doing with the project once it is built.

Renewhavener, local law requires a referral to the Plan Commission in a number of circumstances. I suspect that this is one of them.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 9, 2016  5:36pm

HewNaven and Renewhavener’s comments on development don’t seem mutually exclusive since I agree with both of them and I don’t think that HewNaven was implying activists of planners should develop buildings, they were only pointing out (correctly) that developers rarely have the similar motivations as the former groups.

My two cents are that the often noble goals of city planners and community activists are unlikely to be met even partially until financiers and developers re-orient their current development strategy, which consists of:
1) using the cheapest possible construction systems and finish materials,
2) ignoring zoning to build the maximum number of units at the smallest size that the site, construction system, and market can handle,
and 3) charging the maximum amount for rent that the market can handle in order to maximize the return on investment.
An alternative, community-oriented development model would:
1) use the most expensive construction system and finish materials possible,
2) build the largest units allowable while creating a building form that is contextually appropriate for the site,
and 3) charge the minimum amount for rent that still allows for the development to make a profit.

Having said that, construction costs are a major issue and zoning needs to be rewritten similarly to Hamden and Hartford in order to facilitate denser development throughout the City.

As for this block of Elm Street not having any architectural significant buildings - this block actually seems to have an extraordinarily dense collection of historically (and therefore architecturally in a sense) significant buildings ranging from a Georgian-style house to the sole remaining cast-iron building in the City as seen here:

If this Harold’s proposal moves forward, I hope that the project will use appropriate brickwork, and mortar color and joints that blend in to the surrounding buildings, rather than a glued-on brick façade like College & Crown.

posted by: HewNaven on March 9, 2016  5:37pm


You’re conflating separate issues there. I agree food carts should remain a cheap lunch for visitors and residents, but that has nothing to do with my point of development as high-stakes betting.

posted by: wendy1 on March 10, 2016  9:14am

Doesn’t look ugly.  I want AFFORDABLE rents and so-called section 8 housing for NON-SMOKING individuals and families.  I want local hirings for this “job”.  But I am a neighbor and you know what I want, I hope.

posted by: robn on March 10, 2016  9:36am

The rendering is childishly two dimensional and derivative, throwing a bunch of unrelated downtown architectural elements together (some, like the theater marquees, are completely out of place) and also makes the freshman error of slamming an elevator core against an exterior wall where there could be daylit, leasable apartments. I’d like to see something get built here and I support the variance but it would be a shame to spend all that money and end up with what’s shown in that rendering.

posted by: Renewhavener on March 10, 2016  10:27am

@Bradley, agreed, CPC comes first.  They are dancing salsa, and should be doing a tango.

@HN reject the notion of conflating outright.  We’re talking about a single concept of a merchant’s ethos here.  Whether were dealing in lunch or apartments there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a market mindset.  Moreover there are a lot of hardworking capitalists in this town who do actually care deeply about the City and want to do and see others do the right thing.  Speaking from personal experience when your industry, your practice or yourself gets demonized or restrained out of populist political convenience, it gets old.

@JH, in the alternative model you state, “3) charge the minimum amount for rent that still allows for the development to make a profit.”, would suggest that the notion of having the development be profitable is not a consideration.  Without overly generalizing, believe most central planners / activists want the need met regardless of whether the costs are justified or reasonable compensation is in the offering for the risk taker. 

To illustrate that please consider that Farnam Court Phase I would not be getting built by a private developer at $545,455 / Unit, but the City is happy to work in the manner:
This manifest lack of efficiency in public investment to meet the need is among the reasons so many tax payers who cannot afford to build or live in a unit of this cost express so much frustration. 

Also disagree that the Model Code has helped Hamden or Hartford to any meaningful degree.  The business environment in both is pestilant, and no amount of code flexibility can cure that.  Meanwhile Hamden alienates Quinnipiac and Hartford plunges toward a Detroit-style state takeover:

posted by: HewNaven on March 10, 2016  12:22pm


Please tell me you know the difference between someone selling hot dogs and someone erecting buildings in a city. One has a more lasting effect, at least.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 10, 2016  7:05pm

In my experience, New Haven’s city plan department has been very responsive to the needs of developers, but I would certainly agree with you that many (not all) of the “activist/community organizers/NHI commentators” advocate for types of development that are irresponsive to many market forces and current financing realities. I’ve definitely been guilty of this before.

WARNING! *Anecdotal Evidence Below*
It’s also possible that my two different development models can end up with the same result; sometimes the most expensive building materials within the budget still end up being cheap products, or that the lowest possible amount to charge for rent is also the highest that the market can handle.

Builders will sometimes budget for higher quality materials specified by the architect and then use code minimum (or even code incompliant) building products on site (similar issue with labor). Developers will also often ask “what is the maximum number of units that can fit in this structure/site, and how small can the units be made” and then worry about getting zoning relief later. If that number of units is enough to justify the investment, then it will be made.

But that seems a bit backwards to me. A community-oriented approach would be to first determine what the minimum number of units at the largest possible size is that forms a building appropriate to the site’s context and still generates a profit. Rather than developers asking an architect how many units can fit on the site, they would say “this is the minimum number of units that I need designed in order to generate a profit, will they fit on this site in an appropriate way without seeking zoning relief?”

Now, in New Haven, it’s possible that even a building that seems contextual won’t be becaue of outdated zoning regs. Zoning reform won’t be a silver bullet, but Hartford only adopted its regs 3 months ago and Hamden, which doesn’t see much development, a few years ago, so time will tell their impact.

posted by: Renewhavener on March 10, 2016  10:54pm

@HN *slapping forehead* apparently not. But I’ll have mine with ketchup, relish and a dash of your obtuse literalism wrapped with sarcasm please.  Ummm.  A delicious but albeit futile attempt to distract from the true essence of the argument.  End transmission.

@JH I see the opposite out of cpc.  They defer entirely to the ward level CMTs even when a use is permitted in a zone.  no value add there sadly. 

Also, have read and in the case of Hamden attempted to apply the Model Codes.  While the intent was noble w Ohr et al to craft something contemporary as is often the case the devil is in the details.  In practice Model Codes are actually counterproductive to their intended aim and less clear and create less predictable outputs for developers and communities alike.  But young book smart planners with degrees blog that they’re great, so here we have to deal with it.  In NH our codes are anachronistic.  Am convinced we need fewer zoning laws, fewer steps to entitle a project and more ability to execute denser development “by right”.  The reason developers ask for exceptions is because the zones are so constrained by fiat that hardly anything permissible breaks even.

FAR (floor area ratio) is too low PR (parking ratio) is to high, meaningless requirements as noted in the article for open space on premises which become no more than pet bathrooms. Layer upon layer of appeasement, approval and enabling work before you even get started building.  These all inflict cost on the project that needs to be made up.  Now take some of these barriers go away and you’ll likely to see more go into the relative quality of the building.  Keep adding more hardship upfront and you get “lick-and-stick” (ht Duo).

Trust that development teams are asked the same questions you pose.  Too often the economical answer is simply not available within the imposed limits.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 11, 2016  2:52pm

Farnam Court

When I said city planners, I was referring to the City Plan Department and Economic Development Corporation, not the City Plan Commission.

Andrew Cappel’s 1991 paper on zoning in New Haven, A Walk Along Willow, offers an interesting though ultimately unconvincing argument that zoning is not necessary. Stephen Clowney’s 2005 response, A Walk Along Willard, somewhat effectively makes to case for the necessity of zoning (at least during New Haven’s industrial era). Can you point me towards some literature that discusses the impact of form-based codes versus conventional Euclidean zoning that has led you to believe that its counterproductive.

Have you heard about DPZ’s Lean Urbanism initiative that aims to remove much of the red tape that often prevents smaller developers and people with limited budgets from building?

As for Farnam Courts, does that cost include the demolition of the existing buildings, the sitework of adding new streets and infrastructure, the construction of new buildings and a park on the site, new construction of housing on the Eastview Terrace site, and the demolition of the industrial property at Ferry and Chatham in Fair Haven, remediation and new construction of housing there? Having said that, public housing redevelopment is very expensive because of minimum requirements from the Feds that call for high quality construction, materials, labor, and spaces.

posted by: fastdriver on March 13, 2016  8:44am

So this is WHY the executor forced Harold’s Bridal Shop owner out! How $$$$$$$$ did he make on the deal? Told you when this first happened that something like this was in the works. There’s always another side to every story with back room deals!