Duncan Rebuilder Snags Building Permit

Paul Bass PhotosRacing one step ahead of a labor-backed proposed moratorium, the redeveloper of the Hotel Duncan received a building permit Monday to start knocking down walls to transfer the storied mixed-income lodgings into an upscale boutique hotel.

The redeveloper, the Graduate Hotels division of AJ Capital of Chicago, applied for and received a building permit to perform $496,000 worth of exploratory demolition at the 123-year-old Chapel Street hotel, according to Building Official Jim Turcio. He said the city received about $15,000 in fees for the permit.

The permit allows AJ Capital “to open up walls to see structural elements of the building” in anticipation of undergoing an extensive renovation of the 92-room hotel — which included weekly rentals to 39 lower-income boarders for $200 or less — into a 70 or 72-room upscale university-focused hotel on the order of The Study down the block. AJ Capital has found new apartments for all 39 boarders; the last four of whom are expected to move out by Dec. 1.

The permit was taken out four days after members of the Board of Alders affiliated with the UNITE HERE union introduced a resolution to declare a six-month moratorium on any renovation of buildings that included single-room-occupancy (SRO) housing. Lead sponsor Alder Sarah Eidelson said the aim is to stop the Duncan renovation while the city debates and crafts a policy to preserve affordable housing in a rapidly upscaling downtown. The alders have already scheduled a Nov. 30 public hearing on the proposal, leaving open the possibility that it could pass by year’s end. (Click here for a full story on the proposed moratorium.)

Turcio said Monday that under the state building code, any moratorium that gets passed cannot affect his approval of future building permits for the project now that AJ Capital has obtained the original one.

Section 8-2h of Chapter 124 of the state General Statutes reads: “An application for a building permit or certificate of occupancy filed with the building official of a city, town or borough prior to the adoption of zoning regulations by such city, town or borough in accordance with this chapter shall not be required to comply with, nor shall it be disapproved for the reason that it does not comply with, such zoning regulations.”

Any subsequent building permits are considered extensions of an existing permit, Turcio said.

Turcio said AJ Capital also applied for a change of ownership on the Duncan’s rooming house license. He approved that one too.

Eidelson and UNITE HERE Local 35 President and International Executive Board member Bob Proto did not respond to phone and text request for comment on the filing of the permit and on how it will affect the fate of the proposal. AJ Capital’s local attorney, Carolyn Kone, said the company, too, had no comment.

Proto also has not responded to requests for comment about whether UNITE HERE has asked AJ Capital to agree to a neutrality agreement on union organizing at the rebuilt Duncan, the way it has when past developers have sought to renovate or expand local hotels. Asked that question last week, Eidelson told the Independent: ““For me this is really about affordable housing.” She said she acted in response to an October community meeting she convened at which two Hotel Duncan tenants and community activists bemoaned the disappearance of downtown rents that working people can afford.

Lemar Diverges From UNITE HERE


At least one politician who has been supported by UNITE HERE — New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar — broke with the union on the Duncan moratorium.

Speaking Monday on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program, Lemar argued that the moratorium would set a dangerous precedent and fail to accomplish its intended goal of preserving affordable housing. He also argued that it would never pass legal muster. The discussion touched on larger issues about how best — and how transparently — to promote a pro-labor agenda in the political arena.

A transcript of that discussion follows:

WNHH: What do you think about this whole Duncan [moratorium]?

Roland Lemar: Development moratoriums in this state — I co-chair the Planning and Development Committee at the state legislature; I see how this impacts development across Connecticut — development moratoria are almost always used in the state to prevent affordable housing from being constructed.

But that’s separate [from what’s happening here] …

That’s separate. Execept we’re giving credence to that sort of local maneuver. So I do not support a development moratorium in New Haven or anywhere else, particularly for an as-of-right development.

Is that just a way for you to make it look like you’re for unions and the poor when you’re helping out a developer? If we do this, that does not mean there will soon be moratoria on affordable housing in New Haven.

I don’t know. Development moratoria are bad. I do not think [they] will ultimately yield the end result that we want. SROs are in need downtown. The changing face of downtown is leaving out a lot of people. We need to make sure that as we grow we’re working with our private market developers to ensure that every development downtown has 20 percent affordable housing. That is my vision for how development should work.

But there’s no leverage to make sure the Duncan [rebuilders can do that] because they don’t need new zoning [approval].

Right. You can’t do it in a private market non-government role. You cannot insert yourself.

They [alders] are arguing you can. They’re arguing you can pass a moratorium to say in fact you do need to play ball with the city.

Courts would suggest otherwise. That is the real crux of this. The approach that they’re taking on this, I think, has legal issues and also puts us in a bad spot where leaders across the state will develop more moratoria to stop affordable housing construction. We see this all the time.

But do you really believe that a left-wing moratorium in New Haven is going to somehow influence towns that want to … pass right-wing moratoria anyway?

Yes. That’s how court decisions work.

What is the legal problem?

Right now what you have to do when you’re considering land use applications or where you’re evaluating whether or not a specific development meets your zoning code, you look at only the use of the land. … What they [the redevelopers] are trying to do at the Duncan runs consistent with our zoning code. So trying to insert yourself for the specific task of limiting the development of one specific [project] …

But it doesn’t mention the Duncan [in official language of the proposed moratorium].

We all know that’s what it’s about. I think courts will determine [that].

But what do you think about the general idea that if you want to build in New Haven, you need to agree that there will be a union shop so that people will make livable wages? That’s why we saw the Marriott not be able to expand. That’s why we saw the Omni be able to expand back in the ‘90s. What if they were honest? What if UNITE HERE alders told the truth, that “We believe that everyone should share in the prosperity of economic development? So if you want to build here, you have to have a union” [so that workers make livable wages]? Wouldn’t a lot of people support that? Wouldn’t your voters support that?

Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of people would support that if you had that conversation. To be fair, I think UNITE HERE has done that.

Nobody’s admitting this [moratorium] has to do with that …

Look, New Haven Rising [a UNITE HERE-affiliated activist group] goes out across the city and they talk about that shared vision of prosperity.

Nobody’s made a single statement that this moratorium has anything to do with a union shop …

I think that’s smart on their part. Because that’s where they would run into some legal [trouble].

So you think it’s smart not to be honest with the public about what their agenda is? Especially since the public would probably support it …

It is smart to not articulate that, because that is how you’ll get it thrown out.

So you think it’s smart for elected officials to lie in order to pass policy.


They’re not telling the truth about why they’re doing it.

I haven’t talked to them about it …

Roland, be honest. What is this about? Is this about a union shop or is this not about a union shop in your opinion?

I’m not intimately engaged in this. I frankly feel that, yeah, if we’re going to have a boutique hotel downtown, I would love for that to be unionized. I think we should have that fight after construction with their workforce. They should go in and aggressively lobby those individuals to form a union after it’s constructed.

But the leverage is now.

They [alders] don’t actually have the leverage now.

If [the developer is] doing everything as of right [under the zoning code], what leverage does the union have later? This is a tough environment for union organizing. Donald Trump is going to be naming people to the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board]. It’d be tough to get a union.

I agree. I just don’t think the pre-development process is the place to insert yourself in a union organizing fight. Particularly when there is no other government lever. You have to fake one. And I don’t think that is going to create the end that we’re looking for.

Does UNITE HERE support you?

They always have. This might push me off the edge a little bit. At the end of the day, I think they know we have their back. Any fight that we can have legally, I’m willing to push the limits the way other politicians haven’t. I think on this one specific issue I think their approach is maybe not going to yield the result that I think it should.

Click on or download the above audio file or click on the Facebook Live video below to hear the full interview with State Rep. Roland Lemar on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program, which also included extensive discussion about the state budget and upcoming state elections. The discussion about the Duncan begins at the 35:50 mark

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posted by: AverageTaxpayer on November 13, 2017  5:38pm

Roland for our next Mayor?

At least someone is sounding like an adult on this issue. I feel proud to have him as my State Rep.

In contrast the Union-controlled BofA is out of control. We need the tax revenue from continued developmental growth. We don’t need the Unions hijacking City government for their own narrow concerns.

We don’t they take their energy and push for a $15/hr minimum wage? Or for 40/hour work weeks for all long-term employees, (instead of the four-shift, 32 hours per week charade?)

The Unite Here Unions care about themselves. The rest of us? Not so much!

posted by: 1644 on November 13, 2017  6:24pm

The problem with the UNITE-HERE folks is that they view unions as and end, not a means.  Considering how many of the Alders are actually not just union members, but union employees, this fact is not surprising.  Union dues pay their salaries.  The more union members, the more dues which flow into the Alders’ pockets.  On the other hand, if employers treat workers fairly, pay them fairly with decent benefits,  the employees do not need a union.  Without a union, however, dues money is less and the Alders have less money in their pockets.  If the Graduate Hotel grants its workers pay and benefits similar to that of the Omni, there is no need for its workers to unionize.  The employer retains workforce flexibility, while the workers don’t have dues deducted from their paychecks.

posted by: robn on November 13, 2017  7:27pm

Bottom line; Shared prosperity isn’t what UNITE is about. UNITE backed alders are feathering their own nest and lying about it. Because they got caught in a lie, Boss Proto won’t even comment about it.

posted by: Inside 165 on November 13, 2017  7:35pm

Jim Turcio gives all us New Haveners hope that there is someone left in City Hall who still has the integrity and intestinal fortitude to do what’s right.

This stunt reminds me of the last calamity when Alder Marchand thought he was going to hold up Yale’s project. Until Yale showed him and the others obstructionists how the game of hardball is really played. It’s to bad that our City is run by amateur limousine liberal elitists who are out of touch with the working and middle class.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 13, 2017  9:01pm

To all of the union haters.The unions just do not fight for wages.There also fight for for worker’s rights.According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, more than 30 percent of employers in the United States retaliate against working people trying to come together in union.You all talk about how the Union-controlled BOA has taken over.The question you should ask as why do people keep voting them in?

posted by: 1644 on November 13, 2017 5:24pm

  If the Graduate Hotel grants its workers pay and benefits similar to that of the Omni, there is no need for its workers to unionize.  The employer retains workforce flexibility, while the workers don’t have dues deducted from their paychecks.

And ask those people who work there about the nepotism they face when it comes to job picks.

posted by: robn on November 13, 2017  10:47pm


You don’t create worker prosperity by raising wages so much that all manufacturing leaves the city; as has happened here and elsewhere that overaggressive unions have asserted their influence.

posted by: Callisto on November 14, 2017  7:32am

In 1983 union membership was over 20%; in 2013 it was just over 11%.  Which period was better for the middle class? Now the economy is circling the drain for the middle class. All you anti unionists are getting your wish. Hooray! Unions are slowly being extinguished by billionaires. Good job! Oh, and by the way, the top 3 richest people in the U.S. (Gates, Buffet and Bezos) equal the wealth of the bottom half of our nation, over150 million people. Personal vendettas against local union bosses have blinded you to the the bigger game, privatizing all public wealth.  Resist further income inequality and further erosion of our democracy. Support unions.

posted by: LookOut on November 14, 2017  8:47am

The union concept, while critical and useful in its time, has far outlived its usefulness.  When unions artificially drive up the cost of doing business, business either fail or move to a place where they have the ability to compete.  That scenario has played out across many industries and regions.  The only places that are stuck having to deal with unions are entities that cannot leave (Yale, city government…etc)  If we want New Haven to thrive, we must not force the burden of unionization on them.

posted by: 1644 on November 14, 2017  8:54am

3/5’s Since the Graduate is years from opening, I cannot ask if nepotism exists there.  Or, are you saying that nepotism is rife at the union Omni?  Union shops are infamous for nepotism,  as unions limit free competition by job-seekers, and unions often act as gate-keepers for organizations, or union stewards use trade union peace for jobs for relatives and friends.  I would bet that union CT state has more related folks on its payroll than non-union Apple.

posted by: robn on November 14, 2017  9:08am


Nice try but you make a mistaken assumption that union shrinkage is a symptom rather than a cause. Besides ballooning labor costs decimating manufacturing in New Haven, this story and the story of the Marriot outright failing to proceed are cases in point.

posted by: 1644 on November 14, 2017  9:09am

Callisto: Union membership was probable highest in the 1950’s, 35% in 1954 when virtually no public employees were unionized.  That was a unique economic period.  The United States did faced little economic competition, as (a) China and the USSR had shut themselves out of world trade, (b) much of the world was not industrialized, and (b) the US had bombed major industrial competitors such as Germany and Japan into dust.  Today, of the remaining union members, about half are public employees.  Unions thrive in the public sphere because their employer has little competition.

posted by: Hill Resident on November 14, 2017  9:28am

Wow - interesting how the interview and the thread of comments became more about UNITE HERE than SRO’s and the lack of affordable housing downtown ... whcih is what this issue of proposing the moratorium is supposed to be about ... or is it?

posted by: Peter99 on November 14, 2017  9:42am

Unions were needed in the 50s and 60s when employers had all the cards. Today the unions have all the cards and they employers just leave those areas that do not play nice. look at Winchester and all of the other manufacturers who have fled CT for right to work states. We have no major manufacturers left to provide good well paying entry level jobs with good benefits. It was not the benefits or the wages that drove these employers out of CT. It was the unions legal requirement that they defend all of their members 100% of the time even if they dead wrong. They would not concede that any member of their union was ever wrong even if their own members were hurt by the actions of a bad employee. After a while even the fairest company says enough fighting. They take their lumps and leave the area. It is cheaper in the long run to go where the playing field is level and the taxes and expenses are not high.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 14, 2017  9:46am

posted by: robn on November 13, 2017 9:47pm


You don’t create worker prosperity by raising wages so much that all manufacturing leaves the city; as has happened here and elsewhere that overaggressive unions have asserted their influence.

Manufacturing leaves because of Corporate Tax Inversions.Then they use Sweatshop Labor to line there pockets.Also look at how CEO Pay Continues to Rise as Typical Workers Are Paid Less ..

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on November 14, 2017  9:54am

I will differ, slightly, with my friend and state rep Roland Lemar. Development moratoria are often used to discourage affordable housing developments. But they can be used thoughtfully to update land use regulations.

I don’t think a moratorium is needed in the context of SROs in New Haven. The moratorium was never going to affect the Duncan, and the other SROs are not under imminent threat of redevelopment. But there is a need to update the zoning regulations on SROs and related forms of housing, which can be a mechanism for promoting affordability.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 14, 2017  10:00am

posted by: LookOut on November 14, 2017 7:47am

The union concept, while critical and useful in its time, has far outlived its usefulness.  When unions artificially drive up the cost of doing business, business either fail or move to a place where they have the ability to compete.

How is fighting for fair wages drive up the cost of doing business? Again how about the Top CEOs who make more than 300 times the average worker?Again Avoiding corporate income taxes is one way CEOs boost their companies’ profits and thereby increase their own pay.Take a look at what they make.This is drive up the cost of doing business.

Highest-Paid CEOs in the State of Connecticut.

Aetna   Mark T. Bertolini   2016   $18,662,306

Cigna Corporation   David M. Cordani   2016   $15,279,857

Xerox Corporation   Ursula M. Burns   2016   $14,068,167


And this is way you still need unions to foght for fair wages.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 14, 2017  10:13am

posted by: 1644 on November 14, 2017 7:54am

3/5’s Since the Graduate is years from opening, I cannot ask if nepotism exists there.  Or, are you saying that nepotism is rife at the union Omni?  Union shops are infamous for nepotism,  as unions limit free competition by job-seekers, and unions often act as gate-keepers for organizations, or union stewards use trade union peace for jobs for relatives and friends.  I would bet that union CT state has more related folks on its payroll than non-union Apple.

At non union jobs there is a lot nepotism.As far as Union shops are infamous for nepotism.Some not only.But that is also on the side of Management.Also those union workers can file a grievance about that. I know memebers who have.How about the Higher poverty rate in right to work states compared to 12.8% in non-right to work states. that have unions.In fact the taxpayers put more money out in benfits in those right to work states that do not have unions.how about the tworst pay gaps between men and women are right to work states that do not have unions to fight for fair wages.like I told you before.I was in the public sector union in New York.I can tell you you could not pull nepotism due to rules.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on November 14, 2017  10:20am

It’s possible to be pro-Union without supporting everything the Union does. I believe Unions help workers get fair treatment from unfair employers. Does that make it right to use government as a tool to stop a company which has already purchased a property from using a building exactly as it was intended after they already bought it?

No, it doesn’t.

People make things out to be so black and white. Unions bad, companies good. Companies bad, unions good. Maybe it’s not so clear. Maybe some Unions really have bled companies dry. Maybe some companies need a Union to even consider treating their employees fairly.

But the idea that either is 100% right is ridiculous. How’s that Marriott expansion coming along?

The job of the BoA is not to represent Unions, but to represent New Haven. And part of the difficulties of living in a city are the high taxes associated with it, so when you chase away a developer because of Union demands, you put the burden on all of New Haven—not just Union members.

When this company bought the Duncan, they bought a hotel, and they are opening a hotel. That’s their right. Trying to change the rules after the fact is clearly unethical, and the idea that the Union alders only care about SRO’s—something they didn’t care about up until a month ago—is a farce.

I’m as liberal as the next guy, but we need to pick our battles here, and punishing every developer feels like the wrong battle.

posted by: Callisto on November 14, 2017  11:09am

So when unions were prominent and the middle class was doing well it’s all “specific historical circumstances” but now that corporate profits are obscenely misaligned with wages it’s the unions’ faults? Interesting argumentation. And all because of unions? Hmm sounds like you’re arguing for furthering gross disparities of income. Anyone with eyes to see realizes corporations leave to maximize shareholder/CEO pay and avoid paying billions in legitimate taxes. When Canada set limits on pharma profits to increase accessibility every company stayed. Your arguments only support supply side, trickle-down jive that has been historically disproven.  I assume you support the current “tax reform” plan which will further the middle class slide into wage slavery.

posted by: Morgan Barth on November 14, 2017  12:15pm

The attempt of some alders to impose a moratorium was inappropriate and I’m glad to see that the effort was not successful.  NHI has done an excellent job over the years documenting New Haven’s building permitting and regulatory systems.  The process for builders is already too slow and complicated—there is no need to try to impose additional obstacles.  It sounds like part of the motivation for the moratorium may have been genuine empathy for the Duncan’s last residents; but I don’t disagree with the assertion that another motivation was the ulterior goal of extracting other concessions from the builder.

I don’t doubt the union’s sincerity in fighting for good wages.  At the same time New Haven is long belated in having some simple conflict of interest rules that prevent the reality or appearance of conflicts.  Especially when it comes to all matters related to Yale - but other issues too - Alders who are also union employees for or have leadership positions in unions with business before the Board should recuse themselves.  I realize the alders themselves are unlikely to impose conflict rules and so I look forward to the next opportunity at the city’s charter renewal for some good government watchdogs (who know more about this than I) to make proposals for the electorate’s consideration.


posted by: 1644 on November 14, 2017  12:19pm

Callisto:  I am not arguing for anything, nor am I blaming unions.  I am simply pointing out that the height of unionization in 1954 took place at an unusual time.  To the lack of global competition, I should add that US labor supply was severely restricted by the 1924 Immigration Act, and actual enforcement of immigration laws and a guest worker program for agricultural workers that reduced demand for illicit labor.  Any student of economic history will note that, for large societies. vast wealth inequality has been the norm.  When societies generate lots of wealth, as during the Roman and earlier empires, as during the Middle Ages through the Industrial revolution,  wealth flows to and coagulates in a few.  As for tax code, the 1986 code was my favorite, although I would have indexed capital gains and eliminated the mortgage interest deduction completely. As for the present proposal, I like the idea of reducing possible itemized deductions but vastly increasing the standard deduction.  Such an increase would benefit the working class, who generally do not itemize.  In general, I do not believe we should use the tax code to pick winners or losers, nor favor one group over another (e.g., home mortgagors over renters).

posted by: LookOut on November 14, 2017  12:25pm

I usually avoid getting into too much back and forth but I can’t allow the deceptive pro-union machine comment stand without correction. 

@ Callisto:  you stated “Anyone with eyes to see realizes corporations leave to maximize shareholder/CEO pay and avoid paying billions in legitimate taxes.”

YES!  ABSOLUTELY!!!  Why should a company stay in a location where they are being sucked dry by unions, regulations, taxes…etc?  A vast majority of American retirement $$ are in 401Ks which means that we all will benefit when the underlying companies do well.  I am willing to pay CEOs who make this happen big money….those salaries are only a sliver of what is delivered to shareholders.  And yes, avoiding billions in taxes should be rewarded.  In almost all cases, the paying via the government is the least efficient way to accomplish anything.

In many ways unions are like horse drawn carriages.  Many generations ago, when we were less developed, they were the best method.  In current times, although a few folks still like to do things the old way, there are many better options available. 

Let’s not be stuck in the past.

posted by: TheMadcap on November 14, 2017  12:26pm

“When unions artificially drive up the cost of doing business”

Let’s no use euphanisms here, just say when unions made employers compensate their employees more.

posted by: 1644 on November 14, 2017  1:12pm

Between:  Well said.  Moreover, as Lemar implies, the fact that this moratorium is being sought in bad faith exposes the city to substantial legal risk.  It is hard to see a rational basis for blocking the renovation of a hotel. especially when all residents already have alternative housing arrangements.  Thus, a court might rule that New Haven has no rational basis for staying the developer’s hand, and has violated section 1983 of the Civil Rights act by taking its property without compensation.  The city could be liable for both actual and punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees.

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on November 14, 2017  1:14pm

What arrogance Alder Sarah Eidelson displays in this ill-fated move.  Communist party unite! Not.

posted by: Callisto on November 14, 2017  1:30pm

@ Lookout - “Why should a company stay in a location where they are being sucked dry by unions, regulations, taxes…” First, because the workers make them their money; s cond, because regulations usually protect the public interest, for example controlling air and water pollution even though it costs corporations profits and third, because the tax base supported the growth of the business via infrastructural investments etc… Your opinion supports serial polluters, the erosion of the tax base that helps ALL of society.and emboldens only wealthy interests. As for “avoiding billions in taxes should be rewarded” - you’ll be happy to know this is already the case since our president is very successful at being a tax cheat.

posted by: wendy1 on November 14, 2017  2:15pm

I will vote for Roland.  He is invested in this town and has children here.  Hurray for the new upcoming hotel.  I look forward to a tour.

This city has so many good attractions AND hangouts, bars, etc.  Finishing the biketrail and the boathouse this spring would add a lot.  I donated a nice scull 2 years ago for the public but we all might be underwater by the time the boathouse gets finished.  I have complained to J. Pescatore by email—-no reply.

posted by: Bill Saunders on November 14, 2017  2:30pm

If it weren’t for Unions, Management benefit packages would have eroded even faster….