New Builder Revives Riverfront Dream

Patriquin ArchitectsAllan Appel PhotoA city developer plans to create a mini-neighborhood of middle-income apartments and local stores done in the architectural style of the historical oystering village along the East Grand Avenue side of the Quinnipiac River — an idea a previous builder tried and failed to carry out.

The builders, Juan Salas-Romer and Noel Petra of NHR Group, are calling their project “Heights on the River.” They hope to renovate three existing buildings and construct a fourth to include 68 apartments, a cafe, two or three locally owned stores. All, they said, with breathtaking views of the sunset on the water.

The builders are taking a second crack at a dream hatched years ago by developer Joel Schiavone and his partners. Schiavone hoped to capitalize on the gorgeous riverine views on a 1.08-acre site running on East Grand Avenue from the eastern end of the bridge and wrapping around north on Quinnipiac Avenue up to the little convenience store. The project never materialized.

Salas-Romer and Petra said their market research tells them to aim their development for the middle-class folks — teachers, policemen, other city workers — increasingly coming to live in adjacent Fair Haven Heights, working people earning from $40,000 to $75,000.  Roughly a quarter of the city’s wage earners fall into that income bracket, Salas-Romer said. He has developed projects elsewhere in town aimed at the same market.

The builders expect the apartments to be market rate, with studios, one and two bedrooms, and some of the two bedrooms having perhaps a kind of extra loft or office area. They estimate a total of 3,000 square feet of ground-level retail space. But the project is now in its beginning planning stages, so those are all estimates.

“The scope of this project is to redevelop and reposition the existing three buildings and construct a new multifamily apartment building bordering East Grand Avenue and the Quinnipiac River. The new building will ... integrate with the historic architectural vernacular while providing contemporary internal amenities such as a resident lounge and fitness center, an onsite restaurant and outdoor cafe, and on-site management offices. The existing retail units will be renovated and upgraded,” reads the executive summary of a formal write-up NHR has prepared for the project.

Salas-Romer said people in the neighborhood have delivered a clear retail message: “We want coffee.”

Petra was at pains to point out that the cafe purveyor might have a catering business on the side as well, because there is not — at least not so far— much foot traffic in the area except perhaps on weekends.

The plan is to retain the fine pile of bricks in which Grand Vin is located, to have that neighborhood anchor continue to prosper. The developers said they also hope to work with Ziggy’s, the pizza establishment on the northwest corner, and with the small grocery store on Quinnipiac Avenue, so those establishments might continue to be part of the project as it emerges.

Petra and Salas-Romer said they see opportunity in providing “occupational housing” or “workforce housing” for the middle market in a city with a high percentage of subsidized housing as well as a bevy of new upscale developments.

“We really want teachers,” Petra said during an interview in the NHR offices in the historic Palladium Building on Orange Street, which the company owns. NHR manages about 300 units in scores of buildings citywide. “The Heights on the River” will be its first project in an historic district.

Salas-Romer said he sees the development as a commercial and residential entryway to Fair Haven Heights, the way Westville Village is for Westville.

Patriquin ArchitectsPatriquin ArchitectsPatriquin ArchitectsAlthough the project is a first for the company in an historic district, NHR has already demonstrated an interest in repurposing and preserving the buildings of the past, such as the 1855 Palladium building. Of course, they must take that into consideration when building in the Quinnipiac Historic District.

They’ve already had one appearance before the Historic District Commission in pursuit of a certificate of appropriateness required for the project. They have hired Fair Haven-based Patriquin Architects to prepare the plans.

After studying photographs of the area — in the late 19th century both sides of the bridge were chockablock with stores — architect Karin Patriquin has come up with a design that “echoes an historic street front, what architects call a ‘design intent’ or spirit,” said Petra.

The HDC asked the builders at the first meeting to come back with more detail. The design has to be historically appropriate, but the new also has to announce itself or be tastefully differentiated from the old, Salas-Romer said. He next appears before the commission this coming week.

NHR has owned the property for about two and a half years. The sale came about after Salas-Romer, a graduate of Babson College in Boston, ran into Carl Youngman, a teacher there. He discovered Youngman was the partner of Joel Schiavone in the Quinnipiac River district project. NHR bought the property and kept on Youngman as a partner, though NHR will take care of the design, construction, and future management.

For the past two years, in preparation, NHR has upgraded the apartments above Grand Vin, fixed roofs, added lighting, and maintained the property in the run-up to taking on the bigger development.

Salas-Romer said he has observed a general renewal of interest in the river and harbor as a place of use and destination. He pointed to the future activities for the Canal Dock Boathouse that might include paddlers or pleasure boaters traveling up river. Perhaps they’ll see the Heights on the River, or its cafe, as a place to stop for a java and some rest.

Petra said the team has received positive initial reaction from potential funders for the project, which he said does not yet have a pricetag.
In addition to private equity, financing may include partnership with groups in the city — for-profit and not-for profit —interested in helping to keep teachers, police officers, and other middle income professionals around, he and Salas-Romer said. They provided no further details.

“Part of our business model is community outreach [and stabilization],” Salas-Romer said.

Allan Appel PhotoSalas-Romer said he has looked at the plans of his predecessor in this effort , Joel Schiavone’s Quinnipiac River Villages, and said he saw much in there of merit. It failed, in his view, in part because of the timing. It arrived when the market was at its height, around 2007, and proposed that people buy expensive townhouses. Then, of course, financial markets crashed in 2008.

If everything moves expeditiously, Petra said it’s possible a shovel may be in the ground within six months.

Petra and Salas-Romer, who have already been in touch in their planning for input from local activists like Lee Cruz, Chris Ozyck, among others, said they are eager to hear what the community wants to see in the project.

They are planning a community meeting precisely for that purpose in March, precise date and location still to be determined.

Ozyck said that he supports the project “in concept and density.” Some in the neighborhood are concerned about low-income housing coming in, he reported.

He said he and other neighbors pan to pursue outstanding issues of concern, including traffic patterns, shoreline stabilization, streetscape improvements, and public access.

Combined with a planned expansion of the nearby oystering operation, the Heights on the River plan “will make or break the neighborhood,” Ozyck argued. “We expect to be able to continue working with the developers to shape a project that fits the aesthetic of our maritime community and add to the vibrancy of our neighborhood.”

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posted by: denny says on February 9, 2018  4:49pm

Awrsome!!! Please share the design with the developer rebuilding the old Cape Codder in Westville.

posted by: quinnipiacave on February 9, 2018  6:10pm

I’m incredibly excited to learn of this project, which would completely transform the neighborhood for the better. I love the initial renderings. The sooner if can start, the better!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 9, 2018  6:18pm

I’d like to take a look at the plans, but from the looks of it, this is a great project.

posted by: Mikelive on February 9, 2018  6:58pm

This is one of the best sites to build on in the city and it sits vacant. I really hope the city doesnt blow it again on this proposal. The waterfront is where its at!

posted by: wendy1 on February 9, 2018  7:27pm

This is a good idea and much more appealing.  I hope it comes to pass.  I will shop there and bike there.  I have lived on Front St.and on Quinnipiac and could see that bridge from both sites.  The sunsets from Quinnipiac were memorable and I miss that apt.  Fair Haven was THE place in the 80’s for developing—-lots of rich and interesting neighbors before the crash of 87.  Chapel Sq. Mall had Conran’s and Macy’s at that time, too.

posted by: TheNewZero on February 9, 2018  9:44pm

Forget Ziggys and the minimart, they do nothing for the neighborhood and thrive on an only game in town edge. Bring in better businesses and force these leeches to shape up or ship out!

posted by: robn on February 9, 2018  9:58pm

Gotta say, guessing 99%sure that the design is being produced with digital tools, really wonderful execution of those renderings.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 10, 2018  7:20am

This would be great if it happens. But I do wonder about the retail component. As I recall, there was a coffeehouse near here years ago that only lasted a couple of months. As Petra notes, East Grand, in contrast to Grand Ave., gets very little foot traffic. And while Westville Village (cited as a model) has lovely architecture, many of its storefronts have been vacant in recent years.

It has been very difficult to fill ground floor retail in new developments across town. The former location of Devil’s Gear at 360 State and the space at The Novella have been on the market for many months. The Corsair was supposed to have restaurant but the developer was unable to fill the space and converted it to apartments. Perhaps ground floor live-work units could be one option for such spaces.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 10, 2018  8:23am

A lot of you will be push out.You will not be able to pay the rent.

posted by: chris on February 10, 2018  7:52pm

There is a Public hearing before the Historic District on Feb 14 at City Hall 2nd floor, 7 pm. A valentine date for my wife and I. If you want to see the latest plans and see how the Historic District Commission works join us. In my opinion the commission works well.

If you choose to comment at the meeting, please realize the main goal of this commission is to do their best to protect the historical essence of the neighborhood. A community meeting being planned in March or at City Plan hearing is good times to talk about use. 

I hope by working out concerns before it goes to City Plan will allow the neighbor to be fully behind this project.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 10, 2018  8:29pm

3/5ths, the site is a empty lot. There is no one living there to push out. Moreover, there is not a lot of housing in the immediate vicinity, so indirect displacement is likely to be limited.

Mikelive, I don’t think the city blocked the earlier proposal; it merely suffered from really bad timing.

I agree with Robn on the quality of the renderings.

posted by: RobotShlomo on February 11, 2018  12:21am

@Kevin McCarthy

His plans go well beyond that empty lot, and he’s already working on pushing people out of the neighborhood.

posted by: quinnipiacave on February 11, 2018  7:40am

I agree with Kevin’s comment about ground floor retail. It’s the default in every single development across town, but the sites often seem to struggle to find tenants. There’s nothing wrong with dense residential streets with ground level condos or apartments. From the renderings, it looks like only the blue building would have a retail component? Still, as someone who patronized the coffee shop that opened and closed on that site years ago, I would be thrilled to see one return to the neighborhood.

posted by: Rich Pizzo on February 11, 2018  10:09am

I do not see any place to park vehicles…...

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 11, 2018  12:10pm

RobotShlomo, any evidence for your assertion - eviction notices, perhaps?

posted by: Stylo on February 11, 2018  3:05pm

I think the attitude that retail could never work there is wrong and defeatist. Maybe the retail that already failed was the wrong retail. Maybe the right restaurant, coffee shop, or other business could thrive and others would follow. The area has the population density to support it. It just needs the right business with the right unique, creative, and appealing proposition. I agree a good coffee shop could thrive. T

posted by: Mikelive on February 11, 2018  3:59pm

threefifths- LOL. its a vacant lot, please spare us the broken record.

Kevin- having been in the business for a long time I have come to learn that projects like this rely on tax incentives and expedited zoning approval, usually the money is there to get started. Certainly most of the neighborhood wanted to see it happen.

And to echo another person above, we always wondered how Ziggys made money since the place is empty 99% of the time.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 11, 2018  8:08pm

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 11, 2018 12:10pm

RobotShlomo, any evidence for your assertion - eviction notices, perhaps?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 10, 2018 8:29pm
3/5ths, the site is a empty lot. There is no one living there to push out. Moreover, there is not a lot of housing in the immediate vicinity, so indirect displacement is likely to be limited.

Ask the people at the Brewery Square what is going on over there.You may want take your statement back.

posted by: Mikelive on February 11, 2018 3:59pm
threefifths- LOL. its a vacant lot, please spare us the broken record.

It is a vacant lot,But if this development happens the problem still is that people in the area are stiil priced out.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 11, 2018  8:34pm

Stylo, I hope you’re right. If the project was further west, I wouldn’t worry about the retail - there are few vacant storefronts on Grand Ave. in central Fair Haven. But this project is in the Heights, where the population density and foot traffic are significantly lower.

MikeLive, I suspect you’re right about local support. What tax incentives do you think the project is eligible for, beyond the standard property tax phase-in?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 12, 2018  7:22am

3/5ths, do you believe that unsubsidized developments anywhere in the city will push people out and therefore should be opposed? Do you have any evidence that the developers of this project own Brewery Square (it is not one of the properties on NHR’s website)?

FWIW, I believe that induced displacement can occur under certain circumstances. But this is not the case here. The Heights is a pleasant neighborhood but there aren’t hordes of people looking to move there. This is not Williamsburg or Bed-Stuy.

posted by: Rich Pizzo on February 12, 2018  8:44am

There is no good place to park…......

posted by: 1644 on February 12, 2018  8:48am

Kevin: 3/5’s thought that new, subsidized housing for the elderly (Edith Johnson Towers) was a sign of gentrification. Was it not you who said that he would blame an earthquake on gentrification vampires?  :)

posted by: scarab on February 12, 2018  9:39am

What is the square footage of the units? How many bedrooms? Where are the developments for affordable houses that teachers can buy? Looking for teachers? Would have loved the view of a sunset in my new home during my years as a teacher…now I am retired and am being pushed out 3/5ths style…

posted by: 1644 on February 12, 2018  11:36am

scarab:  My brother bought a nice house on a good street in Westville for $250K in 2013.  It’s current appraisal is about $215.  Those prices should be well within the means of most teachers, especially if it is a dual income household.  Real estate prices throughout Connecticut are generally low, and still falling in most towns.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on February 12, 2018  2:31pm

This is wonderful! I truly hope it comes to fruition and a coffee shop / restaurant takes on the Blue building with Patio space to sip coffee or wine on.

What a view that’ll be!

BEST of luck!