Goatville Welcomes Latest Star Supply Plan

Allan Appel PhotoA preserved historical gateway building. Brick and clapboard townhouses with porches that greet the neighborhood. A pedestrian mews with “urban gardens” off Mechanic Street.

Meet “One Lawrence Street,” the third plan in five years to attempt to bring a mix of residences and business to the vacant Star Supply building, the desolate former industrial site at the northern end of State Street.

Former Yale Law School student and Goatvillean Ben Gross, now a research fellow at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU, led a team of seven partners called Goatville Development LLC in presenting preliminary plans for the proposed 250-apartment (with 200 parking spots) mixed retail and residential complex. He made his pitch to the East Rock Management Team at the little Hooker School on Canner Street Monday night.

Gross learned about the property during his years as a Yale Law School student, as a Yale fellow at New Haven government’s Livable City Initiative, and as a five-year-denizen of the Goatville section of East Rock before he moved to New York City. The plans are so preliminary Gross and fellow partner and project architect Randolph Gerner couldn’t even put a dollar figure on the cost.

Gross envisions studio, one, and two-bedroom apartments, with a smattering of three-bedrooms, all to be offered on a rental basis.

Gerner said the apartment footprint would be smaller than standard, with the studios covering 500 square feet and the one-bedrooms running between 625 and 700. He proposed 30,000 square feet of commercial space on the first and second floors, primarily along State Street. The large space would aim to attract a bigger business than the ones currently on that stretch of State, such as a fitness studio or a small bank.

The designers offered a schematic presentation of how the buildings preserve and echo local history, interact with as opposed to turn their back on the neighborhood, build on the success of Upper State Street’s commercial corridor, and defend against the looming presence of I-91. The 45 attendees offered high marks for thoughtfulness and wishes for success.

The project will need it. The site is contaminated with petroleum and solvents from its previous industrial history, although Gross said previous developers had gotten a good head start in defining the environmental issues.

Developers have eyed the 3-acre lot to build stores and apartments as far back as 2006. The Christie Wareck Co. drew up detailed plans for stores and 139 apartments, and even got zoning approval, before the plan fell apart due to in-fighting among the developers. Then Fairfield Residential, the largest privately held multi-family developer in the nation, tried to turn Star Supply into luxury housing; that plan fell apart when the economy tanked in 2008.

Architect Randolph Gerner of GKV Architects, presented the chief features of the latest plan. They include townhouses with porches along Mechanic Street and a pedestrian mews off Mechanic that is a kind of public urban garden on the order of Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, N.Y. Plans call for preserving the two-story brick structure where Lawrence and Mechanic meet. That gateway building would give the name to the project, One Lawrence.

A preliminary sketch shows 30,000 square feet of two-story commercial buildings running along State Street with on-street retail level and offices above. A historically appropriate roof runs across the top of the vehicular entrance on State, continues on along State, and gathers height as it climbs into a seven-story structure perhaps with a defining or finishing touch like a clock tower. The tall building is a barrier protecting the neighborhood from the presence of looming I-92 behind, said Gerner.

A Car For Every Student?

Upper State Street activist Ben Berkowitz, who is familiar with previous developers’ plans, praised what he heard. Gross’s proposal has earned “the best reception” from East Rockers thus far, he said.

“You’ve dealt with design issues very well,” said Goatville developer and former Alderman Bob Frew. “This kind of investment will be great for State Street.”

East Rockers followed the general praise with many suggestions about, yes, parking, and the challenges of making retail commerce work in the area.

Former Alderman Dick Lyons of Canner Street called the parking inadequate, especially if students move in with cars.

“I was a student [living on nearby Lawrence Street] and I didn’t have a car,” Gross replied.

Ron Oster of Nash Street commended the project, then expressed two concerns: The seven-story building would shadow the skating rink behind it and makes the proposed backyard areas of the complex dark, unappealing to hang out in, unsuitable for gardening.

“My second concern is viability of retail. Where are the customers going to park? I’m not concerned for parking for tenants. You work with Yale to get their shuttle. My concern is you put in retail spaces and they become vacant and there’s turnover and become desolate,” Oster said.

Gerner responded by saying his company had just finished a 500-unit building in Brooklyn, and tenants are leaving many parking spots unused.

“We’ll use [the complex’s] parking for [commercial] customers,” said.

Duncan Goodall, who lives on Bishop Street, said, “I think it’s a great project, the look, the design, integrated to the neighborhood.”

When asked what kind of retail might work well in the commercial space, Gross suggested, among other ideas, a coffee shop.

Goodall, who owns Koffee? on Audubon, knows a thing or two about that business. He offered a note of caution. “A coffee shop is not a destination. I want them to be successful, [but] there’s not going to be enough walk-by traffic for retail.”

He had some suggestions for modifications. He and Ben Gross exchanged business cards.

Goatville Development’s zoning attorney, Anthony Avallone, said neighborhood meetings will continue, plans will be refined, and a request for rezoning for rental purposes and other required variances submitted to the Board of Zoning Appeals as soon as February.

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posted by: Stephen Harris on October 23, 2012  6:00pm

This is ambitious and costly. Think of breaking it up into phases. The State/Mechanic portion is the most important, the seven story building seems a bit too much to me.

I think this is still an industrial zone. If so a Use Variance is required unless you do the exact same thing that got previous approval. Also, since there are no parking standards for uses not allowed in the zone (residential/most retail), there is a great deal of flexibility in arriving at a reasonable number of spaces.

I would urge the developers to take some time in thinking through what they want, give the regulations a close read and sit down with City Plan staff before filing for any zoning relief; it’ll save time and money to get things right the first time.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on October 24, 2012  8:31am

I love the idea but, 50 more, 1,2 and 3 bedroom units without a parking spot? Really? Plus retail with limited (or no?) parking in East Rock?
Parking is one of the biggest ‘quality of life issues’ in this neighborhood. I wish cars would disappear tomorrow and we all road bikes, but the reality of the matter is there are more cars than parking spots already. Change the plan and add adequate parking.

posted by: SaveOurCity on October 24, 2012  8:46am

Yes, this is ambitious and it will be costly but it will be great for the neighborhood and the city to have this space transformed into something of value.  250 units sounds like a lot but the developers need to generate a return on the substantial investment necessary to get this work done.  In the hottest rental market in the nation,  they should fill.

I attended the presentation meeting and was impressed by the thought put into both the design and the tactic to present the idea to the neighborhood for feedback so early in the process.

posted by: Eva G on October 24, 2012  10:08am

@NewHavenTaxpayer: the Goatville development team specifically said there would be no three bedroom units in this building, which is a statement of… something (basically, they’re trying to avoid housing families, I guess?), which struck me as a shame.

@ Stephen Harris, I agreed with you. I thought the development seemed reasonable except for the tower, and—having been present at the meeting—it looked to me as though a number of people present felt the same way, though no one actually voiced their concern at the time.

There are other issues that worry me about this development—a lot…

I felt as though the developers had only a cursory sense of what might be possible/desirable in this space, and was impressed but basically left unsatisfied by what I saw. (Just one gal’s opinion.)

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 24, 2012  11:44am

It’d be nice to see more residential development downtown and more commercial office development in neighborhoods, instead of the opposite. In order for transit, walking and biking to become practical tranpsortation alternatives our neighborhoods need to exist much more semi-autonomously than they currently do - each with a wide cross section of the entire region’s population (age, income, ethnicity, etc.), employment opportunities, shopping options, civic structure and recreational facilities. Making residential areas more residential and commercial districts more commercial without proportional mixed development simply reinforces commuter culture and segregation.

Having said that, abandoned properties aren’t a good thing and at a certain point, we have to take what we can get.

posted by: Edward Francis on October 24, 2012  12:36pm

Sounds like a great project for the Goatville Neighborhood. I liked the headline of the article that truly recognizes the some times forgotten Goatville legacy.

posted by: anonymous on October 24, 2012  1:49pm

Why can’t the Malloy Administration subsidize projects like this, instead of subsidizing large corporations to move to Farmington, Bristol, and other suburbs outside of Hartford? God knows that New Haven gave him enough votes.

The future competitiveness of our State depends on this and some of the points Jonathan raised above.

posted by: HhE on October 24, 2012  11:22pm

Okay, Goat-ville is not my patch, but me thinks this design/project looks rather promising. 

I am a bit apprehensive of seven stories, and I worry they may not be able to afford as nice materials as they seam to be inclined towards, but all in all there is a lot to like, including the tower.

posted by: streever on October 25, 2012  12:41am

There is already retail nearby, including coffee, food, liquor, and groceries. Why not put in some office space? That would make the location used during the day, too.

I like this! A great use for Star Supply.

posted by: HhE on October 25, 2012  9:04am

Good news, streever.  The plans, as I understand them, include office space.

posted by: streever on October 25, 2012  10:01am

Hhe: Reading failure on my part :). I do hope that any retail they add is neighborhood-sensitive and fits in with the existing businesses.

posted by: Kevin on October 25, 2012  10:04am

@ Stephen Harris
At the meeting the developers stated that they had had preliminary discussions with City Plan. Tony Avallone said they will need the parcel to be rezoned to permit housing and as well as a couple of variances to address such issues as side yard requirements.

The developers anticipate there will be commercial space as part of the project.

Speaking personally, and not as chair of the management team, I think this is a good proposal. It will convert an underused and poorly maintained brownfield to an anchor for upper State Street. It will also add a substantial number of apartments to a very tight rental market. Having said that, the developers will need to continue talking with the neighborhood to address concerns on the appropriate number of parking spaces, the project’s retail component, and its design (including the tower).

The team periodically reviews development proposals as well as ongoing concerns such as crime and traffic. We meet at 7 on the fourth Monday of each month at Hooker School on Canner Street and everyone is welcome. We try to end the meetings by 8.

Apropos one of Eva’s comments, the team will be sending out a survey to get input on the types of retail people think the neighborhood needs.

posted by: HhE on October 25, 2012  11:24am

Don’t give me too much credit streever.  I was there, so I got this first hand.  I agree with your hopes for neighborhood sensitive renters and all that.  While I have been fooled before, I got a strong impression that this group is very keen on doing a really good job of it.