Builder Pitches 60 Apartments On State

Christopher Peak PhotoCity Plan DepartmentA New York City developer who already owns several historic New Haven properties is looking to top off his Elm City holdings by erecting a 60-unit apartment complex atop a surface parking lot downtown.

Those plans for a six-story development, a block away from the State Street commuter rail station, were presented to the Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday night.

Eyeing a parking lot currently used by the U.S. Army Recruiting Center and the U.S. Postal Service and adjacent to a soon-to-open performance venue, the planned development at 294-302 State St. would have 15 studio, 20 one-bedroom, 15 two-bedroom, and 10 three-bedroom units. The ground floor would contain retail space, amenities and parking.

The blueprints are far less ambitious than the 26-story tower that the previous property owner envisioned rising up on the spot. City officials said even the scaled-down development will go a long way to fill in a peripheral section of downtown across from the railroad cut.

Before construction can begin, zoners would have to approve a special exception from the city’s parking requirements. By ordinance, the site should have 35 spaces. The developer is asking to qualify with 19 spaces in an on-site garage. New Haven has been moving in general toward denser development with less parking than in the past.

Given the area’s walkability and the proximity to public transit, planning staff recommended granting the waiver.

The proposal will go to City Plan Commission for an advisory vote before the Board of Zoning Appeals considers a final decision at its next meeting.

The man behind the project is Joseph Cohen of Greenwich, who co-founded East River Partners, a firm that has converted older multi-family apartments into condominiums at 10 locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Most are geared toward “the middle of the spectrum as far as price point,” Cohen said, although the company has undertaken some luxury projects like the conversion of an Upper West Side mansion into a doorman building with units that start at $4.75 million.

Cohen is no stranger to New Haven, where he grew up and graduated from Yale. (As director of the Yale Child Study Center from 1983 to 2001, his dad Donald Cohen fundamentally changed the field of child psychiatry.) During high school, Cohen did a monthlong reporting stint at the old New Haven Advocate.

Cohen and his business partner, Jody Kriss, bought the parking lot and several other Chapel Street buildings as part of an $8.5 million deal in late 2016.

File PhotoThe previous owner, Chris Nicotra of Olympia Properties, once had big plans for the site that were foiled by the recession. As he watched moving vans pull up at 360 State St., he dreamed of erecting a 26-story tower, but that idea never made it past architectural renderings.

Cohen envisions something more modest that will “fit right in” with East River’s other purchases in New Haven, including $22 million paid for the Cambridge-Oxford Apartments at 32 & 36-38 High St., and $3.9 million for the Chapel Street Lofts at 441 Chapel St.

With all the growth in the city center, Cohen said he sees a renaissance downtown.

“There is, for better or worse, a renewal happening in the housing stock in New Haven,” Cohen said. “If you want to talk about the big picture of the ebbs and flows of this city, a lot of it comes down to simple math of how many people are moving in and how are you going to house them. A lot of that movement is in-migration that’s happening in the downtown area that I’m happy to serve.”

Cohen said it was “a little too early” to share renderings or price ranges. He did say the market-rate apartments, which come in a “wide variety” of sizes, will have an “attainable” rent.

Matthew Nemerson, the city’s economic development administrator, said the addition of the State Street apartments will almost round out his efforts to fill up all downtown’s surface parking lots, left over from urban redevelopment.

Once a deal’s finalized for a residential tower akin to 360 State St. in the parking lot between Center and Chapel Streets and between Church and Orange Streets, the only empty space left — a big one— will be the asphalt expanse where the New Haven Coliseum once stood and a promised $400 million mini-city has stalled for years.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess where developers will set their sights.

That is, if they see still New Haven as a good investment.

On the way out of the zoning meeting, Cohen pulled Nemerson aside. What’s up, he asked, with this 11 percent increase in property taxes?

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posted by: anonymous on June 13, 2018  4:25pm

Hope this is fast tracked! 

More housing units on abandoned parking lots means fewer people moving into the surrounding neighborhoods, pushing up the rents, and pushing people out.  Yale students and hospital workers are already pouring into Dwight-Edgewood as East Rock and Wooster Square get more costly.

This kind of thing also helps build the tax base, which means lower property tax increases for working families in New Haven who own their homes and small business owners who own their buildings.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 13, 2018  4:49pm

I hope the tenants like living next to the new music venue in town!

posted by: robn on June 13, 2018  5:14pm

Yeah. What IS up with an 11% tax increase?

posted by: quinnipiacave on June 13, 2018  7:21pm

This is great news. Empty parking lots might be becoming more scarce downtown, but all you need to do is walk or drive to the other side of Wooster Square to see vacant lot after vacant lot/former factory site. Ditto for areas of Fair Haven. Anyone griping about development and gentrification in New Haven should take a look at the acres and acres of empty space that could be developed into housing stock or rehabbed for other purposes.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 13, 2018  7:47pm

The other possibility, Anonymous, is that East Rock Landlords might have some ‘empty nests’ because supply doesn’t necessarily meet demand…..

That is not a positive by any means…..

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on June 13, 2018  7:51pm

I think that it’s great to see a lot of new apartments being built around town, but then again I would like to see more high-rise buildings Downtown in the near future.

posted by: blanx27 on June 13, 2018  9:52pm

haha. well played and thanks for getting that line into the article, Christopher Peak…

“WHAT IS UP WITH THIS 11% INCREASE IN PROPERTY TAXES?!”

You know you are in trouble when an NYC developer is in shock with our tax fiasco!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 13, 2018  11:01pm

posted by: quinnipiacave on June 13, 2018 7:21pm

Anyone griping about development and gentrification in New Haven should take a look at the acres and acres of empty space that could be developed into housing stock or rehabbed for other purposes.


My griping is where is the housing stock for the working poor and low income?

Even the middle class can’t afford these crazy rents, says Harvard

http://realestate.boston.com/news/2015/12/09/even-the-middle-class-cant-afford-these-crazy-rents-says-harvard/

posted by: Dennis Serf on June 14, 2018  12:11am

Cohen pulled Nemerson aside. What’s up, he asked, with this 11 percent increase in property taxes?

I’m wondering what’s Nemerson’s response was. If Cohen is surprised by the 11 percent, then he might be shocked to know New Haven has $2 Billion in liabilities it will never be able to repay. Nemerson should sell him one the city schools and have Cohen convert it to housing

[Ed.: From the best we could hear, Nemerson confirmed it was true.]

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 14, 2018  8:25am

3/5ths, griping about the housing stock for the working poor and low income is entirely justified. There is a real shortage of housing that is affordable to them, in New Haven and elsewhere. But this project, if built, will displace no one directly. It would be unlikely to displace any low- or moderate-income folks even indirectly - the nearest rneighbors are at 360 State. But Bill is right that the project will have indirect effects. Some are positive, such as increasing the audience for the Statehouse. Others are not, such as making multi-family buildings in East Rock less economically viable.

posted by: Stylo on June 14, 2018  9:24am

Speaking of the Coliseum, is there no new news on that? When does the contract run out? What a terrible deal that was, allowing them to sit on it and, presumably, make a profit when they sell at the last minute?

posted by: BevHills730 on June 14, 2018  10:24am

Kevin, 

I think one important question is how we encourage developers to build housing that is affordable to all families who live in New Haven.  There is not currently enough safe housing stock that is affordable and we need capital investment that generates new and improves existing affordable housing stock.  If New Haven gets through this full building boom cycle without figuring out it can also generate affordable housing stock, then New Haven will be much more gentrified. 

Also lowering the demand and bringing down rents in East Rock wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.  If that neighborhood became more economically diverse, it would decrease gentrification in New Haven, and perhaps even decrease economic segregation, which is a major problem for Connecticut and our city.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on June 14, 2018  10:34am

@ Dennis — Nemerson would have told the developer, “It will be different once I am mayor!”

Nemerson 2019 - You heard it here first!

posted by: vpaul on June 14, 2018  11:21am

What’s up with all these new apartment developments? Are there enough people moving in to fill these occupancies? As far as benefits to the tax base, have you noticed real estate taxes going down?? Does this mean many units are unoccupied?


Is this just a developer’s bubble: build, sell (or finance to the hilt) and get out? Will the City be stuck with tax foreclosures and hence empty units when the bubble bursts? We never see answers to these practical questions. Are we doomed to hope for the best against all practical reality?

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on June 14, 2018  11:23am

@Stylo,

Who knows. At this point it would seem that the site will just continue to be a parking lot for the next 20 or 30 years. I wouldn’t be surprised if it does. The original plan I believe was to begin construction on the project back in 2013 or 2014. I also know that sometime last year they decided to change the plan and come up with a different idea for the project because it was probably “over the budget” of what the city can give. Since then there hasn’t been any new updates relating to that development, sadly.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 14, 2018  11:24am

Stylo, in hindsight the development agreement for the Coliseum site was a bad deal. But the developer has built several comparable projects, primarily in Canada. I believe the final completion deadline under the agreement is 2027. It has intermediate deadlines, but I don’t know whether the city can enforce them. As I vaguely recall, the city would have to sign off on any transfer of LWLP’s rights under the agreement, e.g., if it sold the land.

Anonymous, I’ve met a number of grad students who have chosen to live in Dwight as well as the area around Mansfield Street. This may cause displacement, as you note. But de-concentrating poverty and increasing the economic diversity of neighborhoods are not bad things. And if you believe that the city is more responsive to middle-income residents than to low- and moderate-income residents, having more middle-income residents in neighborhoods like Dwight may improve services such as garbage pick-up and snow-plowing.

Cohen submitted the application, notwithstanding the tax increase. Assuming he gets the zoning approvals, it would take him a couple of years to build the project. He presumably would take advantage of the standard tax phase-in for projects like this and not pay the full tax bill on the project for about ten years from now. Ten years is a long time. It is reasonable to assume that Cohen believes he can make money on the project, even with the city’s tax mess.

posted by: mechanic on June 14, 2018  11:31am

I’m all for more housing, but I would warn against a waiver for parking spots.  Since the Corsair went up parking on Mechanic Street for long-time residents has been extremely tight.  They even have their own half-empty parking garage which their tenants have to pay extra for.  Not surprisingly, many tenants opt to park on the street, stretching on-street parking think for the folks who live farther up, and have no other options, paid or “free.”

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 14, 2018  1:14pm

Kevin McCarthy,

I don’t know where you live, but the Dwight Area has always been a mecca for Yale Students.

posted by: anonymous on June 14, 2018  4:01pm

Bill, the area around Howe & Chapel was much more heavily Hispanic 20 years ago and rooms were about $200/month; it is now mostly white and the rents are 4-5X higher. The demographics have changed because not enough new market-rate housing was built downtown to prevent the rents from skyrocketing in that area.

We can correct this problem now if the Alders and Mayor change policies so tens of thousands of new housing units downtown can be fast-tracked by private developers, or we can sit by and do nothing as half the population of New Haven gets displaced to Ansonia, Hamden, and Waterbury.  The state’s affordable housing budget isn’t going to change much, even if Ganim wins.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 14, 2018  4:54pm

Anonymous,

I have lived in the Dwight Neighborhood for 28 years… it is still as diverse as ever!

After several bubble and bankruptcy cycles, the biggest change I have seen is from ‘owner-occupied’ housing to ‘investment-oriented’.  The Chelsea Company is largest property holder in the area—Pike International, a very weak second place…

Many Yale Divinity Students also bought properties in the neighborhood during the early 2000’s, have since graduated, and continue to rent them out as absentee landlords….  that is a direct line to the ‘Yale Housing Market’.

Maybe the Dwight neighborhood has been New Haven’s best kept secret!

posted by: anonymous on June 14, 2018  7:59pm

Bill, it’s certainly still exceptionally diverse, especially west of Dwight Street, but I was referring to the roughly 200-300 Mexican families that once lived closer to downtown who apparently have been replaced by hundreds of students and/or young professionals, mostly white or Asian, paying 4-5X the rent per room, as one large building after another has been renovated.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 15, 2018  1:58am

Anonymous,

I think the biggest change was when Trade Union Plaza was bought by the Chelsea Company and those units started getting marketed to young professionals and students.

But that was primarily a Black Exodus…..

posted by: wendy1 on June 15, 2018  12:01pm

I would like some new neighbors and I like the idea of small apts. but one has to hope the developer builds or converts something that he would be willing to live in himself i.e. solid walls, good roof and windows, etc.  State St. could use more people on it.

We get our new tax bill in 2 weeks or so. I am hiring a professional demonstrator for cityhall in July.  “Arts and ideas” aint over yet.  I am also looking for drum circles, bellydancers, stiltwalkers, bagpipers, and puppeteers.