By the time Yale University opens its new $120 million science building, more students might be able to walk out of their apartments and across the street to get to class.
The City Plan Commission unanimously approved at its regular monthly meeting a site plan that allows Newcastle Connecticut LLC to convert a three-story, 10-unit apartment building known as Peabody Place at 245 Whitney Ave. into a 14-unit building, which is directly across the street from Yale’s science building, which is currently under construction and expected to open in 2019. (The property was formerly owned by City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson; read about the ownership and sale of the property here.)
Newcastle President Margaret Streicker-Porres said that given the building’s location in the Whitney Avenue Historic District and its proximity to Yale’s Science Hill, the School of Management, and the Peabody, it was the kind of project that her company thought was worth undertaking.
“Newcastle is known for doing historic renovations and reconditioning tired assets,” she said. “This fits directly into what our specialty has been for the past decade-plus.”
New Haven architect Fernando Pastor is spearheading the design plan, which calls for converting existing a three-bedroom apartment and its common space into two, two-bedroom apartments, and a one-bedroom into a two bedroom unit. Storage space in the basement will be converted into a three-bedroom apartment and gym space for the future tenants. The apartments, which will be aimed at attracting student renters, will be rented at market rate.
Pastor said that when Peabody Place was built in 1920 it was a built as student housing with the following configuration of apartments: three one-bedroom, four two-bedrooms, four three-bedroom apartments, and one two-bedroom for the caretaker.
He said the north side of the building has one one-bedroom and one two-bedroom apartment per floor and the south side has only one three-bedroom apartment. The new configuration will essentially add one apartment to every floor including the basement to create four additional apartments.
Project Site Manager Silvia Portilla said that in the case of some of the conversions on the above basement floors, kitchens will be moved into the common spaces of the reconfigured apartments and the former kitchens will become a bedroom. Streicker-Porres said that what Newcastle discovered when it was preparing to take on the building is that it has lost the standardization that it had when it was first built.
Apartments have been reconfigured in highly varying ways as amenities like closets and even faux fireplaces were added over the years. She said getting the apartments in the building back to one standard, while also upgrading a lot of the electrical wiring and other inner workings of the building is part of getting the building ready for the demands of the 21st century and beyond. All bathrooms and kitchens for each of the units also will be renovated.
But there will be no expansion of the building and there will be no new structural additions.
Streicker-Porres said that in addition to the interior changes, there will be some changes to the grounds that the building inhabits. The paved parking lot at the back of the building will be replaced with pavers to create more natural drainage on site for stormwater runoff, according to Pastor. There also will be all new plantings around the front of the building with native species. In addition to those landscape changes, there will be a rain garden and a working fire pit, and the basement apartment will get a sunken patio that doubles as a place to relax and an emergency egress. A 12-cycle bike rack also will be added to the rear parking lot.
With all of those changes, Streicker-Porres said, “I think we’re going to bring this project into the 21st century.”
The work will get underway as the building empties out. There are four tenants left in the building with leases coming to an end this summer. Construction is expected to last approximately one year, according to City Plan Department documents.
This isn’t Newcastle’s first project in the Elm City. It’s currently working on the conversion of a former church and its rectory at 847-855 State St. near the corner of Clark Street, across State from Da Legna, Christopher Martin’s, and Modern Apizza restaurants. Streicker-Porres said that project is “coming along nicely,” and she the company is thrilled that the City Plan Commission approved the new project, which allows the company to participate in the ongoing revitalization of a vibrant part of the city.
“We love New Haven,” she said. “It’s a great city. It’s been a learning process getting to know the city, but since we’re always looking to do the right thing, we’ve been happy to work with the city and we think the city has been happy to work with us.”
According to the city’s Assessor database, 245 Whitney Ave is owned by Peabody Place, LLC. Peabody Place lists Matthew Nemerson as a principle, according to the Secretary of State’s corporation filings.
Curious why the Independent didn’t cover the fact that the city’s Economic Development director just had his building’s site plan approved for the benefit of the largest organization in town, Yale.
Beyond that, Newcastle Connecticut, LLC’s corporation filings are nested in another holding company, New Castle Management, a South Carolina company that lists Michael P Tracy as its principle. Can we have some elaboration on any relationship between the city’s economic development director, Newcastle, and Yale?
For the record, the LLC - of which I was the managing member on behalf of various family members since it acquired the 245 Whitney building in 2003 - sold the building and land to the current owners in April 2017.
I have recused myself from all issues in City Plan and will from all issues in OBIE and the Fire Marshall relating to the building. I have discussed this with the Corporation Counsel John Rose.
In keeping with this non-involvement, I neither attended or asked staff about the site plan meetings or other hearings for the building’s new owners. I have been given no information about the progress of the new plans and have had no communication with any of our staff on the project.
With the exception of clearing up a missing CO for one of the apartments there were no conversations with City staff relating to the building during the time the LLC owned the building and I also worked at the city.
A building of this quality, in such a location deserves to be invested in and to be a strong part of the New Haven economy - something I did not feel comfortable undertaking given the opportunity for a clear appearance of conflict of interest given my public responsibilities.
I have no residual interests in the property and will be careful to play no role whatsoever in the success or failure of the new owner’s goals.
I think I have taken care to try to do the right thing here given my position, but I certainly invite comments and thoughts from the NHI community who may be more clear-eyed in exploring any ethical or conflict issues that I may have overlooked.
A historical note: in the 1980s, 245 became well known as the home of many of the widows of famous Yale men, including, according to what I was told, Mrs. Kingman Brewster. The owner, also a Yale widow, lived on the first floor. In the 1990s the building was used by Quinnipiac University as a dorm for female students working towards medical industry degrees who were interning at Yale New Haven.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 26, 2017 4:58pm
So does this mean the City has just lost another $38,000 in property tax off the rolls, or was this property already off rolls to begin with…???
posted by: Matthew Nemerson on June 26, 2017 7:00pm
It’s been on the tax rolls and will stay on the tax rolls - and taxes will probably go up substantially eventually with all the new investments.
Private owner renting market rate rental apartments - nothing remotely tax exempt about any of this.
Bill, I’m curious why anyone would think this building use configuration wouldn’t pay taxes?
posted by: Markeshia Ricks on June 26, 2017 8:10pm
@Bill Saunders: It appears that the fact that this is a privately-owned complex, that will be targeted to students and rented at market rate got left out of the story. My apologies.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 26, 2017 8:26pm
When you hear the words Yale and Housing, mixed messaging and perceptions get out there. That is why I asked the question.
If a nice increase to the grand list is the benefit, shouldn’t that be made clear in the reporting…? It makes your office look good too!!!!!
posted by: Westville Parent on June 26, 2017 8:53pm
Kudos to Matt Nemerson for doing everything right to avoid even a hint of conflict of interest or self-dealing in this real estate transaction. If more people in positions of power took such above-board steps, we would be a far far better society and nation. The emoluments clause is in the Constitution for good reasons (presently being ignored) and even if there isn’t anything quite like it in New Haven’s charter, it is an unwritten ethical necessity. Bravo for public servants who serve the public and not themselves and their friends!
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 27, 2017 12:21am
This was a million dollar real estate transaction…..
Nemerson is trying to look clean and ethical….. It makes sense for him to do so. All of the necessary conversations already happened off the public record….
posted by: hal8999 on June 27, 2017 8:09am
Please do some google searching on this woman Streicker-Porres. She tries to sell herself as this real estate titan in New York City, but she is a vulture. Her management company, Newcastle Realty Services LLC has been caught doing a lot of terrible things.
Her company specializes in buying old buildings full of elderly rent regulated tenants, kicking them out, doing cheap renovations without permits, then offering the apartments as “gut renovations” when they often aren’t and at market rate, without filing the proper paperwork with the state and frequently offering illegal non-regulated leases to the new tenants. Then she flips the buildings for a profit. Just do some google searching on Newcastle. They are terrible.
posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on June 27, 2017 9:57am
I’m curious as to how what appears to be a flat-out upgrade of this building, including landscape upgrades that sound lovely (but not particularly cheap) will result in apartments that are affordable to students?
I realize today’s grad students get better support from Yale and therefore have a far higher standard of living (and so the whole East Rock neighborhood is a much nicer place) than back in the 1970s when my husband and I, graduate students with a total monthly stipend income of $300 (for only nine months of the year) lived in a three-room basement apartment on Edwards Street with a rent of $150 per month (twelve months). But still, with all this renovation work, the rents will have to go up. What do they plan to charge for these apartments, and how will students afford them? Is it all a matter of “live it up now, eat out, pay market-level rent for a nice place, then worry about paying off the student loans later”? I probably sound like an old fogey, but I really do wonder how the math works.
posted by: LookOut on June 27, 2017 12:46pm
@Gretchen Pritchard….ah how things have changed. The minimum stipend at Yale is now $30,250 and they get full benefits including healthcare. No wonder the vast majority rejected the union option a couple months ago