Downtown Block Undergoing A Change

Paul Bass, Aliyya Swaby PhotosNew Haven’s legal aid agency is moving up, as is a block of downtown that has proved resistant to the economic boom remaking surrounding blocks.

The agency, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, plans to move this fall from its current under-11,000-square-foot location at the corner of Court and State Streets into a new 18,000 square-foot space this fall at 205-7 Orange St., across from the 200 Orange municipal office building.

New York-based real-estate developers Jacob and Joseph Feldman — among the forces behind New Haven’s current market-rate apartment construction boom — purchased the 205-7 Orange building in January for $1.075 million, according to land records. The space most recently housed a social service agency called the Connection, which has moved to 900 Chapel St.

Joseph Feldman told the Independent his company will spend months retrofitting the entire building for NHLAA, dropping ceilings and putting in sheetrock and HVAC systems.

“It made sense to move them in,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”

File Photo“We’re really excited” about the move, NHLAA Executive Director Alexis Smith said. Smith said the agency has far outgrown its current space at 105 Court St. It expanded its immigration practice, including adding a fellow to the staff, and created a new community development practice, hiring attorney Liam Brennan (formerly a federal prosecutor) and community organizer Caitlin Maloney. The agency also plans to hire another family law attorney.

Paul Bass PhotoThe Feldmans also own 105 Court/ 426 State (pictured above), which houses the Legal Beagle restaurant and Adolf Viennese Couturier-Furs. Joseph Feldman said his company plans to convert the upstairs NHLAA space into new apartments.

The blocks near the State-Court-Orange-Elm block that houses both buildings have been undergoing growth. The 360 State St. luxury apartment tower is half a block away. In the other direction, one developer is planning a new hotel or apartments at the former Webster Bank site at 80 Elm, while across the street the owner of The Union upscale apartment building is planning to build another hotel on an adjacent parking lot.

But the State-Court-Orange-Elm block has struggled to thrive. A recent addition, the Peruvian Cviche 181, has closed. Sweet Mary’s bakery on Court Street has closed, at least for a month (according to a sign in the window). Numerous other empty storefront on Court Street have windows blocked with blank paper.

Across the street on the block on Elm, the Feldmans have been planning for years to construct a new apartment building on the site of the former Harold’s formal wear store. The plans stalled as they sought to sell the property.  Now, Joseph Feldman said, his company has revived plans for the project — with a redesign in the works to add more apartments. The original approved plan was for 46 apartments. Then New Haven amended its zoning code to allow builders to construct bigger residential projects, with smaller (and therefore more) apartments, in business zones. (Click here to read about that.) “We’re back to the drawing board to see the potential we have,” Feldman said.

“Getting a little more vibrancy on that side of town would be great,” City Plan Director Michael Piscitelli said of the various plans afoot for that final underdeveloped stretch of downtown.

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posted by: Brian McGrath on May 15, 2018  4:44pm

Story after story has indicated that New Haven’s restrictive zoning ordinance has stymied many a beneficial development by limiting the developer’s ability to make a profit, get investors or mortgages and kills their ideas. When the city gives desired relief through the Board of Zoning Appeals, often somewhat illegally in the case of variances, it gets sued and would either lose the case or the developer gives up. If no good public purpose can be found for parts of the code it is time to reexamine the 1928/1963 code. Remember, the Zoning Ordinance is not the 10 commandments. Long deceased Alders enacted it and the living can reenact it. Our new City Plan director is a certified city planner. I expect great things from him. If we make amendments and new less restrictive codes do not work out to our satisfaction, we can always amend again. It is not that hard.

posted by: Pedro Soto on May 15, 2018  7:53pm

I also agree it’s time to revise our code, and Brian McGrath raises an excellent point that it is not the 10 Commandments. We need to stop overlaying new BD1 BD2 etc zones and finally bite the bullet and devise a modern, flexible and progressive building code for the next 100 years, not the last 100 years.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 15, 2018  10:02pm

The zoning ordinance needs to be substantially revised. The question is who will do it. I don’t think the budget has money for new staff at City Plan. If existing staff do the re-write, they will have less time to work on other developments that are in the pipeline or proposed. And I doubt there is a pot of money to hire a consultant.

posted by: Ryn111 on May 16, 2018  12:13am

I wouldn’t call the MOD Equity boys builders.. perhaps renovation specialists. They have done zero ground up development in town right? Its plausible their inability to pull together the Harold’s site over the last 2 years means it will continue to sit vacant for years.

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on May 16, 2018  12:46am

The blocks around State, Court, Orange and Elm Streets have struggled over the years for numerous reasons. For there to not really be any hotels or a good amount of apartments in the area has a lot to do with it, I think. You also have to think to yourself in a situation like this “Are the businesses doing well? and do people enjoy spending their time in town?” The Ninth Square district has a lot of potential in terms of its future. It’s certainly an attractive part of New Haven mainly because it’s in the heart of the Downtown core. There definitely should be more vibrancy in the area. Especially around the green. The city needs some kind of a new approach towards new development.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 16, 2018  6:32am

Ryn111, you may be right about the Harold’s site. But a number of other projects with experienced builders have gone years without being built. Live Work Learn Play and the Spinnaker development on Chapel are the best examples.

posted by: robn on May 16, 2018  6:56am

This suburban union controlled BOA has shown time and time again (most recently at the Duncan where they tried to force feed a union to a developer) that they aren’t capable of responsibly managing zoning issues.
A major revision under this group would be a cesspool if special interest.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 16, 2018  8:15am

Robn, while the BOA has done some lame-brained things with regard to land use, the zoning ordinance is an ordinance. Under state law, the BOA is the entity responsible for amending it.

posted by: Ryn111 on May 16, 2018  9:34am

Kevin, wasn’t the chapel street site tied up in litigation for years? Spinnaker is now under construction with the Audubon site and have done some nice work in SONO. LWPL never had a legitimate development plan as they required some hefty contributions from the state. To make that one worse they have a 15 year exclusive deal on the property (going from memory here) Solid deal making. That said i think my comment on MOD equities is correct. Unless they are active in other markets but it doesn’t seem like it. They are similar to the other absentee mega landlords in town.

Robn i agree about the BOA - too many special interests unfortunatley.

posted by: 1644 on May 16, 2018  10:02am

1. Most towns have an appointed Planning & Zoning Board which is separate from the main legislative body.  This set-up is the statutory standard, and insulates Zoning from politics.  New Haven operates differently only because of a Special Act that pre-dates most zoning. 

2. Most towns do a review of their zoning every five years, with a major re-write every ten.  Again, this review is mandated by state statute.  These reviews are generally done with the assistance of consultants, who do the bulk of the leg-work.  A town like Branford will appropriate at least $100K for a review and updating of its Plan of Conservation and Development, which drives zoning.

3. My guess would be that updating and re-writing New Haven’s zoning regulations would cost at least $300K, likely about the cost of detailing police to drive the mayor.

4. The struggles of the Ninth Square show how critical Yale’s presence is to New Haven.  The area is isolated from Yale and the Green, and lacks a central amenity like the Green or Wooster Squar, or theaters..  360 State has done alright, but still needed to be subsidized.  Becker’s contention that his taxes were increased in retaliation for not contributing to DeStefano’s campaign couldn’t encourage other developers, either.

posted by: Ryn111 on May 16, 2018  11:20am

Also to be clear. I think these guys do nice work and provide well finished apartments. They just arent builders as noted in the article.

posted by: westville man on May 16, 2018  11:38am

“Most towns have an appointed Planning and Zoning Board which…...insulates Zoning from politics.”!!

LOL!!  Smh…..

posted by: Ex-HVN on May 16, 2018  11:43am

@1644
“1. Most towns have an appointed Planning & Zoning Board which is separate from the main legislative body.  This set-up is the statutory standard, and insulates Zoning from politics.”

Actually many CT towns have elected Planning and Zoning Boards (Trumbull, Milford and Ridgefield are just three examples). While separate from the main legislative body they do NOT insulate zoning from politics.

posted by: Politics 101 on May 16, 2018  2:29pm

1644—

Were you going for comedy here?

“Most towns have an appointed Planning and Zoning Board which…...insulates Zoning from politics.”

I’m dying laughing.

“Most towns do a review of their zoning every five years, with a major re-write every ten.”

Yeah, so they can downzone (2 acre minimum lots in Orange for example) further so that the existing residents, having gotten theirs, can make sure that never again is a starter home built in their town.

When it comes to planning & zoning, please don’t suggest that there’s something to be learned from our surrounding towns.

posted by: Esbey on May 16, 2018  4:01pm

Wow, the NHI commenters are a pro-growth crowd today!

Years ago, commenters here claimed that building 360 State would lead to either [a] a failed empty building or out-of-control development (or, commonly, somehow, both at once.) In fact, 360 State is full-up with pretty high rents, but the immediately surrounding area is only mildly changed, hardly “gentrified” at all. The fact is that New Haven’s “boom” is very moderate and fragile and in need of assistance.

The effect of zoning on the plans for the old Harold’s building is very revealing. If you want growth, your regulations and zoning have to allow for it.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 16, 2018  4:28pm

Ryn111, you’re correct about the Spinnaker litigation. But it ended months ago and I’ve seen no sign of activity on the Chapel Street site. I won’t comment on LWLP’s plan for the Coliseum site - my point was that the company has built several large projects.