Stamford Zoning Board approves demolition of iconic tower
STAMFORD — The cylindrical tower across from city hall will soon be coming down.
The Zoning Board has approved plans to build a 16-story luxury apartment block on the site. No one from the public spoke during two hearings when the board discussed the multifaceted proposal before voting unanimously in favor of the new structure.
The old building, St. John Tower A on Washington Boulevard and Bell Street, has been vacant for three years and demolition will begin in the fall.
Board members appeared excited Monday night to finally have what some considered an eyesore torn down and replaced with a 400-unit luxury complex replete with a yoga room and an outdoor dog-washing station.
“I can’t wait,” board member Rosanne McManus said.
The proposal, brought by a division of Miami’s Lennar, the largest home builder in the U.S, included seven action items, all of which were approved by the five-member panel.
Lennar, which is in contract to buy the parcel, garnered approval to pay $4.3 million to the owner of the other two towers, St. John Urban Development Corp., in lieu of including affordable units in the new building. Lennar also received approval to provide fewer parking spaces than required under zoning regulations.
Greg Belew, who oversees Lennar’s properties in the tri-state area, said these are typical requests for a development of this size.
Noel Cooke, who manages the towers for St. John, told zoning earlier this month that the $4.3 million would go toward renovations of the other two towers, which still contain some 240 affordable units.
Those renovations will likely cost around $70 million, or $35 million a tower, he said.
“It’s essentially sacrificing one tower to preserve the other two,” Cooke said. “St. John Urban Development Corp. has operated these things for a half of a century. We don’t want to go anywhere. We don’t want to sell, we want to fix them. Cooke said the two remaining towers will remain mostly affordable even after the renovations. Zoning also required that the nonproft prove it is “ready, willing and able," to refurbish and maintain at least one tower as affordable before it receives the $4.3 million, said attorney Lisa Feinberg, advocating for Lennar.
St. John’s towers were designed by Victor Hanna Bisharat, architect of the Landmark Square Tower, the downtown Marriott and High Ridge Office Park. The buildings, some his first designs to be built downtown, were once heralded as “majestic,” according to stories published in the Stamford Advocate in the 1970s.
Mystic marina owners propose redevelopment
Mystic — The owners of Seaport Marine on Washington Street are proposing a redevelopment of the 11.5-acre site with construction of a second restaurant, a 40-room boutique hotel, commercial space, apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, as well as a public-access boardwalk.
The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission held a workshop Tuesday night to discuss the proposal with Seaport Marine officials and their attorney Bill Sweeney. They are expected to file a formal application in June, which then would require public hearings.
Seaport Marine and its sister facility, Noank Shipyard, are owned by the Holstein family. They are managed by Abbey Holstein and her husband, Harry Boardsen.
Last week, Boardsen said the project has been seven years in the making, as there has long been a desire to redevelop the Seaport Marine facility.
"This is a total reprogramming of 11 acres of downtown Mystic," he said.
He said the first step was the 2014 construction of the building that now houses the popular Red36 restaurant “to see how things would go.”
While he declined to discuss the total value of the proposal, Boardsen said his project and the $70 million development of the former Perkins Farm site by David Lattizori of Groton are examples of local developers investing in the community.
“We have a stake in this town and in Noank,” he said. “We’re looking to create jobs and new opportunities. Everyone loves Mystic and we’re trying to give them more reasons why.”
The marina will be seeking to use the town's neighborhood development district, a floating zone that was created to spur the development of underused properties, to undertake the project. It would require the marina to obtain approval of its master plan and site plan, both of which require public hearings. Neighbors are expected to raise concerns regarding the project, such as about traffic, as they did with Red36.
Boardsen said the project calls for moving all land-based marina activities, such as mechanical work, boat storage and yacht restoration, to the more modern Noank Shipyard and then tearing down the sheds where that work now takes place. The dock space will remain and be expanded and improved.
He said a second waterfront restaurant, of similar size to Red36, will be built just to the north of it.
Fifty-six housing units would be divided among a multistory apartment building, townhouses and several single-family homes and be built on three separate areas of the site. The 40-room boutique hotel would have a rooftop tapas bar. A sail loft building would house commercial space.
The plan also calls for open space for outdoor events such as corporate meetings and farmers markets. Plans also call for construction of a 1,500-foot-long extension of the Mystic River Park dock that would provide a public walkway that would encircle the marina property and also connect to Washington Street.
Plans also call for construction of a new bulkhead and the creation of a new boat basin with additional boat slips and docks. Parking would be below some of the buildings and in additional surface lots. Parking also would be available for boat slip holders.
Boardsen said the project would be built in phases with the infrastructure, boardwalk extension and new restaurant being completed first. He said the restaurant would create about 150 new jobs.
He said the marina is looking for the lowest level of development density allowed by the neighborhood development district and its design, created by local architect Meg Lyons, would mirror the character of downtown Mystic. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
New ownership for Middletown power plant
The private-equity owner of the 620-megawatt Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown said it has sold a majority stake to four Japanese companies.
Ares EIF, a unit of California-based Ares Management, said it's formed a new investment vehicle to manage Kleen Energy Systems LLC on behalf of the new investor group, which includes three Japanese utilities and a Tokyo-based global trading company.
Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
New investors include subsidiaries of The Chugoku Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co., Osaka Gas Co. and Sojitz Corp.
According to information announced Tuesday by Sojitz, the new ownership structure of Kleen is as follows: Sojitz owns 20.25 percent; Osaka Gas owns 24.30 percent; Kyushu Electric Power Co. owns 20.25 percent and the Chugoku Electric Power Co. owns 16.2 percent.
That would leave 19 percent remaining for Ares EIF. Ares has owned a majority share in Kleen since 2014, when it acquired Energy Investors Funds, a company that bought an 80 percent stake in Kleen in 2008, around the time construction on the plant began. Two years later, a natural gas explosion at the plant killed six workers and injured dozens of others.
It wasn't immediately clear Tuesday morning exactly how big Ares EIF's stake in Kleen was prior to the ownership change.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Eversource Energy asks Connecticut utility regulators for large natural gas rate increase
Eversource Energy officials said Friday the company has told state utility regulators it will seek a natural gas service rate hike that, if approved, would increase customer bills by an average of 15.8 percent over a three-year period.
The company filed a notice of intent with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on Friday announcing its plans to seek the rate increase. Bill Akley, president of gas operations for Hartford-based Eversource, said the increased revenue is needed so the company can continue upgrading its distribution network.
Eversource customers would see a 9.2 percent average increase in their natural gas bills in the first year of the plan proposed by the utility. Customer bills would increase by an average 3.7 percent during the second year of the proposed rate hike followed by a hike of 2.9 percent in the third year.
If approved, the first of the rate increases would begin on Jan. 1, according to Eversource officials.
Eversource has 3,370 miles of natural gas infrastructure in 73 communities around the state and has replaced 145 miles of gas pipelines since 2011. The company plans to upgrade an additional 371 miles natural pipeline over the three-year period covered in the filing, said Tricia Taskey Modifica, a company spokeswoman.
The proposed upgrades include replacing existing cast iron and bare steel gas main with newer plastic pipe that company officials say is safer, more durable and is better able to deal with fluctuating underground temperatures “These investments allow us to enhance safety and further modernize the gas distribution system, minimizing repairs and any service interruptions, to ensure our customers have energy for every moment of their lives,” Akley said in statement. “Each mile of leak-prone main we replace makes our gas system safer, stronger and helps the environment.”
Friday’s notice of intent will be followed with a more detailed rate increase filing within 30 days to 60 days, according to company officials. Eversource officials stressed that the percentage increases are based on averages and the amount that customers’ bills increase could be lower or higher.
Lauren Bidra, an attorney with the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel, said agency officials “are concerned with the magnitude of the requested rate increase.” The OCC represents the interests of consumers in utility rate cases.
Eversource has 232.000 natural gas customers in Connecticut.
Developers say demand for commercial, residential development in New Haven area is strong
BRANFORD — Three leading commercial and residential real estate developers said Tuesday they are bullish on the New Haven area’s prospects for growth.
David Salinas, real estate developer and co-founder of Digital Surgeons in New Haven, said because of the presence of Yale University, the city has an international reputation.
“Our brand here is so big, is so strong,” Salinas said during a panel discussion at the 2018 Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce Regional Real Estate Forum, held Tuesday afternoon at the Woodwinds Wedding and Event Venue. “We call people all over the world and they have heard of New Haven.”
Digital Surgeons helps client companies switch their marketing and promotion from traditional channels such as print and broadcast advertising to digital, social and mobile channels. While the New Haven area has a high recognition value internationally, Salinas said one of the attractive things about it is as “a place where you can start something and be really successful.”
Salinas said he essentially started Digital Surgeons with a $5,000 line of credit from a bank.
“You couldn’t do that in Boston or New York City,” he said. “The cost of entry there is much greater.”
In addition to running Digital Surgeons, Salinas has spent the last two years overseeing the creation of $25 million technology business hub know as The District. Built in a renovated Connecticut Transit bus garage at the corner of James and State streets, part of the District is already open, Salinas said. Digital Surgeons is one of the anchor tenants of The District.
While Salinas is busy trying to bolster New Haven’s reputation as a technology hub, another member of the panel, developer Juan Salas-Romer, is focused on trying to increase the selection of multi-family housing space in the region. As president and chief executive officer of the NHR Group, Salas-Romer is involved in a number of commercial and residential real estate deals.
NHR Group’s latest effort is called Heights on The River, a multi-family residential development on East Grand Avenue in the city’s Fair Haven section.
“Multi-family housing is popular right now, but much of it is focused on the high end,” Salas-Romer said. “Our focus is on the middle class because we felt it is underserved.”
While Salas-Romer is trying to get Heights on The River built in New Haven, developer Louis Tagliatela Jr. has another multi-family development in full construction in neighboring Hamden. Tagliatela’s Franklin Communities has already built about half of the 393 units in its Canal Crossing at Whitneyville West complex on Mather Street.
Tagliatela said part of the reason that apartment living is attractive to members of the millennial generation is because of their life experiences.
“They’ve seen people they know lose their homes to foreclosure and they’re anxious to stay away from that,” he said.
Salinas said Connecticut officials are too obsessed with trying to keep young people from leaving the state after they graduate from college “That’s why they call it leaving the nest: I grew up in New York City and I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there the first chance I got,” Salinas said. “The state needs to target 30- to 45-year-olds because they’re the ones looking to take advantage of the quality of life we have here because they don’t want to raise their kids in the city. All of the other demographic groups have more people leaving the state than moving in.”