December 5, 2018

CT Construction Digest Wednesday December 5, 2018

In South End, residents decry latest BLT plan
Barry Lytton
STAMFORD — The stages were set this week for the next big development spat in the city, centered on a parcel a half mile north of the site that prompted the prickliest fight between residents and a developer in recent history.
But this time, instead of a drawn-out altercation over developer Building and Land Technology’s South End boatyard demolition, the fight is away from the waterfront — which is partially why some are up in arms.
Instead of working within the Harbor Point district outlined a decade ago around old industrial brownfields near the water, BLT’s newest proposal is for land across the street from a community center and blocks from historic homes nestled within the historic district.
Some residents see it as BLT’s slow march to the train station to the north.
“At first I thought it was wonderful. ‘Oh boy, they’re building all these buildings.’ But now it’s a concrete jungle,” longtime resident Marlene Rhome told members of the Planning Board Tuesday. “It’s atrocious, how many more buildings are going to go up?”
BLT contends the plan simply puts housing where a neighborhood eyesore — a garbage transfer facility — once stood.For three decades, the land housed B&S Carting. During B&S’s South End tenure, residents complained of the noxious smells and fluttering debris, said the builder’s attorney William Hennessey,Then BLT bought Carting out.
Hennessey chided residents for forgetting how much BLT had done for the neighborhood. His scolding came after a dozen residents told the board that the new South End is overwhelming the neighborhood with highfalutin restaurants and city-scale luxe apartments they can’t afford.
“They look like projects, they don’t look like a living space ... it doesn’t feel like a home environment anymore,” said resident Doris Ganues. “I remember when there were two pharmacies, a meat market, a fish market, a whole lot of things, two or three restaurants that everybody could go into ... we don’t have that no more.“We just have buildings,” she said. “We want an environment that feels like it’s home, you know? We don’t want the environment to feel like a corporate city where the houses are so big, but we can’t live in them, the restaurants so expensive, we can’t go in there.”
Hennessey took eception to the idea that the pre-Harbor Point South End was an ideal neighborhood that BLT seeks to destory.
“For people to pine about the prosaic old days when there were deer and turkey (in the neighborhood), well there was — I saw the deer and turkey. They were on the old Helco site when it was an overgrown cyanide wasteland,” Hennessey said. “That stuff existed. This is the good part of redevelopment. They were hardly hardy deer and turkey.”
The Planning Board will now mull whether to change the city’s master-plan map to allow for higher density housing on the B&S Carting parcel between Woodland Avenue and Walter Wheeler Drive. The board closed comment, and will next take up the matter Jan. 8.
The map change is the first edit of land-use codes needed for BLT to erect several new buildings, including a complex with five-story street frontage along Pacific Street, 22-story tower on Walter Wheeler Drive and 15-story building on Woodland Avenue. The complex is comprised of some 670 proposed housing units.
The Planning Board has jurisdiction over the master plan change, and will discuss that and a referral to the Zoning Board on accompanying zoning-code text changes at the January meeting.
Zoning could take up the text changes at its next meeting on Dec. 3.

Council approves senior housing, community center at former East Haven High School
Hannah Dellinger
EAST HAVEN — The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to enter a public-private partnership that will transform the old East Haven High School property into a senior housing facility and community center.
After nearly 21 years left vacant, the town has approved the partial sale of the 100,000-square-foot facility to Boston-based developer WinnProperties for $500,000. The 30-year agreement will allow the developer to create and maintain 70 units of mixed-income, age-restricted apartments in one wing of the old building.
The other portion of the 1930s structure at 200 Tyler St. will house a community center, complete with a gym, pool, council chambers, offices, teen center and more.
Another portion of the building will be demolished to make space for 86 resident parking spot
Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. touted the plan for repurposing the old property as a net gain for the town.
“This will transform the old high school into flagship housing center and artistic and civic hub for our community,” he said. “The tax benefits and opportunities for savings are clear and substantial.”
The mayor said the deteriorating building costs the town around $240,000 per year.
Residents who spoke during a heated, hour-long public hearing voiced concerns about the prospect of offering low-income housing, parking, traffic, drainage and rats migrating from the building into surrounding homes.
Representatives from WinnProperties said it will cost about $22 million for their portion of the project. They have already secured $20.8 million in state financing and a partnership with Bank of America, which has agreed to purchase tax credits in order to provide funding.
The project is expected to be complete by November 2020.
Town Attorney Joseph Zullo said there isn’t an official estimate of what it would cost the town to complete its portion of the project. He said depending on what the council chooses to do with the town’s section of the building, it could cost as little as $7 million or as much as $12 million.
The town will be able to pay for the project with bonding, said Zullo, and it will be able to fund other needed projects with the savings that won’t be lost on the upkeep of the historic building.
Though there isn’t a timeline for the town’s portion of construction, Zullo said it intends to move ahead as expeditiously as possible.
The construction of the apartment facility will create more than 200 jobs, according to WinnCompanies. It estimates it will bring in $2.4 million in direct revenue to East Haven over the next 30 years.
Jean Falbo-Sosnovich
SEYMOUR — Demolition to the long-vacant buildings that once housed the Ames and Adam's anchor stores in the Tri-Town Plaza some 16 years ago is slated to begin this week.
Fire Marshal Paul Wetowitz, Building Inspector Jim Baldwin and First Selectman Kurt Miller have been in contact with Plaza Owner Ron Spector of Nevada.
Spector on Tuesday confirmed that Ocean Trace Demolition of Watertown should begin interior demolition of the buildings before week’s end. The buildings will come down over the next few weeks, according to Wetowitz.
Wetowitz said demolition permits for the work were pulled Monday.
“Fences will go up in the next day or so, and the company will start demolition to the interior,” Miller said.
The plaza, located at 814 Derby Ave., has a few other tenants, including Alberto’s Restaurant on one end and the Seymour Entertainment Cinemas on the other . Those businesses and the others, including a package store and Subway, will remain unharmed during demolition, Wetowitz said, as the walls connecting them to the former Ames and Adam's buildings will be braced and remain fully intact.
However, even though the plaza’s two main buildings, which comprise some 94,000 square feet, will be leveled, there are no plans about what may be coming there.“We don’t have a user yet,” Spector said from his Nevada office Tuesday. “Demolition will not necessarily be followed by new construction. … But we are actively looking for users.”
Spector hired a commercial realtor a few years back to help market the plaza. Miller said there have been a few bites here and there, but nothing has come to fruition.
“Ron has made some offers and he’s been trying to actively market and rent (the spaces),” Miller added.
The plaza’s highly visible location and easy access to and from Route 8 would make the perfect spot for retail and restaurants, according to Miller.
“I would definitely like to see some amenities for residents, like some stores and restaurants, which I believe would be best suited for the plaza,” Miller said. “New development there would certainly bring more folks into Seymour.”
Wetowitz and Baldwin both said the pending demolition is a good sign of progress.
“I think it’s great news as a taxpayer, and I hope some really good stuff goes in there, and goes in there before I retire (next year),” said Wetowitz.“It’s definitely a great spot for something,” Baldwin noted.
The Ames department store closed in 2002 while the Adam's supermarket closed in March 2003.
The town and Spector were involved in a years-long court fight regarding Tri-Town’s assessment. In May 2010, the town agreed to refund Spector more than $170,000 in overpaid taxes.
Several potential tenants have expressed interest in the plaza over the years, officials said, and have indicated better tax incentives were critical to making them consider moving there. The town has since given its incentive program a major rehaul in an effort to retain and attract economic development in Seymour.
Spector said the time is right now to demolish the buildings, rather than renovate as new, because it’s more cost-effective.
“There’s no value in the old structures,” Spector said.

State $$$ proposed for airport, Congress St. Bridge
Brian Lockhart    
BRIDGEPORT — As he exits the governor’s office, Dannel Malloy and his administration are giving $14.6 million worth of parting gifts to the city that helped elect him twice and recently ensured another Democrat — Ned Lamont — will take over as Connecticut’s chief executive.
The state bond commission, which is chaired by the retiring Malloy and borrows money for infrastructure and other needs all over Connecticut, will have its final meeting of the Malloy era Dec. 11.
And the agenda, published online Tuesday, includes some big dollar amounts for a handful of high-profile Bridgeport projects sought by Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration and the city’s legislative delegation. Ganim and Bridgeport’s legislators are all, like Malloy and Lamont, Democrats.
The largest figure — $7 million — is for, as previously reported in November, improvements to Sikorsky Memorial Airport that will help Bridgeport attract a private company to return commercial passenger service to the Stratford-based facility. Those improvements would include construction of a new airport terminal.
While the Ganim administration has been tight-lipped on behind-the-scenes efforts to woo an airline, Daniel Roach, a mayoral aide, over the summer said that “two different groups in the aviation business” were interested in a long-term lease at Sikorsky.
And the bond commission agenda emphasizes that the money will not be spent until “all necessary financial commitments and assurances” from Bridgeport’s unnamed private partner are in place.
The Dec. 11 agenda also includes $3.7 million to help Ganim keep a 2015 campaign promise to replace the long-closed Congress Street Bridge over the Pequonnock River and reconnect the East Side to downtown. The old Congress Street span — a drawbridge — got stuck in the open position in 1997. The city has successfully pursued the more affordable replacement alternative of having that section of the river designated as non-navigable so a cheaper fixed bridge can be built.
Fire officials have also wanted the bridge replaced to improve emergency response times to the East Side.
An additional $2.273 million is before the bond commission to help Bridgeport continue efforts to fortify its shoreline, and particularly the South End, against coastal flooding. The so-called Resilient Bridgeport project has been in the works since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and has already received $42 million in federal aid. Flooding has not only been a problem for South End residents, but hindered efforts to redevelopdormant and blighted properties.
The last six-figure contribution to Bridgeport on the Dec. 11 bond commission agenda is $1 million toward the continued cleanup of the long-vacant Remington Arms factory complex on the East Side.
Bridgeport has a bit of a leg up on the 168 other cities and towns competing for state dollars thanks to state Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport. Moore in May was named by Senate leadership as that body’s Democratic co-chair of the bonding subcommittee, giving her a say over the funds that get dispersed.
And so it was Moore, a potential primary opponent for Ganim as he seeks re-election in 2019, who beat City Hall and her legislative colleagues to the punch and trumpeted the Dec. 11 bond commission agenda Wednesday.
“As we envision a future for Bridgeport full of economic growth and job opportunities, these projects will be part of how we achieve that,” Moore said in a press release. “I’m especially excited about the work being done to finally restore the Congress Street Bridge ... and about improvements to Sikorsky Memorial Airport. These transportation infrastructure projects will support future initiatives (and) will attract other businesses to our city.”
Over an hour later Ganim and the rest of the city’s state lawmakers issued their own joint statement. Ganim said, “I want to praise the administration of Governor Malloy for working with the city of Bridgeport to place these critical items on the bond commission agenda, sharing our vision for much needed economic progress that will benefit our entire region for years.”

PURA preliminarily denies $1.1B CT Water deal
Joe Cooper
State regulators on Monday preliminarily denied a California company's $1.1 billion proposed acquisition of Connecticut Water Service Inc. and its three subsidiaries, adding a new wrinkle to a deal that's been filled with starts, stops and plenty of drama.
In a draft decision Monday, the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) said it shot down the Aug. 20 buyout application because the deal would leave Connecticut Water in "worse condition both financially and managerially."
In addition, PURA commissioners are worried that the deal lacks binding commitments to maintain a Connecticut headquarters and protect local jobs, threatens a mandate that public utilities maintain local control, and doesn't offer enough of a public benefit.
PURA said its decision is not yet final and could change. It will consider arguments from SJW and other parties before issuing a final decision Dec. 12.
The draft decision comes after Connecticut Water shareholders approved the all-cash buyout last month, with the hopes of completing the $70-per-share acquisition by the first quarter of 2019.
State regulators received 78 letters and email correspondence regarding the proposed acquisition, which would create the third-largest, investor-owned water and wastewater utility in the U.S.
Most of the correspondence expressed opposition to the proposed deal, and concerns over the conservation of watershed lands and whether they would be adequately preserved. Others questioned the impact of having a California water utility overseeing a major Connecticut entity, also New England's largest publicly traded water utility company.
Several individuals, including the Naugatuck Valley Council of Government and Connecticut Land Conservation Council, argued any sales agreements involving Connecticut Water assets "does not include an ownership right to the water itself," the decision says.
"...the reality is Connecticut Water will be run as an outpost from California and the governance structure, board control, and management will all be controlled by San Jose Water," Operation Fuel argued.
The Rivers Alliance of Connecticut applauded Connecticut Water's management history, but questioned how that would be affected when SJW takes over.
"Pledges relating to corporate behavior post-acquisition are normally broken sooner or later, and have no meaning unless legally binding or perhaps involving a financial penalty if broken," they said. "Moreover, there is no guarantee that San Jose Water will continue to be the owner of Connecticut Water."
In a statement Monday evening, SJW said it's reviewing PURA's drafted decision with Connecticut Water. The California company said it will continue working with PURA to ensure the merger is in the public interest.
"We have a shared commitment with Connecticut Water to realize the significant benefits we believe our merger will deliver to all stakeholders, including employees, customers and local service area communities throughout Connecticut," the utility said.
In a statement, Connecticut Water indicated it will provide comments and materials to PURA in response to the decision, but it's unclear exactly how the two companies might remedy PURA's concerns.
Both companies have maintained that the combined company would continue providing safe and reliable water service. The companies also argue SJW is financially strong, with assets of $1.5 billion, and that no employee will lose their jobs or relocate to California as a result of the deal
Carol P. Wallace, chairman of the Connecticut Water board of directors, has said the Clinton-based utility will continue to be led locally with a New England regional headquarters.
The companies originally announced a $750 million merger in March, but SJW raised its offer in August to stave off competing bids from Eversource Energy and another California suitor.
Connecticut Water is the parent of the Connecticut Water Co., the Maine Water Co., the Avon Water Co. and the Heritage Village Water Co. The subsidiaries provide water service to more than 450,000 people in Connecticut and Maine, and wastewater serve to 10,000-plus people in Connecticut.

Equipment Manufacturers Tell Democrat, Republican Leaders to “Start with Infrastructure”

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) launched a new, six-figure, two-week national digital ad campaign today, urging the 116th Congress and the Trump administration to rebuild our nation's infrastructure. The centerpiece of the campaign, which runs from Dec. 3 to Dec. 14, is a new 30-second video, titled "Start with Us, Start with Infrastructure."
"Our industry's 1.3 million workers want Washington to start with infrastructure in the new year," said AEM president Dennis Slater. "This includes reaching an agreement on a long-term and sustainable funding solution for the Highway Trust Fund. By reclaiming our infrastructure advantage we will ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and goods, connectivity between and within rural and urban America, as well as strong economic growth and job creation. Without it, our country risks losing tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity if Republicans and Democrats don't work together."
The goal of the campaign is to demonstrate the wide-ranging benefits of infrastructure investment to our nation's economy. The digital ads are set to run on online news sites in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
According to a new national poll of registered voters also released, more than two-thirds of American voters said infrastructure investment was an important factor in their decision on who to vote for during the recent midterm elections. The poll results show over half of American voters believe infrastructure will help create jobs and make their commutes safer.
Both Republican and Democratic leadership have mentioned infrastructure as an issue they could work together on in 2019. Despite the growing momentum for a bipartisan deal on infrastructure investment, Slater sounded a word of caution.
"While voters see infrastructure as a much-needed priority, Washington has let them down before. Following the 2016 presidential election we heard similar calls to prioritize infrastructure investment as a means to create jobs and grow our economy. With another election behind us, it is time for Congress and the White House to come together and work on rebuilding our nation's infrastructure. Equipment manufacturers will be working hard to remind and urge lawmakers to remember their election promises," added Slater.
Last year AEM released The U.S. Infrastructure Advantage, which includes a set of policy recommendations designed to help America reclaim its infrastructure advantage, grow the 48,000 manufacturing jobs supported by transportation construction, and add to the $508 billion in annual economic activity generated by transportation construction. The report recognizes the U.S. is currently investing half of what it spent on transportation infrastructure more than 50 years ago. Over time if the investment gap continues to grow, the economy is expected to lose almost $4 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, resulting in a loss of 2.5 million jobs.