February 8, 2019

CT Construction Digest Friday February 8, 2019

Stamford: An HQ location so nice, Charter wants it twice
Barry Lytton
STAMFORD — Charter Communications has filed plans to build a second building, this one nine stories, on the Gateway site where its new headquarters is rising just south of Interstate 95 near the Stamford Transportation Center.
The plans, which first need a multifaceted text-change to city Zoning Regulations, call for a second glass building, this one nearly 300,000 square feet. The two buildings would be connected by a three-story block for a total of 777,000 square feet.
Plans also call for adding 288 parking spaces to the garage beneath the site that once hosted train commuters displaced by falling concrete at the old station garage. Although the addition brings the total spots there to 2,010, none will be commuters. Building and Land Technology, the developer building for Charter, plans to claw back 500 parking spots previously promised to train commuters.
The builder is also requesting a buyout of city affordable housing mandates, which apply to the site because it was housing that was initially called for. BLT is offering $3 million for the affordable housing buyout, and an unclear figure for a parking buyout — although it will likely be around $6 million, according to zoning regulations.
William Hennessey, the land-use attorney for BLT and Charter, did not immediately respond to a call for clarification on the buyout.
In the application for a text change, the company cited safety concerns for the clawback and said the 500 spots were required before the state announced its plans to build a nearly 1,000-spot garage on South State Street.
Late last year, the company notified the Zoning Board that it wanted a lightning review of these plans so BLT could build the second tower along with the first. The application filed Friday asks the city to review its plans by March.
Although the biggest ask from BLT and Charter is an increase in building size, the parking pullback is what has caused the most consternation among city officials.
The change could also further frustrate train commuters who are now navigating a crumbling state garage next to the station and face a two-year wait for the nearly 1,000-spot garage set to replace it.
Meantime, a parking study to address the burning question in city land use — How many spots are needed downtown and in the South End? — has yet to go to bid, leaving the Zoning Board and Land Use Bureau staffers to assess these changes with limited information.
Several Zoning Board members spoke for the commuters when the topic first came up.
“This is also a timing issue,” said Chairman David Stein in December. “I don’t want to tell the commuters, ‘You’re going to lose your 500 spots and, eventually, maybe, you’ll have some.’”
According to the application, the buyout money could go toward the state’s $22.9 million project to improve the station. That money, would fund the station’s elevators, escalators and so-called internal circulation, or how people navigate the station.
A public hearing on the proposal has yet to be scheduled.

Walk Bridge Project already giving neighbors headaches
Pat Tomlinson
NORWALK — The Walk Bridge project may not be in full swing yet, but it is already angering some nearby neighbors.
Tenants of the SoNo Ironworks apartment complex took to Facebook late Tuesday to sound off on overnight construction work on North Water Street taking place that evening.
“This construction is majorly disruptive to all the Ironworks units facing N. Water Street. If this noise continues, my husband and I will need to find an alternative place to sleep,” wrote one resident in an impassioned letter to Walk Bridge Project officials.
On Tuesday, workers dug a trench across the North Water Street to identify the extent and locations of multiple utilities ahead of the projected start of the larger project in the fall. The work ran from 3 p.m. Tuesday until about 6 a.m. the following morning.
While residents knew to expect work, many complained that they were not aware how loud the work would be or how late it would run. “It’s 10:36 p.m. and the noise is so loud outside it’s impossible to sleep! Why didn’t Matt Brooks (the property manager at Ironworks) warn us that the construction was going to keep us awake all night? No mention of the decibel level, just the hours,” wrote another resident in a public Facebook group for the complex’s residents.
In the Facebook thread, many cited the city’s noise ordinance, which requires construction to occur between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
However, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is conducting the work, is not subject to municipal noise restrictions and, instead, operates under its own contractual decibel requirements.
“It's outrageous to me that the Walk Bridge Project thinks it can so easily override the city noise ordinance. Like no one cares that residents need to sleep!?” said Chris Wahlers, who lives in the complex.
In the wake of the uproar caused by neighbors, the Walk Bridge Project’s Public Information Office announced Wednesday that all overnight work on North Water Street had been completed, and all further subsurface work would be conducted during the day.
The project will continue during daytime hours on weekdays, and is expected to wrap up by Feb. 14.                      
Despite the momentary reprieve, Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, which operates SoNo Ironworks, acknowledged that they were concerned on behalf of their tenants about the noise associated with the Walk Bridge Project moving forward.
“Of course we’re concerned about it. Any time there’s construction, especially a large construction project such as this one, there’s going to be disruptions, noise and so forth,” Kim Morque, the president of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, said.
Morque urged Ironworks residents to forward any concerns about future construction work to the Walk Bridge Program offices, which are located just down the street at the corner of Marshall and North Water streets. Residents with questions can also contact the Walk Bridge officials by emailing info@walkbridgect.com or calling 1-833-GO2-WALK (462-9255).

Smooth sailing so far on Columbus Commons' voyage to completion
Karla Santos
NEW BRITAIN - Construction crews have been busy at a Columbus Boulevard site as fences, steel girders and a foundation take shape as part of the Columbus Commons project.
The first phase of construction kicked off in October 2018. The $58 million transit-oriented-development project is on the site of the former police station at 125 Columbus Blvd.
The project is being led by New York-based Xenolith Partners and Massachusetts-based Dakota Partners.
“We are excited that construction for phase one of Columbus Commons is well underway,” Mayor Erin Stewart said. “This project has been several years in the making and we look forward to seeing a new generation of residents call downtown New Britain home. This historic project will be a catalyst for continued growth in our community.”
In 2017, the city broke ground on the project, which will include two six-story buildings with 160 mixed-income residential units and first-floor retail space. The buildings, A and B, will be constructed separately. Building B is the first one that it’s being worked on because it will be directly facing the street.
As the foundation of Building B was being put in place, remediation of the ground soil was done.
A recent Facebook post by the mayor has generated some criticism as some people are worried the residential aspect of the project will be similar to Section 8 housing.
Stewart’s response to the comments indicates that young professionals are the market for the buildings. Stewart’s comments also emphasized that rent will be on a sliding scale, depending on the individual’s annual income.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development granted the city $2.7 million, which assisted with demolition and the environmental cleanup of the property. DECD also awarded the city $724,000 in Brownfield remediation funds in 2018.
Construction of Building B is expected to be finished by this fall. It is expected to be fully occupied by the summer of 2020, after which construction of Building A will start.
Staff writer Skyler Frazer contributed to this story.

Proposed $700M Killingly power plant clears key hurdle
Matt Pilon
Electric-grid operator ISO New England announced Wednesday evening that it has awarded a key contract to a proposed 650-megawatt power plant in Killingly.
Killingly Energy Center (KEC) developer NTE Energy had previously tried and failed twice in ISO-NE's annual forward capacity auction, which helps secure power system resources three years into the future.
A forward capacity contract would mean monthly payments for the $700 million KEC, in exchange for its pledge to be available in 2022-2023.
The company recently reapplied to the Connecticut Siting Council to reopen its approval proceeding.
In May 2017, the Siting Council rejected the project, partly because it had not won a spot in the forward capacity auction.
Forward capacity contracts are one way of showing need for a project.
In a statement Thursday morning, NTE CEO Seth Shortlidge said KEC would come as up to 6,000 megawatts of older generators are nearing retirement in New England.
"In addition to providing a much-needed source of clean, more efficient energy, the plant's flexible combined-cycle design will help the environment by producing significantly lower emissions than today's aging plants," Shortlidge said. "By securing the [contract], the Killingly Energy Center has taken yet another important step toward helping secure the region's energy reliability."
In all, ISO-NE said nearly 35,000 megawatts cleared the auction, which will help meet New England's projected peak demand in 2022-2023.
That includes more than 800 megawatts of new generation, much of it from KEC.