Becker elucidates tower plans

The designers of the Shartenberg Project held a workshop Tuesday to provide more detail about the specifics of their plan, as well as to give community members a chance to have their say about its ultimate design.

The well-attended workshop featured a presentation by Bruce Becker ARCH ’85 SOM ’85, head developer of the controversial project that will arise on a 1.5 acre parking lot at the corner of State and Chapel streets. The workshop also featured smaller, more informal brainstorming sessions with members of Becker’s firm, Becker + Becker, and the community at large. A 300-foot residential tower will anchor the project, which promises to irrevocably alter the area and put a soaring luxury structure in the middle of working-class Chapel Street.

Those in attendance at the Shartenberg Project workshop review slides and plans for the future Chapel Street tower. Architects and city planners hope that the tower will attract more affluent renters to the downtown area.
Ming YeeLin
Those in attendance at the Shartenberg Project workshop review slides and plans for the future Chapel Street tower. Architects and city planners hope that the tower will attract more affluent renters to the downtown area.

Becker stressed the environmentally friendly nature of the design, which he said might make the Shartenberg tower the largest “green” building in the state.

“We can create a building that will serve as a model for green design and sustainable development,” he said. “Green should be the number-one priority for planning for the future of the United States and for New Haven.”

Becker showed several examples of his firm’s work, many of them supportive or affordable housing. But Shartenberg seemed to most closely mirror another Becker project: the Octagon, a 500-unit apartment complex that he redeveloped in New York. Both focus on high-end rental units, have eco-friendly designs and are stuffed with amenities, including fitness centers and swimming pools. The Octagon has a child-care and early education center, and Becker + Becker plans to put one in Shartenberg as well.

But the Octagon, a 13-story structure and a former historical landmark, is located on Roosevelt Island, sandwiched between Manhattan and Queens just minutes away from some of the largest skyscrapers in the world. The Shartenberg tower will be placed in a very different setting: amidst predominately four- and five-story buildings in a city of just over 124,000 people, a fact that has led many community residents and urban planning experts to criticize the project. Becker acknowledged that the scale of his firm’s proposal has attracted some controversy, but he said he feels that “density is good.” The tower can attract a different kind of renter to New Haven, he said.

“If we build at the high end, we can draw people from the suburbs and keep people in New Haven,” he said. “We can meet an untapped market but also create a market.”

The firm is looking to attract a grocery store — perhaps a Trader Joe’s — to the bottom floor, which has been designated for retail use. Fifty units will be reserved for affordable housing, and up to 85 units may be set aside for hotel use, Becker said.

After Becker’s presentation, the room broke up into smaller groups, each focused on one particular aspect of the design. One member of the firm led a discussion hitting topics ranging from the layout of the rooms right down to the particulars of the sinks.

“What do you think about garbage disposals?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” a man replied.

The space set aside for parking in the design plans seemed to command the most attention. The current plan calls for parking areas to surround the residential units on four floors. Someone in every group had something to say about that idea. In the retail group, one person suggested that the parking areas be interspersed with retail units.

Becker said most apartments will cost between $1,350 and $2,986 a month, depending on their size and location. He said the firm has not worked out just how the affordable units will be distributed, but that it is working with state and local agencies on a plan.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, who attended the meeting, said that although she appreciated the building’s “green design” and the developer’s willingness to discuss the project with the community, it is the affordable units that will matter most to the Board of Aldermen, which is currently set to vote on the proposal in June.

“The Board of Aldermen feels strongly that there needs to be some kind of affordable housing,” she said. “Let’s not make downtown just for rich people.”

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