Aldermen authorize tower construction

Plans to erect a luxury apartment complex on a vacant lot on Chapel and State Streets will go forward, following the New Haven Board of Aldermen’s decision Tuesday to approve the controversial Shartenberg Project.

Passed by a vote of 18-8, the move allows developer Becker + Becker to begin work on the high-rise, a development that City Hall promises will reinvigorate the area. But last night’s decision — which will sell the property, estimated by some to be worth millions of dollars, to Becker + Becker for one dollar — met heated opposition from members of the Board who think the city is selling community members short by giving the developer too many breaks.

Work on the proposed Shartenberg Tower project (rendering shown) will commence after a vote by New Haven’s Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.
Work on the proposed Shartenberg Tower project (rendering shown) will commence after a vote by New Haven’s Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.

The decision allows the developer to defer paying building permit fees to the city for 12 years and to seek state assistance in paying them. This would not only delay the city’s receipt of much-needed funds, Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said, but also devalue the payment, as it will not be pegged to inflation.

Furthermore, the dissenting board members complained, the decision requires the developer to hand over only 60 percent of state funding to the city.

Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison, the chair of the Finance Committee and one of the chief architects of the plan, said the deal allows the city to get a majority of the building state tax credit payments while still maintaining a good relationship with Becker + Becker.

“As a city, we have to be careful to make sure that agreements do not give away the city to developers,” he said. “It’s an ever-present danger. But in this development, we have leverage. We want to protect the taxpayers and be reasonable partners.”

Perez, one of the chief critics of the plan, introduced an amendment increasing the amount of state funding the developer would have to give to the city to 70 percent, a proposal that was ultimately voted down.

Speaking in support of the amendment, Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said he did not understand why the city would be willing to cut deals with wealthy developers and not with ordinary citizens, who typically receive no such deferments on their taxes or parking fines.

“We sweat peoples’ last dime,” Lee said. “We won’t sweat millionaires. I won’t be voting for this.”

“Amen!” someone in the audience said in agreement.

Lee complained that the board was merely acting as a “rubber stamp” for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who has been aggressively pushing the project.

The Shartenberg tower, which will be built on a 1.5 acre parking lot, will provide affordable housing, a day-care center, a high-end grocery store and market-rate housing. The development has met substantial opposition in past months from community members who think high-end dense residential development is inappropriate for the area. The size of the tower, originally slated to be 30 stories tall, was scaled back after critics complained the building would destroy the Elm City’s skyline.

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