In a move that could alter the New Haven skyline for decades to come, city officials announced plans Tuesday to build a 32-story tower and nearly 500,000 square feet of apartments at the corner of State and Chapel streets.
The initial development proposal for the Shartenberg site — currently a 1.5 acre parking lot — include the construction of a tower that would be the tallest building in the Elm City and ground-floor retail space as well as market rate and affordable housing. No design plan has been finalized, but some community members are opposed to the planned tower and question if it would fit the neighborhood’s otherwise five- to six-story landscape.
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New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said he is happy to enter in negotiations with Becker and Becker, a developer based in Fairfield, and that he hopes to solicit community opinions to create a final design suitable to everyone.
“My administration looks forward to working with the community and neighbors to ensure that everyone has a chance to offer input about this project,” he said in a press release.
The Becker and Becker plan was selected out of a pool of nine proposals that included a bid to turn the site into a network of small, pedestrian-friendly streets — nicknamed “The Paseo” — surrounded by small-scale buildings. Becker and Becker’s proposal calls for 420 housing units, an early childhood education center and 25,000 square feet of ground floor retail.
But Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, said the city has grossly overestimated the amount of dense development that the Shartenberg site can support. Farwell said the decision to choose Becker and Becker’s proposal echoes the mishandling of the Gateway Project — a $230 million effort to move a community college and theater downtown.
“Even if you knock it down to 25 [stories], if the average is a 6-story building, you are pretty far out,” she said. “I think it goes back to the problem of Gateway. They have obliterated the economic development opportunities on that site.”
Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 disagreed, saying critics should not rush to criticize the Shartenberg proposal as design plans have not yet been finalized. The ideas outlined in the developer’s proposal would contribute immensely to the local economy, he said.
“I think people who are concerned about the tower should hold their tongues,” he said. “It is the project with the most secure financing and it is the project that should move forward on the most efficient timetable, and it provides a much-needed contribution to the city’s ‘grand list’ [of taxable properties].”
Bruce Becker ARCH ’85 SOM ’85, the developer’s president, said he is aware of the importance of not disturbing the pre-existing downtown landscape, and may reduce the number of floors on the tower in the final proposal. But a tower is crucial, he said, because the site is suited for dense residential housing due to its proximity to mass transit outlets such as the State Street Railway Station.
“While there have been some interesting developments [in New Haven] recently, you have yet to see new construction that meets the substantial need in the marketplace for high-quality residential and retail uses,” he said. “I am not certain what the height of the residential tower will be, [but] we are going to be very sensitive to view corridors around the city and we are not looking to do anything but enhance the visual development of the downtown.”
Becker and Becker has been involved in a number of similar development projects in recent years that have included The Times Square Hotel in New York City, the Octagon project in Roosevelt Island, NY and the Wauregan in Norwich, Conn.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, in whose ward the Shartenberg site is located, said Becker and Becker’s plan to create new housing units will greatly aid the city’s revitalization of the downtown and Ninth Square District. But she said she hopes the developer will act with care when elaborating any plans it might have to build a tower.
“People in general are anxious to have more people live down there so that eventually we can have a grocery store down there,” she said. “But I feel that the New Haven skyline is very peculiar, as it hasn’t got the type of bunched up towers of New York or Hartford.”
New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki, who oversaw most of the selection process, said city officials will discuss details with Becker and Becker over the next two months. If the negotiations culminate in an agreement, the developer will draft a design plan to which the local community will have an opportunity to contribute ideas, he said. The finalized project will require a vote of the Board of Aldermen for final approval.