New Haven’s Novella apartments celebrated, developer plans more units in city

New Haven Register

By Mary O’Leary, moleary@nhregister.com@nhrmoleary on Twitter

NEW HAVEN >> The Novella apartments were celebrated Tuesday as a great addition to the city’s housing stock and held out as the kind of project that can result when a developer and the community work out their differences.

The 136 apartments at Chapel and Howe streets are the latest among some 2,000 units built, approved or in the planning in New Haven.

Randy Salvatore, president of the RMS Companies, which built Novella, also was tagged by Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson as someone whose actions cement the city’s credibility as a place to build.

Nemerson said in the last 50 years, not one developer who built a new spec building from scratch came back to build a second building.

He said Salvatore plans to build five as part of a plan for the Hill neighborhood, which is just beginning the approval process.

That plan calls for some 140 apartments, plus commercial space, as well as offices and biotech labs with $1.25 million paid to the city for its land. Development on these parcels has been stalled since 1989.

Aldermanic leadership is expected to take a closer look at that project at a meeting on Oct. 26, after which it will be sent to a committee where the public will get a chance to talk.

There already is some pushback on the proposed labs and offices, as well as the limited number of affordable housing units. The first group to hear it said their concerns were around housing and jobs for New Haven residents. Others said it fails to meet the criteria of a transit-oriented development.

Salvatore, before the Novella was approved, had extensive talks with the Chapel West neighborhood, which objected to parts of his original plans in what was a parking lot at Chapel and Howe streets.

Eventually, Salvatore agreed to move a 19th century home to a new location. He also is renovating two multi-family homes behind the new apartment complex on Dwight Street.

The Novella was the first project by RMS Cos. in New Haven, which is well known in Fairfield County.

“You have treated us fairly, objectively and created a business-friendly environment that makes a developer like myself eager to make continued investments in this great city of New Haven,” Salvatore said.

He thanked Alder Frank Douglass, D-2, and the Chapel West Association for their guidance through the approval process.

“You certainly did not bend on your vision for this site,” Salvatore said, picking up on Douglass’ references to their back-and-forth on the details over 18 months.

He said Douglass’ representation of his constituents remained “steadfast. You were at all times fair with us and certainly up front with me as to what you were looking for. … I’m convinced now more than ever … that we collectively built a much better project as a result of this collaborative process we went through.”

“Collaboration started off a little bumpy at first,” but then got resolved, Douglass said. He said it will be important for the neighborhood to have its input in the Hill, as well.

The Novella has studios; junior studios; one-bedrooms and two-bedroom apartments and offers amenities such as a cinema-style movie theater, a rooftop sun terrace with grilling stations and an indoor lounge for tenants.

Salvatore said they are now some 40 percent leased and tenant growth has been steady.

Gary Sessions, a New Haven resident who was hired as the leasing agent, led Mayor Toni Harp on a tour of the apartments and made his best pitch, showing her how a bed in the junior studio lifts up and converts to a desk.

“How cool is that,” Harp said.

He then took her to the rooftop terrace. “I know you are going to enjoy this,” Sessions said.

“Well, I haven’t been disappointed yet,” the mayor responded.

Harp said the housing indicates that New Haven “is at the hub of a vital region … people want to live here.”

Nemerson said the apartments, with its amenities, can compete with anything a tenant could get from Baltimore to Boston for a better price.

“This is the hottest city in Southern New England,” Nemerson said.

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