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New Haven, developer finally sign deal on Hill neighborhood parcels
Mayor Toni Harp signs development agreement with Randy Salvatore of RMS Companies. They are in front of the Welch Annex School, which will be converted to housing. Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, head of the Livable City Initiative, is behind them. MARY O’LEARY — NEW HAVEN REGISTER
NEW HAVEN >> It was a long, rocky road, but a deal to develop parcels in the Hill neighborhood that have languished for decades was signed Wednesday outside a former school that will be converted to housing.
Smiling faces and talk of trust replaced the tension and multiple near-misses ever since Randy Salvatore’s $100 million plan for housing and commercial development on lots near Yale Medical School first became public in August 2015.
Salvatore will pay the city $1.2 million for the closed Welch Annex School on Prince Street and the former Prince Annex School around the corner on Gold Street, as well as for several other lots which eventually could be used for retail, commercial or more residential development, on a total 11.6 acres.
Welch Annex, which originally was St. Anthony’s School, will be renovated to 100 units of housing, while the building on Gold Street, which borders the park on Amistad Street, will have 40 apartments.
A total of 30 percent of the 140 apartments will be affordable, with Salvatore and the city looking for state and federal assistance, including the potential use of historic tax credits.
On Wednesday, Salvatore and Mayor Toni Harp signed a Development and Land Use Agreement that gives control of the 11.6 acres to Salvatore, president and CEO of RMS Companies in Stamford. Separately there is a side agreement that provides assurance to St. Anthony’s Church, which backs up to the Welch Annex School, that its parking needs for church functions will be accommodated.
Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson said Salvatore “brings … an energy that we really think is exactly what New Haven needs. … I think he will be one of the great transformative developers going forward.”
Salvatore said he was confident his development will activate the neighborhood, connect it to the downtown and the train station, and provide opportunities for new companies to locate there.
“I do not take this responsibility lightly,” Salvatore said of bringing the proposal to life.
Harp said “repurposing this property is a giant step forward toward continuing growth, economic prosperity and progress for this city and for all who depend upon it.”
The deal is the first concrete advancement based on the Hill to Downtown Plan, which Serena Neal-Sanjurjo has worked on since 2012 after an estimated 40 to 50 meetings, according to Nemerson.
More community input later ensued over what percentage of the proposed housing should be affordable and the community benefits that would accrue to the neighborhood.
Neal-Sanjuro is also being credited, along with former Board of Alders President Jorge Perez, who is now the state’s banking commissioner, with getting the Salvatore plan back on track.
The plan hit a bump in December over affordable housing, which was remedied in conjunction with a steering committee of Hill residents.
It then derailed in June when a joint aldermanic committee denied a zone change for a parcel adjacent to Tower One and Tower East when the leadership thought it was being developed for use by Yale University.
Salvatore does not have a partnership with Yale, nor is there a plan to construct a Yale building there.
The day after the June 26 blowup, an email Salvatore wrote to Neal-Sanjurjo became public. In it he said he felt “betrayed by Board of Alders, from the top down.” He said he wasn’t spending any more money on the project or attending “any more of these ridiculous hearings.”
He said he never had any problems with the city staff, “but they don’t make these decisions.” Land-use sales and zoning changes have to be approved by the alders.
Salvatore predicted the city would face “long-term consequences” and discourage other developers from coming to New Haven. He called the process he went through unfair and not transparent.
Ultimately, alders on Aug. 1 agreed to a zone change for all the parcels from BA to BD3 to allow for mixed use and denser development.
Alderman David Reyes, D-5, called the deal “wonderful.”
There were no bad feelings on Wednesday and Salvatore attributed the upsets over the past few months to “frustration.”
“Sometimes you let emotions get in the way. … Obviously I wouldn’t be investing this kind of money into the project if I didn’t have confidence in the current administration and the leadership and the future of the city,” Salvatore said.
He said there are a lot of places in invest money, “but clearly I believe there are great opportunities in New Haven.”
Salvatore said there were “misunderstandings but when we all sat down and said, ‘what are we all trying to accomplish,’ then it all kind of worked itself out.”
“That was then, this is now and I think we are all in a good place. … There is no bad blood at this point. I’m excited about the future,” the developer said.
Harp, in addressing the crowd of officials outside the Welch Annex School Wednesday, said New Haven was “a city committed to cooperation and collaboration. In New Haven we have a remarkable way of putting aside differences to move forward in the aggregate. This project is also the latest example of that.”
Salvatore said if they were able to pin down the funding sources for the affordable housing fairly soon, he would like to see a shovel in the ground within six months, although that is an aggressive schedule.
Karen DuBois Walton, who heads the Housing Authority of New Haven, said a portion of the housing being built by Salvatore could be considered project-based affordable units that would help make up for the loss of some of the 269 apartments at nearby Church Street South housing complex.
An estimated 136 families have already moved out of Church Street South with portable Section 8 vouchers. Eventually all the tenants will leave and the site, which is owned by Northland Investment Corp., will be redeveloped to mixed use.
Twenty-seven years ago, these parcels, which will now be owned by Salvatore, were part of a development arrangement with the Schnip Development Corp. and later with AMA Connecticut Funding Corp.
The city owned the land, but the development rights went to AMA, who had them until 2025, with little renumeration for New Haven.
Nemerson, soon after the new administration came into office, said he challenged Salvatore to build a second project in New Haven after his successful completion of the Novella, an apartment complex at the intersection of Chapel and Howe streets.
Negotiations then began between Salvatore and Clifton Winkel of AMA for housing and commercial development where there are now just parking lots.