by Allan Appel | Feb 4, 2013 7:59 am
A gap-toothed smile along Quinnipiac Avenue may one day be complete, as the city eyes a plan to fill this long-vacant lot with 15 new homes.
Livable City Initiative Executive Director Erik Johnson advanced that idea at a public meeting that drew two dozen Fair Haveners to the Benjamin Jepson School in Fair Haven Heights last Wednesday evening.
Johnson unveiled a proposal, still in an early conceptual state, in which the city would co-develop 15 single-family homes on the 400 block of Quinnipiac Avenue. Designs aired Wednesday by city-hired architects Svigals + Partners drew generally rave reviews.
The proposal capped nearly a decade of wrangling over the property, as neighbors fought back against at least three development schemes. One involved view-blocking condos. Another called for institutional buildings with parking lots. Quinnipiac River activist Chris Ozyck gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to this new plan, which would bring a dozen to 15 market-rate homes to the block of Quinnipiac Avenue between Aner and Oxford streets.
Other neighbors agreed: 20 voted for the plan, and none against, according to an official tally by Fair Haven Heights Alderwoman Brenda Jones-Barnes, who convened the meeting. Johnson said if a second meeting scheduled at the same location on Feb. 13 meets similar reviews, the city will invest in a more detailed plan and try to find a profit or non-profit company to sign on with the city as a co-developer.
Right now the property is owned by Continuum of Care. The agency’s plan to erect institutional living structures for people with disabilities, which was strenuously opposed by Ozyck and others, fell apart last year when a grant it counted on did not come through.
Click here for that story and here for the tortured history of neighborhood opposition to previous development plans.
Wednesday’s tentative plan resulted from informal conversations Johnson had over the past year with neighbors who opposed previous plans.
Continuum continues to pay taxes on the property. Johnson said Continuum has agreed to sell the property to the city if the city comes up with a plan that neighbors agree with. Ozyck cautioned that Continuum might decide to sell to another suitor if the city didn’t act quickly; Johnson said he does not see that as an imminent problem.
“We’re at an investment point with Continuum and with [investing city money in] engineering. I don’t want to go there and be killed” by neighborhood opposition, Johnson said. “This is an attempt at transparent government!”
Ozyck, who over the last decade has led the neighborhood’s quest to find a better use for the abandoned property, applauded the plans.
“I’m excited. You need to re-knit a neighborhood” with houses facing houses. Though neighbors had dreamed of turning the lot into a park, Ozyck said, with the latest plan, “we get public access. I think it’s a win-win.”
“If we can make these houses charming, it will be a dream again to drive down Quinnipiac Avenue,” said Ozyck.
The land in question comprises two lots on the 400 block of Quinnpiac Avenue that runs steeply down to the river. It is bifurcated by a separate property and a pier owned by a fishing company, which is a complicating factor. And there is a small public beach that locals have been using for decades.
Johnson said the plan, developed with Svigal + Partners, envisions 15 single-family homes designed to fit the neighborhood’s historic riverside style. They would have three bedrooms and would span between 1,500 and 1,600 square feet. They would sell mostly at market rate, which he said is between $230,000 and $250,000. The homes would be built above the flood plane, with two-car garages behind them to avoid adding to the dreaded on-street parking problem. Importantly, public access to the beach will be preserved, he sa
o do all that will require engineering, for example, to fill in the deep incline that currently runs down from the road to the river line. How much fill will have to be brought in? Is blasting required? And what is the best way ecologically to manage storm run-off? Those are all questions that Johnson said the city plans to research, but only with neighbors’ thumbs-up at this point.
“Your Project As Much as Mine”
That’s how Johnson said the final design of the homes will evolve.
He said Wednesday’s meeting aimed to secure neighborhood support for the plan as well as inspire a cadre of people who will help the city as it seeks approvals from the Historic District Commission.
The plan would need zoning variances for permission, Johnson said: Houses have to be nearer to the curb line than currently allowed to accommodate two-car garages.
Paul Pasquaretta, who lives on Clifton Street, asked if owner-occupancy will be a condition of sale. The answer: yes.
David Baker, who lives high in the Heights, bemoaned his loss of view of the river, but said he approved the plan. “I’m getting a blocked view but access to the beach.”
Pasquaretta called it a good plan but asked Johnson to make the public access “comfortable,” so that local people who go down to the beach don’t feel they’re imposing on future private property owners.
“It’s a delicate balance. I get that. Both privacy of owner and the desire to have communal access can be done,” Johnson replied.
Ozyck pointed out that neighbors would have a more difficult time negotiating public access to the beach with a private developer, as opposed to the city as co-developer.
The city aims to contribute engineering, land-filling and other engineering costs to offset a co-developer’s expense. That would keep the homes affordable, Johnston said.
So how will the city re-coup its investments? another neighbor asked.
“The city will have to put less money into vertical construction, but into making this parcel buildable,” Johnson said. He added that he sees the neighborhood as “unfinished” and wants the neighbors’ ideas for the design to inform that finishing. The city will re-coup its investment through revenue from future property taxes, he said.
The city plans to hold a second meeting on these plans on Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Benjamin Jepson.
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