Plans to redevelop a long-vacant Science Park lot grew in size to 176 proposed apartments — and won an initial recommendation to do so.
That recommendation took place during the latest special City Plan Commission meeting. The virtual meeting was held online via Zoom.
Local land-use commissioners voted unanimously in support of a proposed zoning ordinance text and map amendment to modify Planned Development District (PDD) #49 to expand the boundaries of Parcel K to include the entirety of 291 and 309 Ashmun St. and 178 – 186 Canel St, and to allow for residential use of up to 176 apartments, 88 parking spaces, and associated community/amenity space.
What does all of that mean?
Westville Alder and City Plan Commissioner Adam Marchand summed it up this way Wednesday night: “At the end of the day, what’s before us is a map change and a text change that enable a large apartment building to be built that couldn’t otherwise be built on these collections of parcels.”
The city currently owns that fenced-in 1.7‑acre site bounded by Henry Street, Canal Street, and Ashmun Street. The Board of Alders approved a Development and Land Disposition Agreement (DLDA) and tax break deal last year that would have the city sell the site to RJ Development & Advisors LLC for $500,000.
In turn, RJ Development — which is controlled by local developer Yves Joseph — plans to build a new five-story apartment building, parking spots, and open space.
According to last year’s DLDA, the proposed apartment building would include 150 new rental units.
On Wednesday night, Joseph and attorney Rolan Young described how the project has grown in size to include up to 176 apartments and 88 parking spaces. Thus the zoning text and map amendment requests.
“The plan is to construct up to 176 units of residential housing,” Young said. The DLDA and tax agreement call for one third of the units to be “affordable.”
Young said that that breakout means that no fewer than 25 units will be reserved for renters earning 80 percent or less of the area median income (AMI), no fewer than 15 units at 60 AMI, and no fewer than 10 units made available for Section 8 voucher holders.
The project’s engineer Katy Gagnon said that RJ Development plans to build an L‑shaped building that primarily fronts on Henry Street, and that would have surface lots accessible via three driveways on Ashmun Street.
The developers did not go too far into the weeds on the details of the project Wednesday because the hearing was not a detailed site plan review, but rather a zoning amendment discussion. If the Board of Alders approves the proposed zoning changes, the developer would have to come back to City Plan Commission for a detailed site plan review.
City attorney Mike Pinto explained that the current fenced-in vacant lot — affectionately referred to as “the pork chop” because of its T‑bone-like shape, and which used to house the former Elm Haven housing projects — actually consists of three separate parcels. The proposed zoning map change would bring them all into one parcel, dubbed PDD #49 Parcel K. The zoning text amendment, meanwhile, would update the allowed uses on that parcel to include up to 176 apartments and 88 parking spaces.
Joseph said that, if the alders approved the zoning changes, his company plans on hosting a public meeting with Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison at which community members can weigh in on “aesthetic design and architecture” for the project. Joseph said his company will incorporate that feedback into the detailed site plan his company ultimately submits to the City Plan Commission.
“Generally speaking, this commission has been quite support of increasing density,” particularly downtown, in areas with “institutional presences,” and in neighborhoods that are growing, Marchand said in support of the project.
Young pointed out that, by approving the DLDA and tax agreement last year, the alders have already thrown their support behind the proposed apartment building. This zoning change is simply necessary to make that now-larger vision a reality.
The proposed zoning changes now advance to an aldermanic committee for a public hearing and further discussion before moving to the full Board of Alders for a final vote.