UPDATE: Brian Lockhart, CT Post here
The Planning & Zoning Commission met Monday night in City Hall Council Chambers. Agenda items included construction expansion of Black Rock School and Bridgeport Housing Authority petition “seeking a site plan review and a coastal site plan review to permit the construction of a mixed use community complex with 80-residential units” in the South End. See the zoning proposal here. Additional background here. Nancy Hadley, a Downtown resident who served as director of economic development during the John Fabrizi mayoral years, tells OIB “the timing of this proposal is ill advised.” Grab a cup of joe and review her reasons.
Due to illness, I am unable to appear in person at the September 30, 2013 Planning and Zoning Commission regarding the Coastal Zone Permit and Site Plan petitions by the Bridgeport Housing Authority for their proposed mixed-income housing development on the Ferry Boat Parking lot on Main Street immediately south of the Metro North tracks. The BHA has announced this development is the first phase of the Marina Village Redevelopment Plan.
Please consider these comments as part of the Planning and Zoning Commissioner deliberations. I also submit these comments as part of the Environmental Impact review conducted by the City of Bridgeport’s Community Development Office.
The South End Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, developed by the South End Stakeholders and approved by the City Council contains many points that conflict with the development of the proposed mixed-income housing development. I refer you to the specifics of the SE NRZ Plan rather than list them in this communication. I will focus on the broader context first and then on the specifics of the BHA proposal.
The Broader Context:
1. The Harbor Yard area, including the Ferry Boat parking lot owned by the BHA, represent significant economic development potential for the neighborhood, the City and the Regional patrons and visitors. Combining all of this vacant land equates to more than 10 acres. Therefore the development of this area must be done carefully in the right sequence. The whole is equal to sum of its parts and in this case, each part is very important. OPED and the BHA must be in partnership on how the whole turns out. David Kooris, OPED Director has Expressions of Interest from five development teams for the two parking lots and open space across from the Arena and Ballfield. The City needs to decide on a preferred developer. On a parallel track the BHA has received proposals from developers to complete its entire Marina Village Replacement Program. The sequence and substance of what those two sets of developers do is critical. We don’t know that now. We also don’t know exactly how many units HUD is requiring the BHA to replace in order to redevelop the Marina Village Site. It is my strong recommendation a third entertainment venue happen first in the Harbor Yard area before any housing is built. We have to preserve the confidence of the Regional patrons and visitors. Who knows what is going to happen to the ice hockey team when the Islanders move to Brooklyn’s Barkley Center. My bet is the Bridgeport team will wind up at Nassau Coliseum. Again, a third entertainment venue of significance needs to happen there first with a lot of fanfare. In my opinion there should not be a whisper of housing of any kind until that happens. I for one want to see “Dave and Busters” or ESPN Zone put there. Something neither New Haven nor Stamford have to offer. Bridgeport can do that. It must do that since that area is within eyeshot of I-95 and Metro North passengers. The first priority should be jobs, permanent jobs and a significant increase in the tax base.
2. The South End flooding including the separation of the storm and sewer lines (CSO) do not have to rely only on WPCA ratepayers to be financed. The Clean Water Act federal funding and the new infrastructure funding the House of Representatives just introduced provides capital funding. That is how the East Side CSO project came about and it is how the Black Rock/West End CSO leg is financed. There is also Federal Sandy Disaster Relief funding available now. I suggest strongly the BHA and City fight hard to get the flooding issues in the South End as well as the CSO leg that needs to go through the Downtown and South End done. It isn’t a ratepayer issue. It is determination and focus to make this a priority to solve the flooding problems using the Sandy Relief dollars. New Haven and Stamford separated their sewer and storm lines years ago and put up a several infrastructure improvements to protect Morris Cove and Shippan Point from Long Island Sound. Bridgeport’s South End deserves the Clean Water Act and Sandy Relief funding to address the flooding issues. It isn’t okay for the BHA to punt the problem to the City. I would be disappointed to see the prioritization of the Sandy Relief funding go to build buildings and leave the critical infrastructure upgrades wanting.
3. The Ferry Boat Company’s owner Brian McAllister is determined to move the ferry terminal to the East side of the Harbor. He wants to get out from under the thumb of the Bridgeport Port Authority’s tariff. He wants his passengers to make a mad dash up and down Seaview Avenue with easy access to I-95. The State of Connecticut did significant market analyses of the three deep water ports in 2012. The consultants were top notch. I have that report. They recommended and CDOT, DECD and DEEP agreed that huge infrastructure investments need to go into the New London and New Haven ports. As for Bridgeport, they supported marine vessel repair growth for Derecktor Shipyards which is owned by the Bridgeport Port Authority. The other ‘bone’ they threw to Bridgeport was to support the ‘growth of the Ferry Company.’ They went even so far as to include in the report the schematic for the new terminal on the East Side of the Harbor even though the Master Plan and Zoning Regs do not permit a terminal on that location. They ignored the Court decision on the appeal that sustained the City’s Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance. The winds of change may be upon us however. McAllister has now purchased the entire Coastline property. Based on the 2012 Deep Water Port Study, the DEEP, CDOT and DECD have shifted positions. The question is what will the PZC do?
In my opinion, a solution must be crafted BEFORE any land use policies are changed or developments approved that change the operations of the Ferry Boat Company. I do not know how the PZC can act on a petition to build on the Ferry Boat parking lot until the Ferry Boat issue is resolved. To my knowledge, the City has not allowed the Ferry Boat to park their cars on the City-owned former Underwood Typewriter lot. The Ferry Boat Company must have a solution for their long-term parkers. In my opinion, the City should have McAllister guarantee the ferry will dock on BOTH sides of the harbor before any land use policies are changed or developments approved. In my opinion, the existing dock on the west side of the harbor should continue to be operational. This is what is done when you want to take the Ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. There are two docks in operation for various times during the day. In my opinion, the Bridgeport ferry boats should dock on the west side of the Harbor at the existing terminal to take care of the commuters in the morning and evening, and the events at Harbor Yard, Steelpointe, UB, Downtown, and Seaside Park. The rest of the time they can dock on the East Side so the trucks and cars can speed up Seaview Avenue and jump on the highway. I do not see any measurable economic spinoff for the Ferry Terminal on the East End of the City. If the East End neighborhood wants Seaview Avenue to become a raceway, so be it. The Ferry passengers will not see Steelpointe from the proposed new location down Seaview Avenue which is a loss in marketing opportunities. The economic benefit for the terminal move is for the McAllister heirs. I accept his reasoning to move to grow his profits but the City needs to also protect the greater good.
The sad part about all of this is there is over $3 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) money that has been allocated to the City to create various connections between the Intermodal Transportation Center/Ferry Terminal and the South End/Downtown. The commuters and passengers don’t know what the South End and Downtown neighborhoods have to offer. The visual barricade caused by the train tracks and highway was to be mitigated with the implementation of all kinds of connections using FTA dollars. That money has been sitting for over five years. None of the connections have been done so there has not been any economic spinoff for the South End/Downtown from the one million plus passengers who ride the Ferry annually. Have you gone down to the Ferry Terminal lately? The building looks tattered, the walking ramp is bent, and the wall is leaning toward the water. The City is not making sure that McAllister is taking care of their asset under the lease. But that doesn’t mean the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater. When the building and ramps are repaired and connections are made, there is potential for a percentage of that commuter and ferry passenger traffic to find their way to drop some of their disposable income in Bridgeport. There is much more to offer in Bridgeport than in Port Jeff. It just takes focus and determination.
The BHA Proposal to build Mixed Income Housing on the Ferry Boat Parking Lot:
Having set the broader context and the three major challenges, turning to the BHA proposal to build a 74-80 unit mixed-income rental development, I agree with the points contained in the SE NRZ Plan. I also understand and support the urgency that Marina Village must come down. The residents who have been struggling there for many years deserve new housing opportunities. The proposed site is in a flood zone where nothing can be built on the first floor therefore a mixed-use component is not possible. My issue is the BHA owns several other properties where development of mixed-income housing could be built without the issues raised above. Therefore from an environmental review perspective, there are alternatives to developing the site at this point in time.
a. The BHA owns the remainder of the Father Panik property behind the new Barnum and Waltersville Schools. That is a huge vacant piece of property that could be extended over Water View Avenue to the park and river. It is just south of the tracks at a point where on the north side of the tracks is the proposed site of the second railroad station. The former Remington plant will be demolished before the end of the year making way for the second train station. Since that new station is on a straight track, high-density mixed-income mixed-use development will help Bridgeport pitch an Amtrak Acela stop to the FTA. The Acela will never stop at the current Downtown train station because of the curve. The length of the Acela cars requires a straight track. The second train station at the Remington location makes sense. The BHA owns a terrific Transit Oriented Development site at that location. If I remember correctly, the Master Plan and Zoning is in place for a high-density mixed-income mixed-use development. The BHA should have mixed-income/mixed-use housing developed there first!
b. The BHA also owns the Pembroke Block where the large bedroom homes that were built for the Father Panik and Pequonnock Apartment replacement program surround an interior portion of the block that is large enough for mixed-income housing; another great property with very few obstacles. I think the Master Plan and Zoning supported a high-density mixed-income mixed-use development at that location. That is the second site that could proceed with very few obstacles.
c. Then immediately to the west is the City’s large Health Department Site. That site was remediated when Hall Neighborhood House developed their senior development just south of the site. Combining the health department site with the Pembroke and former Father Panik site will generate a very exciting mixed-income/mixed-use development. There is lots of land near the future second train station that doesn’t have the three complicated issues I explained above.
Now, I am not stating the BHA shouldn’t ever build on the Ferry Boat Parking lot site. They should. They own it. I just don’t think the BHA should start the Marina Village Replacement Program on that site. In my opinion, the timing is all wrong. It is my opinion the BHA should start on the other BHA-owned sites and build on the Ferry Boat parking lot site later on. It is true the SE NRZ Plan’s goal for more homeownership by developing condos is not practical now. The housing recovery is still in flux. It will recover, it just needs more time. The BHA should respect the goals of the SE NRZ plan and delay the development of this site while the homeownership market recovers. Then a self-sufficiency program with a rent-to-buy option could be developed with a market study behind it to justify the investment.
Although not a matter before the PZC, I am in full support of the mixed-income/mixed-use rental development model. Those folks who are calling the proposed development a ‘large public housing’ site are misinformed and misguided. I have lived in a mixed-income/mixed-use rental development for over six years; 10% – 15% of the units are affordable. There is no issue. This type of mix will not negatively affect property values. The Lofts, 881 Lafayette, the former Jefferson School, City Trust, 333 State, 323 Fairfield and the Arcade are all mixed-income developments with the 90:10 and 85:15 market/affordable ratios. Many have Father Panik and Pequonnock Apartment replacement units through the use of Section 8 Project Based subsidies. All are built by private developers and are paying taxes, albeit abated somewhat. A mixed-income formula is sound. It is disappointing to hear the ‘fear of crime’ issue just because there is a mixed-income formula. Nothing is further from the truth. You don’t see fences around the properties I just mentioned. I believe the Marina Village residents deserve better. The same was said about Pequonnock and Father Panik residents back in the day. None of that fear became reality. The residents will be screened with background and credit checks. I just don’t think this fear issue deserves merit.
I do not support a mixed-income model for Bridgeport developments that increases the affordable component more than 20%. For this discussion, affordable is defined as units having household income limits less than or equal to 60%-80% of the Bridgeport Area Median Income. Bridgeport does not have a strong market-rate rental market. An 80:20 affordable/market ratio works in the suburbs, New Haven and Stamford where the rental market for market rate units is strong. That is not the case in Bridgeport. In my opinion, the affordable component should be equal or less than 20%. I know many of my neighbors in the Downtown developments where I live. Their incomes far exceed 100% of the Bridgeport Area Median Income. It has taken six years for that to happen. They are here because the market units do not have an income restriction of any kind. They are here because they want the short walk to the bus, train and ferry. They are here because the affordable component blends in without any hint of stigma. It is a very good thing for Bridgeport because now there are residents with significant disposable income who contribute to the Downtown economy. The BHA can’t argue there isn’t financing available to develop a 20%:80% affordable/market rental community. New Market tax credits permit market units without income restrictions. Bridgeport is eligible for New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) financing. NMTC financed City Trust, the Arcade, 144 Golden Hill as well as the first phase of the Bijou Theatre restoration. The Low Income Tax Credit Program is more restrictive. It will not allow household incomes to exceed 60% of the Area Median Income.
I also hope the BHA announces exactly how many units must be replaced in order that the Marina Village site can be redeveloped. I don’t know if they need a one-for-one replacement or some other formula. We need to know that. Everyone needs to know that. Then the BHA can prepare and announce a plan to replace that number of units using all of their sites as well as a partnership with the City on their sites. If there is still a shortfall, invite other developers of rental housing in Bridgeport to include a 10%-15% component of Marina Village replacement units using Section 8 Project Based units. That is what was done for the Pequonnock and Panik replacement program and it has been very successful. I fear the BHA is focusing on the Ferry Boat Parking lot site out of expediency as they chase State and Federal funding sources. They are not respecting the obstacles I cited above and ignoring the South End NRZ Plan.
I recommend the BHA is encouraged to withdraw their PZC and Coastal Zone petitions from the September 30th PZC agenda and focus their efforts to start the Marina Village replacement program on their other sites while the City and BHA work together to deal with points 1, 2 and 3 above. From an environmental impact review, this site is not the only alternative. The BHA and City have other sites available to accomplish the goal.
C-2 (13-18) 94 Boston Ave. – Petition of Wakefern Food Corporation (Pricerite) – Seeking a coastal site plan review of the proposed loading dock addition to the existing grocery store in an OR-G zone and coastal area.
C-4 (13-36) 350 Dekalb Ave. – Petition of Michael Cortina – Seeking a site plan review and a coastal site plan review to permit the construction of a 1-story 40’ x 50’ warehouse building in an I-L zone and coastal area.
D-1 (13-42) 799 Sylvan Ave. – Petition of Joseph Toto/Parkview Commons, LLC – WITHDRAWN 09/18/13
D-2 (13-43) 800, 810 Sylvan Ave. & 123 Parkview Ave. – Petition of Parkview Commons, LLC/ Joseph Toto – WITHDRAWN 09/18/13
D-3 (13-46) 35, 45, 55, 36, 48 Down St. – Petition of Antonio Teixeira & Guy DeMaio – Seeking a re-subdivision and re-configuration of 6 parcels of property and a site plan review for development in an R-A zone.
D-4 (13-53) 547 North Ave. – Petition of 547 North Realty, LLC – Seeking a special permit and a site plan review to permit the conversion of the existing auto repair facility use into a convenience store in conjunction with the existing gas station use and to also construct a metal canopy over the new pump islands in an I-L zone.
(13-47) 545 Brewster St. – Petition of City of Bridgeport Board of Education – Seeking a change of zone, a special permit, and a site plan review to permit the construction of a 2-1/2 story addition to the existing elementary school building located in an R-B zone.
(13-54) 375 Main St. – Petition of Housing Authority of the City of Bridgeport – Seeking a site plan review and a coastal site plan review to permit the construction of a mixed use community complex with 80-residential units, in an NCVD zone.
(13-57) 425-485 North Ave. and 133 Evergreen St. – Petition of Victory Auto Sales – Seeking under Sec. 14-54 of the CT General Statutes a used car dealer license and an approval of location in a portion of the existing automotive wholesale and retail parts and supplies facility in an MU-LI zone.
(13-59) 16-46 Columbia Court – Petition of Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust – Seeking a special permit and a site plan review to permit the construction of a 6-unit 3-story apartment building in an R-C zone.
(13-60) 1793-1823 Stratford Ave. – Petition of Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust – Seeking a special permit and a site plan review to permit the construction of a 3-story mixed use building with retail on the 1st floor and 30 one-bedroom apartments above in an OR zone.
(13-61) 620-660 Lindley St. – Petition of Kyle Pearson – Seeking a change of zone from an I-L to an OR-G to accommodate a mixed use development.
(CA-1) 725-727 Laurel Ave. – Petition of Keith Vo – Seeking a site plan review for a 2-family dwelling being legalized and changed into a 3-family dwelling in an R-B zone.
(CA-2) 1289 Railroad Ave. – Petition of Industrial Park Associates – Seeking a 1-year extension for a multi-unit housing project which was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission on 08/27/12.
(CA-3) 674 Madison Ave. – Petition of J&H Auto Body, LLC – Seeking to waive the public hearing requirement and grant under Sec. 14-54 of the CT General Statutes an amended certificate of location for a general auto repair facility under new ownership in an OR-G zone.
(CA-4) 24 Whittier St. – Petition of Anthony Venturino – Seeking to waive the public hearing requirement and grant under Sec. 14-54 of the CT General Statutes an amended certificate of location for a used car dealership under new ownership in an OR zone