City officials are hoping a project at Howe Avenue and Bridge Street will get back on track soon.
Developer Angelo Melisi of Shelton long ago received zoning permission for a four-story retail and apartment building at the Kyle’s Corner site downtown, which is just north of the new Bricks & Barley Tavern (the old Downtown Danny O’s).
But the project was delayed by the need for the state to abandon the side section of Bridge Street that runs next to Melisi’s vacant property, between Howe Avenue and West Canal Street.
That permission was finally granted in late 2012 and Melisi purchased the side road from the state. “We waited eight years for [state Department of Transportation] approval,” he said.
Buying the Polish Club site
Melisi still needs to buy the Kazimir Pulaski Club building behind his lot to pursue the project as originally envisioned. It’s uncertain if that will happen, or if he will have to replace the approved plan with a downsized version.
He said he is trying to reach a deal with the club, commonly known as the “Polish Club,” but it’s unclear if the two sides will finalize an agreement.
Melisi once had a contingency contract to buy the Polish Club property but the contract expired as he waited for DOT approval on the Bridge Street land.
He said he paid to remove asbestos from the Polish Club building and, at times, has offered to build them a new club facility at a different location.
When he’s been close to a new deal, Melisi said, the acceptable price changes. “Each time it’s a different story,” he said.
“There’s only 30 or 40 members, so they should just take the money and divide it up and join another club,” Melisi said.
Polish Club officials could not be reached for comment. On Monday, someone at the club closed the door on a reporter asking to speak to club officials about the status of talks with Melisi.
Retail, apartments and parking
Melisi’s approved plan involves constructing a 44,000-square-foot building on about a half-acre, which includes the Polish Club land.
There would be retail on the first floor and 32 apartments on the upper three floors, with underground parking accessible from the rear on West Canal Street.
“The building we’ve designed is really nice, with beautiful architecture,” he said, noting the Polish Club land is needed to access the parking. He said only 27 residential units may now be built.
Melisi has owned the Kyle’s Corner site for 10 years, and demolished an old building on Howe Avenue after purchasing it.
Mayor: ‘The ball’s in his court’
The three-story Polish Club building is empty except for the club’s bar, which occupies part of the first floor. The brick structure appears to be in poor condition.
Melisi said the building was constructed in the 1860s and needs to be demolished. “There’s nothing that can be done with it,” he said.
Mayor Mark Lauretti is eager for Melisi’s project to get off the ground, saying it would complement other progress being made downtown. “It’s a nice project,” Lauretti said. “This is the right time to do it, but the ball’s in his court.”
Zoning subcommittee discussion
The status of the Melisi project was discussed at length during a recent meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Downtown Subcommittee.
Melisi expressed optimism to the P&Z that he might be able to reach a deal with the Polish Club. “They’re getting closer to selling,” he said.
Officials want Melisi to close the side section of Bridge Street now that it’s private property. He plans to do this by putting in concrete barriers and a fence. Melisi told the P&Z Subcommittee this would “happen immediately” at the Aug. 28 meeting — perhaps even on the next day.
Putting up the barriers and fence could put pressure on the Polish Club to reach an agreement. “I’d expect something to happen,” Melisi said.
P&Z members wanted to be certain Melisi’s property looks presentable once the road is closed — including for Shelton Day on Oct. 5. He assured them it would.
Alderman Eric McPherson said any temporary barriers can’t look “ugly” because they could be in place for many months.
Lauretti said he would like to see construction activity as soon as possible. He said closing the street “will send a big message” and he doesn’t object to temporary barriers being used. “I don’t know why he hasn’t done it by now,” he said.
The mayor also was OK with the idea of Bricks & Barley using Melisi’s vacant land for a few outdoor events. “Activity is good,” he said.
Setting a timeline
P&Z members and staff pushed Melisi for a timeline, and it was agreed he would sit down with staff to go over the details.
Melisi said he could be ready to begin construction in six months if he buys the Polish Club land and can build the original plan, but it likely would take longer if a redesign is needed. Any major deviation from the approved plan likely would require a new public hearing.
P&Z members asked Melisi to put renderings of the proposed project on the site so passers-by could view them.
“Let’s get going,” said P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins.
Temporary use for vacant site
In the meantime, the owners of the adjacent Bricks & Barley Tavern want to use Melisi’s property to host three outdoor events on three dates this fall.
Tavern co-owners Tim Connors and Chris Jones said they would “clean up” and temporarily “maintain” the property, once the road is closed off, so they could hold the events with live music.
They would put in flower pots and reflective safety markings for beautification and safety reasons, and add temporary seating and tables and possible tents for the events. The live music would end by 10 p.m. and police would be hired for security if that’s deemed necessary, they told the P&Z Subcommittee.
“We want to utilize the property and make it a win-win,” Jones said.