Developer John Guedes has unveiled plans for a 68-unit apartment building at 223 Canal St., which is the lot just north of the Shelton Avalon complex. The property is 1.26 acres and slopes down toward the Housatonic River.
The masonry, 3.5-story structure would have 47 two-bedroom units and 21 one-bedroom units. It would have a brick facade to match “the old industrial concept” of the vicinity, with its many former factory buildings, Guedes told the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) at its April 22 meeting.
There would 106 parking spaces, both underneath the building and on the side. It would have two driveway entrances. The property has 180 feet of frontage on Canal Street.
A storm water management system would collect and treat drainage before discharging it into the Housatonic River. Guedes would provide an easement to the city along the river to extend the Riverwalk.
The engineer on the project is Joe Pereira of Shelton-based Pereira Engineering, who has worked with Guedes on other projects.
Will demolish current buildings
The original idea for 223 Canal St. was to rehabilitate some of the existing buildings on the site but this isn’t considered possible anymore.
One reason is the city plans to widen Canal Street in front of the property, and two existing buildings now directly abut the road. Guedes has agreed to give the city an easement to widen the road.
Guedes has submitted an application to the P&Z for the project, tentatively called River Breeze, at the 223 Canal St. site. The P&Z’s public hearing on his application will continue at the May 12 meeting, which means additional input and comment will be accepted at that meeting.
Involved in other projects
Guedes is the Bridgeport-based developer who got a Planned Development District (PDD) created along Canal Street in 2007.
He rehabilitated an existing factory building into the 103-unit Birmingham on the River condominium, and helped facilitate the 250-unit Shelton Avalon apartment complex next to it.
He had ambitious plans to develop more of the properties along Canal Street that were stymied by the economic recession and other factors.
Guedes also is working to develop the Spongex/Rolfite parcels just south of Bridge Street on Canal Street, but hasn’t presented a formal application for this project yet.
P&Z members asked questions about the number of parking spaces and apartment unit designs, with concerns that dens in some of the units could be turned into additional bedrooms.
Shelton requires two parking spaces per dwelling unit, but has waived those requirements for both the Birmingham and Avalon. This has led to residents using street parking on Canal Street, with complaints that the police don’t adequately enforce parking rules on the road.
The new project would have 1.6 parking spaces per unit, which Guedes said should be adequate. He said new public parking will be created in the area when the Chromium Process building is demolished, and that most towns only require 1.5 parking spaces per living unit.
He also said the original redevelopment master plan for Canal Street allowed for 1.5 parking spaces per residential unit.
“Relief is going to take place,” Guedes said of the parking situation, as more development takes place downtown.
Ruth Parkins, P&Z chairman, said part of the problem is that Avalon charges a fee for parking and this leads to residents parking on the street for free.
Gates and emergency access
The new building would have gated entrances to its parking areas, which led to objections by fire officials. Fire Chief Fran Jones said gated entrances “may restrict timely access for apparatus to enter the vehicle parking lots of the proposed building.”
Questions also were raised about how gated entrances would work with visitor parking.
Guedes said the gates are “not essential” and he’s willing to work with city officials to find a resolution.
Nearby property owner objections
Objections were raised by John Watts, who owns most of the other structures farther north on Canal Street, and his representatives.
They asked how a new residential building could be allowed before the Canal Street widening plans are finalized and a resolution is reached on the closed railroad crossing on Wooster Street (a road between Bridge Street and the northern end of Canal Street, connecting to Howe Avenue).
The railroad crossing closure has raised public safety concerns, especially for fire engine access, with that part of Canal Street now being a narrow, dead-end.
Watts and his representatives also pointed out that the original plan was to allow only 600 residential units on all of Canal Street north of Bridge Street, and if Guedes’ new project should be approved there would already be 421 units with most of the land still undeveloped.
Gerald Romano Jr., a Westport real estate broker representing Watts, said Watts has been told he can’t build on his properties until the road is widened and the railroad crossing issue is resolved. He was surprised Guedes, with an adjoining lot, was moving forward with a project.
Romano called it “unbelievable” that a proposal might get approved before these two issues are resolved.
“You’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said, insisting an approval for Guedes should mean an approval for any Watts’ project in the future.
State Traffic Commission role
Guedes said he must get State Traffic Commission approval for his project, as he did for Avalon. He said concerns with emergency vehicles will be a factor in that process, and a formal turn-around area may need to be constructed on Canal Street in the vicinity of Wooster Street.
As for the possibility of re-opening the railroad crossing, Guedes said, “That’s between the mayor and the state.”
Provide ‘sufficient parking’
Timothy Atwood, an attorney with an office on Canal Street who represents Watts, said the current parking “disaster” needs to be resolved.
Atwood said cars are now parking on both sides of Canal Street near Avalon and the Birmingham, and the situation will only get worse with Guedes’ new project because the “reality” is that most living units have two vehicles.
Atwood said Guedes should be told to provide “sufficient parking” for his proposal, based on the regulations. “You are now looking at an applicant who is asking you to waive it again,” he said, noting it’s the P&Z’s own actions that have caused the current problem.
He also asked if it was “fair and equitable” to other Canal Street property owners — such as Watts — to allow Guedes to develop so many units if there was going to be an overall limit.
Watts: ‘It’s cost me nine years’
Watts, when he spoke, was upset because he said he’d been told to delay his own zoning application for an adjoining Canal Street property to allow for planning on the road widening project, and he did so.
An application for one of his properties — involving 23 residential units, with more than two parking spaces per unit, he noted — now is expected to be heard by the P&Z in May.
Watts said he had worked with Guedes early on when the PDD was first approved, and Guedes had the right to develop two of his properties but failed to do so, leading to financial issues between them that strained their relationship.
“It’s cost me nine years, and I’m tired of it,” Watts said.