Developer John Guedes has unveiled plans for a 68-unit apartment building at 223 Canal St., which is the next lot north of the Shelton Avalon complex. The property is 1.26 acres and slopes down toward the Housatonic River.
The 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 area, with its many former factory buildings, Guedes told the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z).
There would be 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.
Guedes would provide an easement to the city along the river to extend the Riverwalk.
He has submitted an application to the P&Z for the project, tentatively called River Breeze. The P&Z’s public hearing on his application will continue at the May 12 meeting, which means additional comment will be accepted then.
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 that 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 is the Bridgeport-based developer who, beginning in 2007, rehabilitated an existing factory building into the 103-unit Birmingham on the River condominium and then 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. He also wants 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. 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 and 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 enough. He said new public parking would be created in the area when the Chromium Process building is demolished.
He said most towns only require 1.5 parking spaces per living unit, and the original redevelopment master plan for Canal Street also allowed for 1.5 parking spaces per 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.
Proposed gated entrances
The new building would have gated entrances to its parking areas. 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.
Objections and concerns
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 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 street.
Gerald Romano Jr., a Westport real estate broker representing Watts, 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.
Guedes said he must get State Traffic Commission approval for his project, as he did for Avalon, and a formal turn-around area to accommodate fire vehicles might need to be constructed on Canal Street in the vicinity of Wooster Street.
Timothy Atwood, an attorney with an office on Canal Street who represents Watts, 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.
Total number of units allowed
Watts and his representatives 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.
Atwood asked if that would be “fair and equitable” to other Canal Street property owners.
Watts said he had worked with Guedes on Canal Street redevelopment plans early on, 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.
Watts has submitted an application for one of his properties — involving 23 residential units, with more than two parking spaces per unit, he noted — that the P&Z should begin considering in the near future.