Concept plan is unveiled for downtown Shelton fire site

The Matto family has presented conceptual plans for what they would like to build to replace the main structure destroyed in the massive downtown fire early this year.

Family members unveiled initial plans for the Shelton Phoenix Building at a meeting last week of the Downtown Subcommittee of the Shelton Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z).

Owners Ralph and Elaine Matto and the three Matto sons — including Joseph, who is an architect — attended the meeting, which was informational only and does not involve a formal application.

“It’s similar to what was there but is quite a bit improved,” said Elaine Matto, noting the structure destroyed on Jan. 6 had dated back to the 1800s.

Combined residential and retail

The plans show a four-story building with five retail storefronts on the first floor and 24 small apartments on the upper floors. This is essentially what was there before.

Stores would vary from 700 to 1,100 square feet in size, while most of the apartment units would be 615 square feet.

The design, drawn up by Joseph Matto, appears to have a modern village look.

Alderman Eric McPherson, who represents downtown and attended the meeting, liked what he saw.

“I commend them for coming up with a plan — and wanting to do something better,” McPherson said. “This starts the process.”

Elaine Matto was encouraged by the reaction to the concept. “We thought it went well,” she said. “They definitely were interested and supportive. My sense is that people want something to happen there.”

Right to replace existing building

The Mattos have the right to replace the previous structure with a similar one, but any major deviations could lead to a different zoning approval process.

Elaine Matto said she thinks the Shelton Phoenix Building is essentially the same as the main structure destroyed in the fire — with combined retail and rental housing.

“That’s our intent,” she said. “It won’t be exactly a duplicate — no one would want that.”

She said initial feedback was that offices wouldn’t make sense at the site, and marketing data indicates there’s limited demand for new professional offices.

The family is still sorting out financing and insurance payments, Matto said, and it’s not absolutely certain they will pursue a project.

“We still haven’t committed to anything,” she said. “We’re still analyzing and working on the numbers.”

Zoning approval process

If the Mattos decide to move forward with the project, they would have to file an application with the full P&Z. Elaine Matto said it’s likely the family will do that.

She said it may take six months to come up with more detailed plans, which would help determine the exact cost of the project. It could take a year to construct the building.

Process will take awhile

McPherson said the process will take a while, with a lot of back-and-forth between the Mattos and city officials — primarily those involved in zoning.

“Stan and I will do what we can to help this project,” he said, referring to his fellow Second Ward alderman, Stanley Kudej.

“A lot will rest with the P&Z on what [the Mattos] can and cannot do,” McPherson said. “This could be an opportunity to really do something — to go bold.”

McPherson said the Mattos have done a lot for downtown through the years. “It’s such an important and huge block, and they’ve put a lot into it through the years,” he said.

When Ralph Matto purchased the building in the 1980s, the apartment units didn’t have hot water or individual bathrooms.

As for that part of downtown, McPherson said, he’d like to look into putting utility lines underground and adding more parking spaces.

Status of surviving structure

Meanwhile, progress continues on repairing the small retail building on Howe Avenue that survived the fire.

This one-story structure, which housed Liquid Lunch and the Joy Lee Chinese restaurant, suffered no substantive fire damage and had separate insurance.

Matto said “a lot of things had to happen” in preparing the building for its eventual re-opening, such as reconnecting utilities and fixing water damage from firefighting efforts next door.

“It’s been one painful step at a time, but it’s mostly done now,” she said.