STONINGTON — The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a five-story, 82-unit mixed-income housing project for the long-blighted site of the former Campbell Grain building in Pawcatuck, during a virtual meeting Tuesday night.
Winn Development, a division of Winn Companies of Boston, proposed the project under the state 8-30g statute for the 1.89-acre site at 15 Coggswell Street and 27 West Broad Street in Pawcatuck. In 2019, 5.93 percent of the housing stock in Stonington was classified as affordable under state statute.
The proposed project will lease 30 percent of the units at market rates and 70 percent will be restricted by income. Under a 40-year covenant on the property, at least 30 percent of the apartments will be leased to households with an income of 80 percent of AMI or less.
The area median income, or AMI, in the Stonington area for a four-person household is $91,800, said William Sweeney, an attorney at Tobin, Carberry, O’Malley Riley & Selinger, PC, who represented Winn Development.
About 15 percent of the units will be leased at 80 percent of AMI, 40 percent at 50 percent of AMI, and 15 percent at 30 percent of AMI, said Sweeney. Winn Development will use the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, which is administered by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), to finance construction.
“From our perspective that mix is going to do very well in the competitive process. It will garner the tax credits we need to make this project a reality,” said Sweeney. “We also think what’s important is what we’re going to be able to create is a truly diverse and inclusive project by providing reasonably priced rental apartments, which are so badly needed in Stonington.”
The 116,000-square foot building will include four studio apartments of 573 square feet each, 35 one-bedroom units of 662 to 709 square feet, 31 two-bedroom units of 914-1063 square feet and 12 three-bedroom units of 1,246-1,371 square feet. Indoor parking will be located on the ground floor, with the apartments on the upper four floors. The facility will include a fitness center, office space for building management staff and patio space reserved for residents.
Property owner and trustee Frank DeCiantis, of Powhaten, Virginia, has owned the parcel since early 1980. His father, Frank DeCiantis, purchased the property in the 1960s from the Perry family of Westerly, who purchased the land and the Campbell Grain buildings — a grain elevator and a grist mill — that were built on the site in 1917. DeCiantis leased the buildings to a succession of businesses, including a printing company, an office equipment firm, and start-up companies. The 100-year flood in 2010 damaged the grist building and when it was taken down in 2016, a dozen of its beams were repurposed in the Veit Automotive Foundation Museum in Buffalo, Minn. DeCiantis demolished the silo in August 2018 after the town threatened to put a $40,000 lien on the property to cover the cost of demolition.
Jay Szymanski, an architect with the Winn Companies, said the site has its challenges, fronting the Pawcatuck River to the north and bordering the Amtrak rail line to the west, with a 25-foot difference in grade. He said the facility will be constructed into the hillside below the track and will visually reference New England mill buildings.
Paul Vitaliano, an engineer with VHB, said new landscaping will include catch basin inlets that will improve water quality before water is discharged back into the Pawcatuck River. The building will not significantly impact the town’s sewage capacity, according to the Water Pollution Control Authority, said Vitaliano. The water line connection to West Broad Street will also be adequate for water pressure needs, including fire suppression, he said.
Dave Hammond, chairman of the Economic Development Commission and a 20-year resident of Pawcatuck, said he had wanted to see improvements to the site for many years.
“It’s been a good portion of that time that I’ve thought how nice it would be to have infill development on that vacant property that would knit this community and neighborhood together,” he said. “So I can’t tell you how excited the EDC is to support this project as a real asset for the town.”
He said the EDC has 11 initiatives, including five that target downtown Pawcatuck as one of the key areas that will benefit Stonington. In September 2017, the town approved the Pawcatuck Village District, or PV-5, which allowed for mixed-use development, as a step toward ameliorating blighted properties in lower Pawcatuck.
“The EDC sees this as a project that will deliver a much-needed boost to a downtown that needs new investment, particularly inclusive housing,” he said.
The property is located in a 100-year flood zone and the building will be constructed at a base flood elevation of 10 feet above sea level, which meets floodplain construction standards.
Janis Mink, of Pawcatuck, said she objected to the approval of new construction in a 100-year flood zone.
“The building that was there was the victim of a flood. There is going to be another flood and many more serious floods,” she said, referring to a New York Times article. “I think that Stonington needs to take this threat very seriously and not build new things, especially things this large that are going to have to be taken care of … and removed from the water at some point in a very few amount of years.”
Judd and Dale Rosen, who live on Coggswell Street, said they supported the project overall, especially a new crosswalk design on West Broad Street that will be included in the project. However, the safety of traffic turning left onto West Broad Street was a concern especially during peak times in warmer weather.
“Our condo area has about 25 cars and this new development will have four times the number of vehicles and we question again how well Coggswell Street and particularly that intersection will accommodate safely four times the current existing traffic,” said Judd Rosen.
At its Monday meeting, the Architectural Design Review Board evaluated the project and came up with six concerns about the project, including a recommendation that the designers use brick as a material to reference historic mill buildings and, in general, to make the design less institutional looking.
The commission approved the project with a number of stipulations, including making the changes requested by the Architectural board. Sweeney said because of 8-30g the developers could not be forced to make the requested changes, but would meet with the board again in the spirit of goodwill.
The illustrations in the original version of this story were taken from the public announcement, they have been updated to reflect the plan presented to the commission on 9/15/22.