STAMFORD – The 225-unit Lofts at Yale & Towne, the first building to go up in the Harbor Point luxury apartment development, must be torn down, the owner told a city commission Tuesday night.
The 800-foot-long building, converted from the historic Yale & Towne lock factory, is tilting and sinking, and the facade is “moving” vertically and horizontally, said Mor Regensburger, vice president of project management for the owner, Gaia Real Estate of New York.
The situation is “a disaster,” an architect for Gaia told the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, which would weigh in on whatever Gaia would build to replace the converted factory at 200 Henry St.
The Lofts building sits on timber piles that are more than 100 years old and not footed in bedrock, Regensburger told commission members.
“The north facade is tilting away from Henry Street, and the south facade is tilting in the same direction. So the entire building is tilting north,” Regensburger said. “Whatever we decide to do, we have to make the decision soon because of the ongoing movement of the building. It won’t be safe for too much more time.”
Gaia’s architect, Jim Sackett of CPG Architects, said all three buildings of The Lofts complex sit on wood piles.
“The water table has receded and the wood piles, which were previously under water, are now exposed, causing them to rot,” Sackett said.
Gaia is looking to build a new structure using concrete piles footed in bedrock.
“It’s not an issue that it can’t be done,” Sackett said. “It’s an issue of what you have to do to make it right.”
The old factory was converted to loft apartments by Harbor Point developer Building & Land Technology. The Lofts opened in 2010. BLT sold the building to Gaia in 2016.
Regensburger said Gaia’s structural engineers concluded that the wood piles were not replaced with concrete footings drilled into bedrock because the original factory use of the building was heavy-duty compared with residential use.
“The industrial building was designed for higher capacity; the residential structure has less load,” Regensburger said.
A request for comment to BLT spokesman Rob Blanchard was not returned as of early afternoon Wednesday.
BLT faces scrutiny for construction issues at other Harbor Point buildings. City engineers are investigating the Feb. 1 collapse of a 15-by-20-foot concrete slab at the 22-story Allure on Pacific Street. The investigation so far has revealed that concrete-reinforcing cables were missing from the slab that fell, even though the design drawings called for them.
The city hired an engineering firm to review seven other BLT buildings in Harbor Point.
Gaia – acting on tenant complaints about cracks in walls, dips in floors, and doors and windows not opening or closing at The Lofts – brought in structural engineers in November 2018, and geotechnical engineers three months after that, Regensburger said.
The original plan was to shore up the foundation, but that does not appear to be possible, she said.
Even though temporary supports would be erected during restoration work, “the building is still moving,” Regensburger told the commission. “When contractors bring in heavy machinery, when they start drilling … the vibration will cause more settlement. From there, there’s no way back – it would be unsafe to work within the building.”
Lofts tenants of building 1 and building 2 had to move out as of last July. Gaia has told tenants of building 3 to be out by the end of this month. At this point, 17 percent of the apartments in building 3 are still occupied, Regensburger said.
She and Sackett and Ray Mazzeo of land-use consultant Redniss & Mead appeared before the commission to present preliminary design ideas for a new apartment building at 200 Henry St.
But commission members needed a few moments to digest the idea that the original building in Harbor Point – a massive redevelopment of the city’s industrial South End that will include more than 4,000 apartments – will be wrecked.
“I am astonished,” commission member Barry Hersh said. “I heard about problems with the building but to learn now that … a building that was rehabilitated about 10 years ago is essentially falling apart is mind-boggling. The idea that this big, strong-looking building is in this condition – I have to get my head around it.”
Mazzeo said Gaia is seeking a “critical reconstruction” designation under the city’s historic preservation regulations. The designation allows certain bonuses, such as more housing units, if a developer sticks to period details in renovating a historic structure.
The Lofts was approved for 255 units, though only 225 were built, Mazzeo said. For a Lofts reconstruction to be financially viable, Gais would need to build 300 units, Mazzeo said.
The cost will be very high, complicated by “a very unfortunate situation,” Regensburger said.
“We worked with our insurance carrier and we found that no insurance plan covers this,” she said. “They said this ongoing movement within the building is not insurable. So there is no insurance coverage whatsoever.”
Adding units to a new structure will be difficult because there is almost no land around The Lofts building, Sackett said. His preliminary designs added two floors to the six-story Lofts.
But commission members said the designs deviate too much from the original Lofts building and would not qualify for the “critical reconstruction” bonuses. They sent Gaia back to the drawing board.
“This is a disaster,” Sackett said. “Nobody intended this.”
Mazzeo said Gaia will present ideas to the Stamford Zoning Board to learn what conditions those members may require for demolishing and rebuilding The Lofts.