Developer wants to fill downtown Derby’s Factory Street with apartments and shops
DERBY-After more than three decades of meetings, suggestions and proposals it appears that development is finally coming to the downtown.
The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission cleared the way for a proposed four-phase development by Derby Downtown, LLC which would bring four-story buildings with a total of 400 apartments as well as first floor shops, restaurants and residential services to the nearly vacant Factory Street. The street once housed the long gone Housatonic Lumber.
“What makes this project different than any other proposal is the developers already own the property,” said Carmen DiCenso, the city’s economic development liaison and former aldermanic president. “We see this as the first domino falling in place.”
Chris and Jena Barretta, of Milford, who operate Barretta Landscaping and Garden on the Factory Street site, have owned the nearly 5 acres comprising the former Housatonic Lumber site for 11 years. Now they have combined with Steve and Jim Lepore of Lepore and Sons, a design and construction firm in West Hartford to form Derby Downtown LLC.
Earlier this week the commission unanimously approved making the south side of Main Street where Factory Street is,a planned development district. This is the same type of zoning change that adjacent Shelton has used nearly 100 times in building its economic base. Such a district gives the commission control over the size, height and setbacks of buildings, the type of businesses that populate it, landscaping and more. Should a developer later want to modify a site plan, those changes must be approved by the commission.
During Tuesday’s public hearing portion residents applauded the proposal and urged the commission to approve the zone change.
“This is promising. Personally I am happy to see improvements coming downtown,” said Steve Ponzillo, a frequent critic of Planning and Zoning commission actions. “Ever since the River Restaurant explosion (Dec. 6,1985) all we’ve seen is one business after another leaving.”
Ponzillo’s only concerns are the lack of parking and the cost of rents.
DiCenso said consideration is being given to building a two-story parking lot on the south side of Main Street.
DiCenso, Mayor Richard Dziekan, Andrew Baklik, his chief of staff and Sal Coppola, the city’s finance director have been meeting with the developers on this proposal since Dec., 2017. DiCenso said recent meetings with the state Department of Transportation indicate that the remaining four buildings on the south side of Main Street will be demolished before the end of the year and work on widening Route 34/Main Street might begin by late spring.
“I believe this will jump start economic development throughout the central downtown district,” Baklik said.
Steve Lepore and Karl Nilsen, his land use consultant, said they intend to present a site plan during the commission’s Nov. 18 meeting.
“The land is open and level and ready to go,” said Robert Rowlson, the LLC’s economic consultant who previously served as West Hartford’s economic development director. “Generally you have to assemble and acquire parcels, then demolish and clean them...The bus and train station are a mere 500 yards away...There’s easy access to Route 8 and Route 34.”
He cited other amenities for tenants as the River Walk which runs from downtown Shelton to Ansonia and a planned bike path which will come with the Route 34/Main Street and Derby-Shelton bridge renovations.
As for rents, Rowlson said studios would cost about $1,200 a month, one bedrooms in the $1,450-$2,085 range and two bedrooms in the $1,900-$2,700 range. He said they are gearing the apartments to empty nesters and young professionals with annual salaries between $50,000 and $100,000.
Proposed leasing agreements will include amenity packages with access to high-speed Wi-Fi, indoor golf simulator, health club, in-complex library, bike racks, dog-sitting-walking and grooming services, possibly a rooftop garden, and community spaces.
“These are things millennials want,” Baklik said. “I lived in a similar apartment complex in South Carolina where you could go downstairs to work out, watch a movie—it was like a mini-community.”
Rowlson said phase two won’t start until 80 percent of the approximately 111 apartments in phase one are rented. The entire four phase project will take between four-to-six years and bring in supervisors, general contractors, supplies with many “coming from the community. After construction we will have a management and a marketing team in place and use local services like landscapers, electricians...”