LEX-LAZ West Hartford LLC would like to move forward with the One Park Road development at the corner of Park Road and Prospect Avenue, where the current Sisters of Saint Joseph property is located.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford is considering something the town has made a point of not doing: providing a tax abatement to a developer.
The Town Council’s Special Advisory Committee on Economic and Workforce Recovery engaged in a lengthy discussion of a proposal Monday night from LEX-LAZ West Hartford LLC – the entity that has been granted approval to develop One Park Road at the 22-acre Sisters of Saint Joseph property – for a 10-year tax abatement totaling $4 million. In exchange, the developer would guarantee that 10% of the 294 rental units be set aside as affordable housing, at least for the duration of the abatement period.
“We had a very informative discussion and it was good briefing for the Council,” Town Manager Matt Hart said Tuesday. “This is new. We haven’t considered tax abatement request for a long time,” he said, and is not aware that an abatement has been previously granted.
Hart said the Council will likely vote on the “tax fixing assessment agreement” at its July 14 meeting. A public hearing is not required.
The One Park Road development, a $65 million project, has been in the pipeline for many years, and has been approved by the Town Council in two separate incarnations.
Back in January 2016, the Council unanimously approved a Special Development District for the proposed Arcadia Crossing project, to be developed by Center Development Corporation at the intersection of Park and Prospect. Arcadia Crossing was to include 310 apartment units, 509 parking spaces including a 270-space parking garage, and a variety of common area amenities as well as a “west wing” – a 36-bedroom complex and other facilities for the Sisters of Saint Joseph – who would continue to own that property and live there for as long as they like.
Center Development Corporation was unable to secure funding for the project.
In January 2019, the Council again unanimously approved development plans for the site, based on a proposal from LEX-LAZ called One Park Road. The proposal was modified from what had originally been approved, with changes including fewer units and the chapel as a more prominent feature.
The One Park Road project, designed by Amenta Emma, maintained and replicated many of the historical elements of the existing structures, with architectural design that also included some dramatic new elements – particularly in the main entry where a two-story glass curtain wall will framesviews into the interior courtyard where a fire pit will be incorporated into the existing boiler chimney. The former boiler room will be renovated to become the pool house.
LEX-LAZ designed their plans with the hopes of receiving historic tax credits and favorable financing, but “we got tripped up in Washington” with the National Park Service, Marty Kenny, president and principal with applicant Lexington Partners, LLC, [the “LEX” in LEX-LAZ; Alan Lazowski of LAZ Parking is the other partner], who submitted the application, told the Special Advisory Committee Monday night.
LEX-LAZ was very optimistic about obtaining the historical credits, and spent a lot of time and money pursuing it, but was ultimately unsuccessful. The National Park Service would have requested further modifications to the property, reducing the size of the buildings and layout, to qualify for the historic credits, which would have then made the project not viable from a financial standpoint.
As the discussions were ongoing, LEX-LAZ helped the Sisters of Saint Joseph with some of the carrying costs for the building, and successfully obtained permission from the Vatican to reduce the purchase price for the property, said Kenny.
The ability of LEX-LAZ to pursue the project at this point hinges on receiving the abatement, Kenny said.
“Without this [abatement] they will not move forward and will abandon this project,” Hart said.
“We recognize the significance of the request. We appreciate that West Hartford is working furiously to maintain its budget, essential services and the superior educational system that sets West Hartford apart from most other municipalities,” Kenny wrote in a letter to the Council requesting the abatement. “We also understand that tax abatements have not been granted in the past,” he said, and understands there is concern about setting a precedent.
Kenny highlighted the benefits that the town would receive from the project, including:
- Preservation of the campus, with the west wing set aside as housing for the sisters.
- Investment in the Park Road area of town, stimulating area businesses.
- Creation of 126 new jobs during construction and an estimated 20 permanent jobs when compete.
- No out-of-pocket cost to the town, and even with abatement more than $4 million of tax revenue to the town over the course of 10 years.
- Affordable housing, styled to attract a younger demographic, that could be attractive to residents such as first responders, teachers, and other essential personnel who could ultimately become lifetime West Hartford residents. The housing would be reserved for tenants with incomes set at 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
- Preservation of one of the town’s historic structures. “The excellence of the architecture combined with the stunning landscape design performed by the renowned Olmstead Brothers. To explore the wetlands, the willow trees, the cemetery and to appreciate the priceless gothic revival architecture of the buildings, ornate woodwork and stained glass windows. This place should be preserved and lived in; not knocked down to make way for a faceless warehouse,” Kenny wrote in his letter.
- Assistance for the Sisters of Saint Joseph, who have been tirelessly serving the community since 1898 and, despite the declining number of sisters and fact that many are in their late 80s, have continued to maintain 130,000 square feet of vacant space.
Kenny also noted that this project will provide a much needed “shot in the arm for economic growth,” which is now even more important since the Fintech Village plan for the former UConn campus has fallen apart. “The successful completion of the Park Road development would be a cornerstone project for West Hartford during these trying times,” Kenny said.
Deputy Mayor Leon Davidoff, who chairs the Special Advisory Committee for Economic and Workforce Development, said Tuesday that in addition to the information received from Hart, Kenny, and consultants the town engaged from Goman+York, the Council will “receive additional documentation prior to the taking of any action” on the abatement.
Goman+York’s tax abatement feasibility study is included as a PDF below.
“Each of my colleagues raised concerns last evening and the town manager has assured me that additional information will be provided to the Council,” Davidoff said.
“We had a healthy discussion regarding a tax abatement for the One Park development,” Minority Leader Lee Gold said Tuesday.
“If approved it will provide needed affordable housing as well as permanent jobs to West Hartford. It adds a whole new dimension to our town and will certainly help to reinvigorate the Park Road business district.,” Gold added.
“While this issue was discussed remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am confident that open and transparent government will be the guiding principles as the Council decides this matter. I remain committed to acting in the best interests of our residents and the town by performing the necessary due diligence in order to reach a well-reasoned decision,” said Davidoff.
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