Business Government

West Hartford Town Council Considering Tax Abatement for One Park Road Development

Rendering of One Park Road, Lexington Partners LLC project proposed for the Sisters of Saint Joseph Property. Town of West Hartford website

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.

Rendering of One Park Road, viewed from the corner of Park Road and Prospect Avenue. Town of West Hartford website

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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    • I highly encourage the Town Council to vote NO! The affordable units set aside are only 10% of the project—around 20 units. The 4M of tax’s abatement and 400k of building fees waived would be almost the equivalent of the town chipping in 1800 per month of rent for each unit for 10 years—there are lore efficient ways to subsidize affordable housing. Also the town will actually have to make up money in the first 4 years of the project when the abatement are at a much higher rate (no taxes for the first three years). All new projects will bring construction jobs and associates spending—we should net get into the incentive game because every new builder will expect the same.

    • I agree that the Town Council should not provide tax abatement for this development. None of the “benefits” provided by this project are unique to this project – It is highly likely that any development at this site will create jobs (obviously construction), any (prudent) developer will retain the structures (as they are well built – the layout is nearly identical to the Center Development proposal which also planned to reuse several of the buildings) and any development at the site will provide economic stimulus for the Park Road area. None of those benefits are unique tot his project….

      Further, setting an abatement precedent in Town is very dangerous. To my recollection, not even BBS (the most “contentious” development in WH in the past 25 years) received tax abatement (can anyone confirm?). Yes, BBS received significant town investment (~$50MM in bonding) but BBS was (is) a PPP, provides public spaces, provided new library space, and will end up re-paying that bonding (plus more) through property taxes over time. (Based on some quick math, after 15 years BBS has probably paid back about 65-75% of that bonding through property taxes by now – and remains No. 1 on the Town’s grands list). This current development provides absolutely none of those public benefits, nor would this abatement ever be recouped (i.e. the definition of abatement).

      Finally, do these developers need this incentive? Laz is a $1.2 billion corp. Even if the company makes 1% profit a year (i bet it does MUCH better than that MOST years) that is $12MM profit. Mr Lazowski is very generous and quite philanthropic, so I’m not sure the play here in why he is asking for this abatement? Increasing mill rates obviously hurt lower income property owners more….

      Town Council – please vote NO.

    • The town council has to realize that developments have costs to the town. We are constantly undertaking traffic remediation due to development, kids living here will be part of the school budget, etc.

      Also, the projected 126 jobs for construction have zero value to the town. There is no income tax paid to the town and there is no reason those jobs won’t be held by residents of other towns.

      If the town feels so strongly about affordable housing, make it a condition for the permitting process. Subsidizing the development on the backs of West Hartford taxpayers is wrong.

      Anyone who has had the pleasure of taking out a permit for any home improvement knows the zeal of the town for increasing assessments as much as possible. This is why the town need that money so badly – to subsidize wealthy developers.

    • I’m not sure where the $4m comes from here– by my estimate (based on the table in their presentation ) I have it closer to $8m in lost taxable revenue (plus $490k in building permit waivers)

      I certainly hope the town looks much harder at this..

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