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Developer wins approval for new 5-story Bank Street building

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New London — A New York-based housing developer has won unanimous approval to construct a five-story, 20-unit modular apartment building at the site of an empty spot on Bank Street.

The 174 Bank St. property where it would be built is what the developer's attorney William Sweeney said is not only blighted property but a “gaping hole in the middle of downtown.”

Sweeney represents Vessel Technologies Inc., which has a contract to purchase the site and plans to use a proprietary modular system to construct the building at a quicker speed than traditional construction. No proposed construction timeline has been set.

The plan describes state-of-the-art, energy-efficient building systems and materials and includes a solar array on the roof.

The site is adjacent the Salvation Army building and has remains of a concrete foundation from a failed project that is fenced off from Bank Street. It’s been empty since a fire burned the previous building in the 1980s.

The cost to develop the site, because of its small size and location in a flood plain, has led to little interest from developers.

"It's an exciting project. We hope it can serve as a model for other communities," Sweeney said during Thursday night's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

While it will be five stories tall, it will look like six stories from the back on South Water Street because of parking underneath the building. There will be 20 spaces on the lower level. The commission approved the plans with five fewer spaces than required by regulations. The city’s Parking Authority had recommended approval of the project based on availability of spaces in the nearby municipal parking lot.

The building would house 10 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units that will be marketed as luxury units. Sweeney said he expects rents to start at $1,400, which is below the market rate for similar new units being built in the city.

It would be the first fully residential building on Bank Street, thanks to modifications to zoning regulations tailored to this project and previously approved by the commission. Existing regulations still require retail space at street level for existing buildings. The proposed building has residential units facing Bank Street.

The modern look and gray color of the building have been the subject of debate, with mixed reactions from the Historic District Commission and some members of the public.

Don Presley, a member of the Historic District Commission, said “going up five stories at that particular location, will mean (it'll) be the tallest building basically on the street.” He said the design doesn’t especially fit the criteria of the city’s design review guidelines that recommend buildings complement the existing streetscape.

"I love modern architecture," said Susan Tamulevich, executive director of the Custom House Maritime Museum two buildings away from the proposed project. But, she said, "I don’t find anything commendable in this design."

g.smith@theday.com

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