Company to pitch solution for New London's 'missing tooth'
New London — If downtown were a smile, the hole in the ground at 174 Bank St. would be its missing tooth, New London attorney William Sweeney says.
Sweeney, who represents New York-based multifamily housing developer Vessel Technologies Inc., is expected to come before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday with a solution to fill that longstanding gap.
He has asked the commission to consider a request to modify zoning regulations and allow for construction of a 20-unit apartment building to fill the narrow 0.2-acre parcel.
More specifically, the application is for a zone regulation amendment to allow for new single-use buildings to be constructed in the central business district, an amendment Sweeney said is tailored for this spot and would apply only to vacant lots in the district. He said 174 Bank St. is one of 14 such parcels but nearly all of the rest are occupied by parking lots.
“This is really a tool to take that tiny sliver lot and be able to do something,” he said.
Current regulations allow only for mixed-use buildings downtown. The typical building on Bank Street has retail space at street level and apartments above. Residential units are allowed at street level but not facing the street.
“While the typical requirement to maintain commercial storefronts in the SBD-1 District is important to protect the integrity of existing buildings in downtown, it actually creates unnecessary obstacles for infill development, particularly in this somewhat unique situation,” Sweeney said in his application.
Sweeney said the spot, located in a flood plain, has been vacant for decades, become blighted and is occupied by exposed foundations from a failed prior project. Any permits issued for that work are long expired.
It’s been marketed for years but without someone to figure out a way to get a return on such a difficult piece of land. Vessel Technologies, if the changes are approved, would use its proprietary modular system to construct the building, “luxury accommodations with state-of-the-art energy efficient building systems and materials but offered at an attainable rent to local residents.” The system is designed for small and constrained urban parcels “where traditional development techniques fail to provide feasible infill development options.”
Vessel Technologies has entered into a purchase contract with the property owners, 174 LLC.
Mayor Michael Passero said he was early in his firefighting career with the city and recalls a fire destroyed the building that had stood at that location. He said he recalls it being the former Book-A-Zine, a shop that sold an array of pornographic movies and magazines. The shop relocated after the fire.
Passero said he recognizes 174 Bank St. has been a “next to impossible” parcel to develop. “It’s just such a small lot, to be able to get a return on your investment is difficult,” he said. “The economy has had ups and downs and after over 30 years, nothing. This should be considered a rare opportunity.”
Passero said there might not be another opportunity to "fill that missing tooth in downtown."