MERIDEN — The concrete block of apartment housing at the corner of State and Mill and Cedar streets is going to get larger as Pennrose Properties finalizes designs for more housing in the northwest corner of the Meriden Green behind the existing amphitheater.
The site is one of two residential housing developments on the drawing board intended to attract primarily market rate tenants, with 20 percent of the units considered affordable. The second site is along Pratt Street across from the firehouse and has the same mixed-income ratio. Both will contain about 60 units each. A third commercial site along Pratt, also across from the firehouse, is being considered for a restaurant or other commercial use.
”The locations of those (planned area developments) were always part of the development plan,” said City Councilor Brian Daniels, the former chairman of the Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee.
The 14-acre Meriden Green was intended to solve downtown flooding problems that stymied economic development in the area. But in addition to building a public park and amphitheater, city officials wanted to spur economic activity.
The $14 million Green project included grading at the northwest corner and along Pratt Street that would accommodate buildings along the flood plain, said City Councilor David Lowell, who now chairs the Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee.
”The one on the State Street side was built on a graded elevation,” Lowell said. “An additional three acres was added to replace the green space. Our next endeavor is to daylight the brook and advance the Green space to Meriden Commons.”
But as more people have come to the Green for concerts, markets, car shows and other events, there are fears that buildings on the Green, particularly on the northwest corner, will disrupt the park-like atmosphere, block views from Meriden Commons I and II and create a “sound bounce” from the stage.
“It’s generated a lot of questions because people want to make sure it’s done properly,” Daniels said. We are taking “great care to make sure that any design would complement the green not detract from it.”
City Councilor Sonya Jelks, who joined the council after the Meriden Green plans had been approved, was caught blind-sided by the added development.
“What development?” Jelks asked at the time. “It’s not that I was opposed to it, it just wasn’t clear. I’m a new councilor. People have expressed some concerns because the park is beautiful. Will it feel less public? The parking lot makes it feel like a courtyard for the apartments and less like a public park.”
The committee is now in communication with Pennrose over design specifications that limit the size of the buildings and the numbers of units.
“We want to make sure they are aesthetically pleasing,” Jelks said. “Developers have been very helpful. They listened to the concerns and have come back with changes. We are trying to ensure the open beautiful park will not have obstructed views.”
Waiting on designs
Jelks supports the market-rate housing targeting young professionals, but is not fully in agreement with the development pads. However, she is withholding judgment until she sees a proposal.
“I’m reserving my opinion until they reveal a comprehensive plan of what design, the cost and economic value to the city,” she said.
Pennrose expects to submit a final plan soon, said Vice President Charlie Adams. The development company builds housing for people of all incomes, Adams said, and is leasing 76 units at Meriden Commons II, which is 80 percent affordable.
The buildings on the Green will have no backside and will be designed to be appealing from all angles, Daniels said.
“There have been ongoing discussions at multiple levels with Pennrose,” Lowell said. “They are very concerned with the feedback. They understand the structures need to be useful to the public with cafes on the ground level and access to the public.
Lowell expects to see buildings where people can sit out on a patio and there are discussions of a rooftop restaurant. He said the buildings will be no higher than four stories, the same as Meriden Commons I.
“I’m waiting to see myself what Pennrose is going to present,” Lowell said. “There will be ample time for people to comment and see what it will look like.”
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