December 18, 2013 01:15AM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — The Meriden Housing Authority has big plans for Yale Acres: redeveloping all 163 units of the affordable housing complex and constructing a 25,000-square-foot community center. While funding will be the biggest obstacle for the project, the authority will also need to gain zoning approval for the community center.
The authority submitted a petition to allow for a community building to be built within a residential neighborhood. The petition states that a community building is an “accessory building of not more than 25,000-square-feet,” located within a housing development of at least 40 residential units with at least 10 acres of area and under the ownership of “one common owner.” It goes on to list possible uses of the building, including for emergency situations and recreation.
“The neighborhood doesn’t have anything in it beside the (Roger Sherman) school and that’s not too close,” authority Executive Director Robert Cappelletti said. “The school is older and not energy efficient. We are proposing a community center that could also be an emergency center and warming and cooling center with enough room to sleep 400 to 600 people.”
A City Council Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee public hearing on the community building, set for Tuesday, was canceled due to inclement weather. The building was also discussed at a Planning Commission meeting last week.
While City Planner Dominick Caruso said at the meeting he liked the idea of a community building, there were concerns about the significant size, and the likelihood that it would be used by people around the city in numerous circumstances and not just restricted to those within the surrounding area was also questioned.
“We are talking about adding a community building as an accessory use ... something like a garage is usually an accessory use where it is something that can’t stand on a piece of property by itself,” Caruso said. “Twenty-five thousand square feet is an awfully big accessory use.”
Still, Caruso said if a large number of residents in the area were using the building, then he had less of a concern.
“We want to make sure it is for the residents of Yale Acres,” Caruso said. “Now is it exclusive for residents of Yale Acres? I wouldn’t say it’s exclusive because it would be an emergency center or warming center.”
The YMCA will have a hand in running the building, Caruso said. If the Y is running a citywide basketball league, Caruso said the building is no longer an accessory to the housing development. Y Executive Director John Benigni explained that the programs will be geared toward the residents of Yale Acres, but also the surrounding neighborhood.
“Good program space is tough to come by,” Benigni said.
Benigni added that there would also be a day care run out of the facility, which he described as a “need” within the development. He also said it is likely many of the jobs at the center will be held by Yale Acres residents.
In addition to the day care and basketball court, Cappelletti said other amenities would likely include a swimming pool, workout center and full service kitchen. Because there are plans to run the entire complex on its own micro-grid with utilities underground, the community building could be used as an emergency shelter. Some of the units have been converted to gas heat from oil and solar panel roofing is being used to generate electricity. There are also plans to use geothermal energy throughout the housing complex.
The authority has yet to secure funding for the project, but Cappelletti said there had been talks at the state level for communities to apply for funding of emergency centers. Some of the project would be funded through energy savings, grants for energy projects and energy tax credits. If the state does not release funds, Cappelletti said the authority would look at alternative tax credit programs.
“This is not cost to the city or any entity in the city,” he said. “This would be privately funded through a private-public partnership that the community would benefit from. It would be a real bonus for the community.”