MERIDEN — The city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously last week to conditionally approve its first adaptive reuse special permit and site plan — an application for 80 apartment units at 85 Tremont St.
After three hours of presentation and comments from the public and commissioners on Wednesday night, the panel approved the gutting and rebuilding of the former Aeolian factory at an estimated cost of $45 million.
The four-story building is 130,000 square feet and will house one, two and three bedroom units.
“We really appreciate your support and we look forward to working with you and the community,” said Dan Drazen, vice president of development at Trinity Financial. “We were drawn to this because of the historical significance of the building and the Aeolian company. We were excited to see the city had an adaptive reuse zoning district. We think we fit right into the framework you folks established.”
The Aeolian Co. was established in 1887 as the Aeolian Organ and Music Co. and at its peak employed 500 people. The company manufactured automatic organs and music rolls. It expanded in 1895 to include a successful line of player pianos known as pianolas, according to the Connecticut Historical Society.
At the meeting, Drazen detailed Trinity’s experience in building more than 8,000 units, including adaptive reuse projects in Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and Stamford and Norwalk. He was joined by an engineer and an architect who presented specifics of the proposed work.
Members of the public raised a variety of concerns, including traffic along Tremont Street and side roads to Broad Street and North Colony Road. There were also concerns about having 106 parking spaces for 80 units. Neighbors also worried about the impact on local emergency services and schools.
Commission Chairman Kevin Curry echoed concerns about school impact after School Superintendent Mark Benigni recently asked economic development officials to consider the impact on local schools when approving new housing construction. But ultimately, commissioners felt none of the concerns raised by residents were deal breakers.
Trinity proposed 29 one-bedroom, 32 two-bedroom and 19 three-bedroom apartments, ranging in size from 633 to 1,406 square feet. The plans also include 4,591 square feet of community space, including a community room, yoga studio, fitness room, children's playroom, bike room, and library.
Prices range from $581 monthly for a single bedroom for a tenant earning less than 30 percent of the average median income to $2,141 for a three bedroom unit for a tenant at 80 percent of the average median income.
Drazen presented a housing study that showed despite new construction downtown, the city continues to need more affordable housing.
About 41.7 percent of city renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
“Those folks are housing burdened,” Drazen said.
Drazen also pointed to Meriden Commons I and II, which shares a similar demographic to the proposed apartments on Tremont Street. The complexes report a two percent vacancy rate.
“That’s incredibly low,” Drazen said. “That tells us there is much more demand than supply. In a balanced market you would see five percent.”
Because of its historical status, the project will be overseen by the State Historical Preservation Office and the National Park Service. Funding will be a combination of state and federal affordable housing tax credits and historical tax credits. After securing funding and eliminating contamination, construction is set to begin in 2024 and finish in 2026.
Commercial businesses now in the building will receive assistance to relocate to other sites in the city.
Curry balked at the timeline and expressed concerns that the project would sit stalled as have other large-scale renovations of older properties, including the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital on Cook Avenue.
Drazen replied the company is well versed in securing funding and vowed to continue conversations with neighbors to allay concerns.
“This is what we do across our portfolio...” he said. “They all faced the same set of challenges we’re facing here and we have no reason to believe we won’t be able to be successful here in Meriden.”
Commission members, Ross Gulino, Curry, Elain Cariati, Victoria Church and new member Chad Cardillo voted in favor of the project with the following conditions:
■The existing 24-inch storm pipe running through the site must be cleaned and video inspected by the applicant prior to and after construction. Inspection video will be shared and reviewed by Meriden Engineering Department.
■A completed water demand calculation data form will need to be submitted to the Meriden Engineering Department.
■A bond shall be required for public improvements (figure set by staff).
■A building permit will be required for the proposed retaining wall.
■If the proposed site sidewalk in the southwest corner of the parking lot is to remain, an additional retaining wall or grading rights from the abutting property is required.
■The external fire department sprinkler connection location should be shown on the site plans.
■An architecturally appropriate fence or treatment approved by staff shall be installed along the southern border of the property.