On May 21, dozens of town officials, business leaders and interested potential tenants gathered at Fusion 25 for an “open house” promoting a planned commercial/office development at 146 South Main Street called the Summit @ Newtown. But the use of that development recently shifted to a somewhat precedent-setting mixed commercial/residential use after a zoning regulation was changed permitting limited residential uses in certain commercial zones.
Land Use Director George Benson told The Newtown Bee June 10 the Planning & Zoning Commission authorized the zoning language change after he reviewed current regulations and realized developments on smaller lots, like the Summit project, had very limited opportunity to include any residential options.
“Newtown always allowed mixed commercial/residential use in B1 and B2 [business] zones that permitted one apartment for every half-acre of property,” Mr Benson explained. “This regulation change will permit developers to apply for second floor residential use in those zones using up to 50 percent of the building for apartments.”
The regulation also caps the size of those second story apartments to 1,200 square feet.
The decision was hailed by Summit development partner John Reyes, who already has qualified for a town Business Incentive Plan abatement to further ease the cost burden on potential tenants. Mr Reyes said that without a residential component, he would be extremely challenged to get any bank underwriting for the project.
“It is nice to know that Newtown has a welcoming culture towards the business community, and we would like to thank the town of Newtown for allowing us to move forward with our project,” he said. “Our new project, The Summit @ Newtown, will hopefully be a catalyst for additional and positive development in the South Main Street Village district of Newtown.”
Mr Benson said that today, banks and conventional underwriters want to see the option for residential use of mixed-use developments because tenants for those living spaces can sustain the commercial component during periods of vacancy. He added that the regulation change will boost the potential for other developments of this nature in a local environment where affordable rentals for singles and couples is seriously lacking.
“This will definitely help other developments in terms of enhancing the financial feasibility of these projects,” he said.
“This mixed residential and commercial project will be the ideal balance for that location,” Mr Reyes said. “And we won’t be putting any kind of burden on the local schools because these apartments are single bedroom units only.”
Mr Benson said that because the new residential aspect would be a change in approved use, the shift away from offices in favor of one-bedroom apartments will require a public hearing which has yet to be scheduled.
In mid-March, the 146 South Main Street parcel that first received approvals for commercial development 15 years ago was approved for a three-year program of partial tax relief under Newtown’s Business Incentive Plan.
Newtown Director of Economic and Community Development Elizabeth Stocker appeared before the Board of Selectmen on March 17, addressing an Economic Development Commission recommendation to temporarily abate between 30 and 35 percent of the property taxes on improvements to be made as Mr Reyes and his partner, David Monaco of Summit Properties Group LLC, develop the two-story mixed use complex adjacent to a small bakery and tutoring center on the busy commercial corridor.
Ms Stocker said the new developers plan to generate approximately 50 construction jobs, and 10 to 20 permanent jobs once the property is occupied. She said depending on the project’s scope, the EDC envisioned three years of abatements ranging from 30 percent on $1 million of assessed improvements, up to 35 percent if improvements are valued closer to $1.8 million.
Ms Stocker recommended the selectmen reserve endorsing an exact abatement in favor of approving the incentive within the range proposed and fixing an exact amount once all improvements are completed.
While the proposed apartments would occupy the second floor of the building, because of the sloping topography of the development site, residential tenants would access their apartments directly from an elevated parking area at the rear of the facility.