Hartford Halts Housing Project For Culinary Institute
By JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writer
August 23, 2008
The city has stopped work on a project to turn several Asylum Hill apartment buildings into housing for up to 160 students at the Connecticut Culinary Institute by this fall, saying the developer failed to inform city officials about the plans.
Although developer David Nyberg obtained some permits and even permission to occupy some of the buildings, the city issued his company at least 13 cease-and-desist orders earlier this month and revoked the occupancy permits.
The city says Nyberg created dormitories without the proper approval, gutted buildings when only minimal work was permitted, failed to get historic permits, and created parking lots, demolished structures, and did exterior work without city authorization.
Nyberg's company is appealing each of the cease-and-desist orders. He and his attorneys say that the city's concerns are "only aesthetic and historic," that safety is not an issue, and that the city's orders were full of inaccuracies. His attorney says although the buildings may house students, they will not house more people than regulations allow.
Meanwhile, Nyberg — the downtown developer who built at least four city housing projects on behalf of investors in Philadelphia — isn't working on the project anymore as others work to resolve the dispute with the city.
"David Nyberg's non-involvement in the project was a collective decision of the ownership ... to avoid any potential personality conflicts or other impediments to progress," said Christopher McKeon, the project's attorney. Nyberg was part of the decision, McKeon said.
For students at the culinary institute, those who were expecting their own rooms in the main Hartford building are going to have to double up. The institute says it has had to relocate 11 students already.
"We've been put in a position of moving all of those students who had been living in those buildings, out," said institute spokeswoman Brooke Baran. "We're just in the process of trying to come to terms with the reality of the situation. We've only known for a week and a half that there was even an issue."
Nyberg made his mark in the city downtown, a man with a reputation for building without using public money. He turned the old SNET building on Bushnell Park into apartment units called 55 on the Park; he turned the old HELCO building into condominiums called The Metropolitan; he's working to turn the old American Airlines building at 901 Main St. into apartments.
That last project ran into problems with the city, too, when Nyberg did exterior work that wasn't what the city expected and leased more units than he had permission to. He acknowledged in an interview that the problem was he wasn't paying close enough attention as his construction and leasing teams failed to communicate.
Last year, he reached beyond downtown's borders and spent more than $11 million to buy roughly a dozen apartment buildings with 250 units in Asylum Hill. He has said he wanted to spend roughly the same amount to rehabilitate and upgrade those apartments.
After upgrading them, the plan was to rent them out again. But Nyberg took a good deal of criticism from residents and community activists who said he was kicking tenants out, not giving tenants good information, and was trying to gentrify the neighborhood.
Now his problems aren't with residents, but with the city. And his problems with the city have caused a headache for the culinary institute.
The school was hoping to put students in several of Nyberg's buildings. "It was a really nice option to be giving people and youngsters sort of like options," Baran said.
City planning director Roger O'Brien said this week that he has met with the developer's architect, and that the architect is putting together the necessary paperwork to get things moving again on Imlay and Hawthorn streets.
"In concept, the use of the properties for dormitories for the Connecticut Culinary Institute is something that we could all support, if done in a correct manner," O'Brien said. "But if you don't know it's going to be used as a dormitory, then the same level of review that normally would be put on a dormitory is not put on it."
But knocking down buildings, changing historical features outside, and bypassing the permit and approval process is not the way to go, he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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