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Salina Defends Plan For Housing At KGS Site

Three developers have already walked away from the dilapidated school building, but a new one is ready to work with residents.

 

With about a a former school on Alling Street into apartments, a large crowd is expected at tonight's public hearing on the plan.

The hearing is set for 7 p.m. in the Town Council chambers.

Representatives of the developer, Metro Realty, met this past Sunday with parishioners after each mass at . The Roman Catholic church sits across the street from the former Kensington Grammar School and its pastor and parishioners have expressed concerns about the proposal to turn the school into an apartment complex. 

On Sunday the Rev. Robert Schlageter, pastor of St. Paul's, devoted his sermons to talking about the proposal and urged parishioners to get involved by attending the zoning hearing. The church is concerned about the project's impact on traffic on Alling Street, and its impact on the church's parking.

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While church officials and parishioners have used the former school site for years for parking, St. Paul's turned down an offer from the town several years ago to take the site for $1.

Mayor defended the latest development plan for the school site, which would include 32-units for affordable senior housing and 34 units at fare market value, saying it would be a boon for the town because it would replace an eyesore.

"It's a good project for the town," Salina said. "I'm a little disappointed because people are looking at the small picture and not the big picture. This property has changed hands three or four times and each time the developer walked away because the KGS building is in such bad shape. It is simply too hard to just restore the one building.

"You're looking at a developer who has done really good work in town and has worked closely with the church and the town to try to be as helpful as possible. The church has used the parking lot there forever but it is private property. If the owner wanted to put up a fence at any time that would be their right. What we are looking at is a blighted building where a disaster could happen at any time and doesn't have much more of a life as a building. I'm disappointed because there is a need for senior housing and this will give them ability to walk to church and to downtown. It will also fit in with our downtown development where people are within walking distance to the train station and the police department. It's an important step."

Schlageter, however, reiterated his concerns about the proposal.

"Like any neighbor of any development project, I immediately became concerned about parking, traffic congestion and I was, and still am, very concerned about how the increased traffic would affect the safety of our 1,400 school and Religious Ed children who move in and out of St. Paul School each week," he said. "I am also concerned about how this will affect our neighbors and their property values. I have consulted with the Pastoral Council and the Parking Committee. I have had several meetings with Attorney Dennis Kern, who has been a big help to us. We even had the developers over to the Friary for a meeting around the dining room table with the Parking Committee. I have to admit that it was a good meeting and I learned a lot about the project."

Salina said that critics should know the entire history of the project.

Kensington Grammar School was an elementary school before it closed. It was then the site of the community center before it was boarded up for good about 15 years ago.

According to Town Council minutes, twice since then, the town attempted to basically give the property to St. Paul Church to do with as it saw fit. At one time it was offered for $1 to the church but St. Paul declined. At another time it was offered at $10,000 but again the church declined.

In the meantime, several developers came in and thought they could save the building and make age-restricted housing there. Each one of them walked away and sold the property because any renovation of it was cost prohibitive.

"I hear and read some comments and I understand that if you want to stir things up all you have to do in this town is make some changes," Salina said. "Not everyone is going to be happy but these developers have worked hard to hear everybody. Some people have asked about installing fencing and the developers are receptive to putting up decorative fencing. They have done good projects in town and they will do everything possible to work with the church and residents. People have talked about parking and traffic and all of that is being dealt with by the developer and the town but it's up to the Planning and Zoning to see if this goes forward. Do I think it's a good project? Yes, I think it's a good project."

The town needs this kind of housing, he added.

"We can always use senior housing in town," Salina said. "To have age-restricted housing across the street from the church seems like a perfect marriage. I don't think anyone doubts that. The other apartments could be used by people who can't afford to buy a house but want to move to or stay in Berlin. Look at a college graduate who can't afford a down payment on a house yet but wants to stay in Berlin; this would be a great option.

"If someone wants to talk about their property values going down, ask them how brand new housing is worse for property values than a blighted building in their neighborhood? That's what KGS is right now. It is an eyesore."

Schlageter said the church as been working on finding additional parking since learning about the KGS proposal months ago.

"When we learned about the possibility of this project last fall, we immediately began working to find other places to park. For a while, we have been in conversation with some of our neighbors about buying their property to expand our parking lot. As I said in the Annual Report, this will not be cheap. We are in the final stages of negotiating with one family whose back yard will yield 50 spaces. It will also give us the possibility of another exit to Grove Hill Street. The Parking Committee also likes the idea of angled parking on Grove Hill Street near our School.

"These two projects will certainly replace some of the spaces we may lose from Kensington Grammar School, should the development go through. The mayor told me and some Archdiocesan officials that he had checked with the planning people and that this would be approved by the town. We are very grateful for his help in this matter."

Cynthia Kobus May 10, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Is this a good option for young people at 1500 dollars a month??? There are houses cheap enough, for sale in the same neighborhood.. with yards... that would cost less than 1500 hundred dollars a month. They will never fill that housing at that price. There are no yards, no amenities, and extremely limited parking (less than 2 spaces per unit) for people to even be interested at that price. And we leave out the fact that town owned open space is being used to calculate the "open space" requirements of this development. What precedent does that set for future developers legally? Obviously there are fundamental differences as to what is good for this town. Would any of you deem acceptable a 36 foot (43 at the roof peak) structure 12.5 feet from your property line? is that acceptable? Is it good for the town to disregard the needs of immediate neighbors? They moved into their houses knowing something would be done to their property eventually. But a 9 structure development? I don't think that would even be a worst case scenario in most peoples minds....
Melissa Ming May 10, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Am I understanding that a selling point to this horrible proposal is that is within walking distance to the train station and local stores?? What is there to walk to? I mean I love Dairy Queen and all but come on!! You are trying to attract people who want to live near the train station? Please drive to downtown Meriden. The whole area is a blight with nothing but drugs, crime and abandon buildings. I moved out of Meriden 15 years ago and it gets worse each year. I find it hard to believe we need more apartments. The ones down the street aren't moving and that is "waterfront" property, then add the ones on Deming. I hope someone has a plan to expand the schools, hire more teachers, police officers and assessors to reassess all of our properties.
Amy Kurnik May 10, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Really the church's fault? That is incredible - this is about what is right and what is wrong. Renovate the old KGS building - LOVE IT! but build 8 THREE STORY Affordable($1,500 an month BTW Not so affordable) RENTAL UNITS - NO WAY... It is a joke. No consideration for the the neighborhood, traffic, safety! Zoning is in place for a reason to keep the integrity of the neighborhood. UGH!
Robert Mayer May 10, 2012 at 06:41 PM
For the record, Salina is not blaming the church for not buying the property. It is part of the public record and important to the story to understand the history of the property.
Rita H. Beaulieu May 11, 2012 at 01:10 PM
When was this property offered at $1.00? I have been a parishioner of St. Paul for over 70 years, active in many of the parish committees and never heard of this so called offer. Abestoes removal was always a concern as to cost and disposal whenever this property was discussed. Rita H. Beaulieu

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