Neighbors Give Yale Thumbs-Up On Land Deal

by Melissa Bailey | September 22, 2006 4:16 PM | | Comments (2)

Dixwell residents and Farmington Canal enthusiasts showed strong support for Yale’s latest development proposal: To give $10 million in community benefits in exchange for development rights to three dead-end New Haven streets. Yale’s yet-to-be-divulged expansion project will be either an educational facility or two residential colleges, officials said.

At a public hearing at Thursday’s aldermanic Finance Committee meeting, the majority of speakers — 18 of 22, by staff’s count — spoke in favor of the proposal. Others had reservations that closing off streets would thwart traffic flow and urban “connectivity.”

Under the plan, the city would give Yale three blocks of low-traffic dead-end streets at the base of Science Hill: Sachem Street from Winchester to the Canal Line; Mansfield Street south of Sachem; and Prospect Place, all areas surrounded abutted by Yale-owned land. In return, Yale would pay $10.25 million to upgrade city roads and sidewalks; speed up the construction of the Farmington Canal Greenway and improve Scantlebury Park in the Dixwell neighborhood. Click here for Yale’s description.

Members of the Dixwell Enterprise Community/Management Team lent warm support: They produced a petition of over 800 signatures in favor of revamping Scantlebury Park. DEC/MT Chair Roxanne Condon (pictured at left) praised Yale for its offer of help: Yale would pay $250,000 towards Scantlebury Park improvements, and a a section of Canal Street that borders the park would be closed and become part of the park.

Gerald Clark of the Greater New Haven Business and Professional Association praised the proposal. “It’s an improvement that’s a long time coming.” Bicycling enthusiasts and members of the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association welcomed Yale’s proposal to finish the greenway from the campus to the Audubon Arts District, as well as cover the city’s contribution to fix two bridges at Prospect and Temple Streets along the canal.

Responding to those who had worried Yale’s street takeover would bar pedestrians from using the convenient cut-through from the Canal Line to Sachem Street, Yale pledged to install a public walkway with a bike lane.

A handful of speakers opposed the plan, including Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League. “The league does not support the proposed Development Agreement because it will remove important public streets from community use, and because the land offers no mitigation for the traffic congestion, inconvenience, social isolation, and reduced public safety that closing the streets will entail,” said Farwell, according to a prepared copy of her testimony.

Farwell joined others in praising “creating dense urban fabric.” But she questioned if the street closures would cut circulation to the area. When Yale comes forward with a specific construction proposal, it’ll have to submit a traffic study specific to the proposal.

To those nervous about agreeing to give over public streets without knowing exactly what the university will build there, Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs Assistant Vice President Michael Morand said development agreements prohibit the university from using the parcel for a parking lot or storage. And the public will have further chance to examine the project as the plans solidify: “Anything we do will come back to public review.”

The proposal got a favorable recommendation from the finance committee and will now pass to the full Board of Aldermen, to be voted on on Oct. 16.

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Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | September 23, 2006 1:17 PM

The great speculation on the Yale Campus is that the area will be used, eventually, for two new Residential Colleges, which would greatly increase the "urban density" that the Urban Design League is talking about.

This is one big step in what appears to be Yale's plan to wrap the campus around the back of the Elm Street Cemetery; other parts of this plan appear to be the new Yale police station and the planned move of the Yale Health Center. Personally, I find the plan a little risky, as they are asking the undergrads to frequent an area that is now a little risky and deserted, but if the plan really brings the area to life then the city and the neighbors should be very happy.

I wonder if Anstress Farrell has ever visited the little bits of streets in question: labeling these as "important streets" reads like a joke. My suggestion is that folks directly visit the area, or take a look at the currently horrible traffic flow through these dead-ends and near dead-ends, or see the local zoom-in on google maps.

Posted by: RobN | September 25, 2006 1:37 PM

A map of the areas in question would probably serve readers better than photos of the finance comittee.

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