Albertus Parking Plan Halted

by Melissa Bailey | September 20, 2007 4:18 PM | | Comments (5)

IMG_9848.JPGSelf-described “timber man” William Sledge (pictured) stood up before the City Plan Commission with a squadron of Prospect Street neighbors, arguing that beautiful trees at Albertus Magnus College should not be destroyed in the name of ill-designed parking lots. Heeding neighbors’ words, commissioners asked the college to come back with plans that were “less obnoxious to the community.”

After an over-two-hour public hearing before the City Plan Commission Wednesday night, commissioners denied without prejudice a proposal from Albertus Magnus to expand parking lots at three sites along Prospect Street. Plans drew heat from over 30 neighbors who showed up to defend the historic character of the neighborhood, where some of the priciest houses in the city are perched atop a leafy hill.

The Catholic college has shared that hill with residents since 1925. Longtime neighbors described how the parking plan — particularly the unexpected slaying of several trees — has fissured years of good relationships with the college. When neighbors returned home to find that grand trees, one as old as 240 years, had been hacked down, college officials replied the trees were removed because they were “sick.”

Neighbors like Sledge, a Yale psychiatrist and Master of Yale’s Calhoun College who has lived on nearby Prospect Street for 13 years, balked at that explanation.

“I’m a timber man,” Sledge told the commission in a deep Southern drawl. “I own land in Alabama, and I know a sick tree when I see one. There have been no sick trees.”

Lawrence Shanbrom, who’s lived next to Albertus for 23 years, said he had good relations with the college until his wife came home one day to find unexpected changes across the street. He passed out pictures comparing the view from his house before and after a series of trees were chopped down. “While I recognize [the college] had no legal obligation to notify me,” he said, the loss of trees will sink the value of his home, which is worth almost $1 million, according to the most recent city assessment. He and other neighbors charged Albertus Magnus had failed to heed or even respond to their input over the plans.

At the commission’s prompting, Chris A. DeAngelis of Civil Design Associates testified that at least 14 trees would be felled to make way for the parking plans at the three sites — 300 East Rock Rd. (expanded from 10 to 18 spaces), 765 Prospect St. (from three to 19 spaces), and 810 Prospect St. (from eight to 22 spaces).

IMG_9839.JPGMost disturbing to some neighbors was the plan for the latter, where neighbors said the nice lawn would be “obliterated” by the expansion of the parking lot in front of Sansbury Hall (pictured). A litany of speakers from the New Haven Preservation Trust, Urban Design League, and East Rock and St. Ronan-area neighborhood groups railed against the project for its wide curb cuts and insufficient buffering.

Attorney Marjory Shansky, representing a client on Ogden Street, argued a proposed driveway would prove dangerous because there is an insufficient line of sight for cars whizzing by, or students pulling out. She argued the tree removal “threatens the integrity” of an area in the National Register of Historic Places. Others noted there is ample street parking available on Prospect Street.

Attorney Bernard Pellegrino, representing Albertus Magnus, said he regretted neighbors’ concerns, but “this is an institution,” not a residence, and “parking happens to be an issue.” He declined a request by the City Plan Commission to use pervious bituminous paving, saying the technology was too new.

After emotional testimony, and some clarifications, the commission mulled the report.

“Poor Designs”

The City Plan team heeded neighbors’ words and slammed the college’s proposal.

“Quite frankly, the design for the parking lot, all of them, are just poor designs,” said City Engineer Dick Miller, a non-voting member who sits on the commission. “It’s consuming more land than they have to. I think the entrances can be narrowed. The neighborhood is precisely correct on that.”

Saying he was “personally struck” by the photos of fallen trees, Miller urged the college to redraft the plan “so that it is not so obnoxious to the community.”

Commissioner Roland Lemar spoke out against the “insufficient buffering.”

Chair Pat King said she was “distressed to me to hear of the sort of deterioration between the relationship,” and concerned about the curb cuts, tree loss and buffers.

Rattling off a litany of outstanding concerns, including the line of sight on Ogden Street and the inappropriately wide curb cuts, Miller suggested Albertus Magnus work with City Plan to find a more acceptable plan.

The proposal was unanimously denied without prejudice. “Yes! Yes!” came whispers of victory from the Prospect Street and preservationist crowd.

Jeanne Mann, Albertus’ vice president of finance, declined an interview as her team departed City Hall. Attorney Pellegrino, responding to the charge that the college had refused to cooperate with neighbors, said only: “I hope the wounds that have been caused will be repaired.”

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Posted by: pdh | September 20, 2007 4:35 PM

"whispers of victory from the Prospect Street and preservationist crowd"

Why does the Independent have to be so snide?

If it were not for such "crowds" this city would be even more of a cesspool than it is now!

Posted by: king james v | September 20, 2007 9:12 PM

Why don't we (city of new haven) get one of those fancy book lernin' fellas from the yale school of forestry to come by, examine the stup of the the "sick" tree, and see if it really was sick. if it turns out it wasn't, we all need to embarrass Albertus into a big fat apology, and a written promise to never cut down a tree without going through a lot of hassel.
Remember when the "tornado" came through and wiped out all of those trees? it undid hundreads of years of natural beauty, albertus should appreciate what it's got left. They should also be greatful they've only got one side of the property on winchester avenue.
and by the way albertus, the memory of your past leader skipping town with the the loot is still fresh in many of our minds', you should try to keep a postiive public image.

Posted by: Moore | September 21, 2007 1:54 PM

I agree with King James V, though I wouldn't be surprised if not all sicknesses could be identified this way, so Albertus could just say it was one of those if they don't find anything. My guess is Dr. Sledge is right and they were full of s---. Good for him and the others for preventing more damage to be done!

Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | September 21, 2007 3:10 PM

This is a victory for common sense. Albertus can in fact design its parking lots so as to limit the effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Cutting those trees down was legal, but also a quite intentional poke-in-the-eye aimed at the neighbors, and now Albertus is paying the political price. They might want to ask themselves whether they want to follow the path of Yale U. (good PR & usually friendly relations with neighbors) or Yale-New-Haven Hospital (bad PR & openly hostile relations with neighbors.) When Yale U. wants to expand into Dixwell, they get quick approval. When YNH wants to expand into the Hill, they get endless grief and delays.

Albertus has pointed itself in the direction of endless grief. Maybe they want to find a new heading?

Posted by: elmcityguy | September 21, 2007 4:35 PM

Someone has to see the humor in a Yale professor complaining about a parking lot ruining a neighborhood, no?

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