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Winstanley Vows To Keep “Listening”
by Thomas MacMillan | Aug 7, 2012 8:49 am
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, City Hall, Transportation
After dozens of public meetings and months of contentious debate, a $135 million plan to remove a highway and change the face of downtown New Haven got its final needed OK with nary a dissenting vote.
The proposal in question is known as Downtown Crossing. It’s a plan to fill in the Rt. 34 corridor with mixed-use development. After $35 million in road work paid for the by the city, state, and federal governments, developer Carter Winstanley will put up a $100 million high-tech office and laboratory building for biomedical companies.
On Monday night, the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to approve a zone change and a development agreement that will make the project possible.
The vote marks the end of a long and at times acrimonious process, in which bicycle and pedestrian advocates have blasted the city for what they say is a design that’s geared more toward cars than to bikes or people.
Supporters of the Downtown Crossing project say that the development will expand the city’s tax base and bring in hundreds of new jobs. They point to the fact that dozens of public meetings have been held, in which bike and pedestrian advocates have had a chance to register their complaints. The plans now include many suggested improvements first voiced at these meetings, according to city spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton.
Mayor John DeStefano held a celebratory press conference Tuesday morning after the vote. He was joined by U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, State Sen. Martin Looney, Gateway Community College President Dorsey Kendrick, and Winstanley.
They gathered with about 30 supporters and city officials on the top deck of the Air Rights parking garage, overlooking the future site of Winstanley’s building (pictured).
Thanks and congratulations were offered all around, with praise for the jobs that the project will bring in. Downtown Crossing will be a “strong driver for economic growth,” Looney said.
Monday night’s aldermanic approval came in two pieces. The first was a zone change for the area designed to allow the type of biomedical and high-tech business growth expected for the area.
The second piece was the approval of a deal among the city, the parking authority, and Winstanley to allow for the construction of a new 10-story building at 100 College St. The deal clears the way for the state to turn the land over to the city, which will in turn turn it over to Winstanley.
East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes (pictured), the chair of the board’s Legislation Committee, presented both items to her colleagues Monday night. She said the design includes features that will create “a real sense of place,” through retail, open space, and streetscaping.
Holmes also mentioned the 2,000 construction jobs to be created, along with 600 to 1,000 permanent jobs.
She said roadwork will begin in May of 2013. Winstanley later said he plans to have his building complete and his tenants moved in by the summer of 2015.
Holmes said there is still room for improvement in the plans, “especially in terms of sidewalk width.” East Shore Alderman Al Paolillo echoed that sentiment, while expressing support for the plan.
East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker (pictured), who led the charge last year to have more pedestrian- and bike-friendly features added to the plans, rose to support the approvals. “I believe the project should move forward,” he said, citing the jobs and taxes it is expected to create. “I believe it could be better.”
Holmes said she was referring to a “pinch point” in the plans, where structural needs have for now set the sidewalk width to just seven feet.
Winstanley said after the meeting that the building’s design plans are no more than 25 percent complete. He vowed to continue to try to incorporate wide sidewalks into the project.
“I’ve always kept my word,” he said.
“People seem to think I’m a hater of sidewalks,” he said. “That’s not the case.”
Plans have to proceed first from the structural needs of the project, he said. Sidewalks, bus stops, and planters come out of that process. Then you can work back into it if it doesn’t come out as you had hoped, he said.
Cyclists Withdraw Support
On Monday afternoon before the vote, local bike-advocacy group Elm City Cycling sent out a letter officially withdrawing its support for Downtown Crossing.
“Prior to this year, Elm City Cycling (ECC) was one of the most vocal supporters of the New Haven Downtown Crossing project. ... It ought to replace a highway and two high-speed roads with a pair of urban boulevards, which would enhance, and even transform our city,” the statement reads. “As the project moved forward, Downtown Crossing strayed from this bold vision and became instead a road widening project that repeats the mistakes of the past, and does little to benefit New Haven residents.”
The letter states that ECC feels that the city ignored its input at the numerous public meetings, designing a project that will “prioritize traffic flow over human safety and human mobility.”
“We cannot in good conscience continue to support this project as it is presently designed, and hereby withdraw our support of Downtown Crossing,” the letter concludes.
City spokeswoman Benton responded that “the streets are not ‘big and fast and dangerous by design’ [as the ECC statement charges], but are in fact consistent in size and character with other arterial streets, with additional Complete Streets elements such as bike lanes, traffic islands, raised intersections, and exclusive pedestrian walk phases. The speed limit will be 25 mph.”
Winstanley said Monday night that he hadn’t yet seen the ECC statement.
“We’ve had an enormous number of meetings,” he said. He said he’s committed to continue considering feedback. “Just because we got the vote doesn’t mean I stop listening.”
“I look forward to proving people wrong,” about the bike- and pedestrian-friendliness of the project, he said.
Post a Comment
I am excited about this and in full support. Glad this made it through. With that said as a downtown working I am interested in seeing the traffic redirection into the Chapel West area from the high way.
This plan is a boondoggle.
Yes development is good, but this project is mediocre at best, when it had the potential to be transformative.
The proposed roads are dangerous by design, just like the existing roads, which have killed several New Haven residents.
Instead of decreasing traffic in the neighbourhood through investments in pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure, this project will force more cars through a poor neighborhood, which already has a sky-high asthma rate.
The article is correct, in that this project prevailed. A powerful mayor and his administration prevailed in steamrolling the wishes and vision of countless community groups and residents to help a well-connected real estate developer.
When this opens, there need to be police ruthlessly enforcing the traffic laws around this area. Ruthlessly.
If people start off blowing through red lights and driving like maniacs, and no one does a damn thing, that will become the driving culture there for years.
“Supporters of the Downtown Crossing project say that the development will expand the city’s tax base and bring in hundreds of new jobs. They point to the fact that dozens of public meetings have been held, in which bike and pedestrian advocates have had a chance to register their complaints.”
In other words: since we let you complain, you have nothing to complain about.
posted by: Josh Levinson on August 7, 2012 10:58am
While I understand the concerns with the 5-lane traffic roads and other bike-unfriendly issues, I can’t help but believe this still has to be an improvement over a full highway that actually cuts downtown in half.
Certainly, there’s more work to be done, but this is an essential step in the right direction. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We can always add traffic-calming options later, or perhaps raised pedestrian walkways, but the implication that this entire project is worthless because of some significant flaws is misguided to me.
Continuing to allow a full expressway to cut downtown in half because there aren’t enough bike lanes seems like a short-sighted approach to the problem. There’s plenty of time to correct the mistakes and move forward, as long as people are willing to push hard to do the right thing.
“Instead of decreasing traffic in the neighborhood through investments in pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure, this project will force more cars through a poor neighborhood, which already has a sky-high asthma rate.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself, since this project is next to one of our most disenfranchised neighborhood, that will generally not have the means/organization to speak up for themselves, it’s easy to roll over them in the process.
Sky-high asthma rates in the Hill and Mayor D and his mouthpieces, Elizabeth Benton, et al. say, more cars are A-OK—we have to ensure that people are able to leave this city as soon as they possibly can after the clock-out!
posted by: streever on August 7, 2012 1:17pm
You are completely missing the complaint. Have you reviewed the designs and drawings? They do not reduce the overall road width—they do not lower the design speed (they increase it). It does not add any means for pedestrians to safely and easily cross the street.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor will this road be built in a day. It already exists, and the city is tearing it up to give a multi-millionaire a new building.
Is it so much to ask that the city start this off in the right direction at least? When you are giving public land to a wealthy person, it seems like you shouldn’t do much harm to the less wealthy.
Thank god we’re replacing one of the biggest disasters of urban renewal with a project design that is still essentially one giant circle jerk to suburban autos. Wait a minute, something seems wrong here….
Over 50 years ago, a group of well intentioned, bright people made the original mistake. Now we have a chance to fix it. Get it wrong, and it is a fair bet it will be 50 plus years before we get it right.
The Mayor said we locals are not experts, so our views do not count. He told the experts that they were not local, so their views don’t count. I guess that leaves tomorrow’s historians.
“the streets are not ‘big and fast and dangerous by design’, but are in fact consistent in size and character with other arterial streets”
Has Benton ever looked at where the dozens of traffic fatalities in our city have taken place? Virtually 100% of them took place on those “other arterial streets.”
Simply put, they are designed to result in higher speeds, at the direct cost of people’s lives - a tradeoff that may seem nice to a developer or an out-of-touch elected official, but one that nobody in our City who cares about other human beings should support.
The development of a new building and associated jobs are great. The problem is that it is being done in a way that will kill many people and divide the City for decades to come, when it could have been done in a way that is fair to our children, elderly, and neediest residents.
This project was conceived to cater to private interests and Yale New-Haven Hospital. Whether neighborhoods are reconnected or residents suffer from excess pollution or for that matter bicyclists suffer is of no significant consequence to the rich and powerful. Sure that those in power listen to what people say, but that doesn’t mean that those in power are obliged to cater.
Most people believe that just because there is open discourse, the path of a river will change by words alone. The public hearings were a vehicle to mollify the masses and make them feel empowered. The residents of the adjacent neighborhoods had no veto power over the proposed plan.
This is so sad. The life blood of New Haven are the workers at the hospitals and surrounding offices. Now these valuable commuters will be impeded by highway changes so that some nebulous supposed downtown development can occur. Who wants to live next to a bunch of of office buildings and hospitals, next to a major thoroughfare for cars? Is Downtown Crossing going to be some sort of urban hip location? Pharmaceutical office buildings are going to make it a must vist for the urban hipster cyclist crowd? Sure.
If anything they should have gone the other way- continue 34 so that New Haven would be better connected from Westville to downtown and movement would be easier- so people with valuable spending money could come in and out more easily.
What exactly is the point of impeding downtown workers when you haven’t increased the desirability of spending any time downtown and are just slowing down commute times? New Haven has dismal bus connections from the train, and has plenty of public parking, and if needed plenty of vacant lots for public parking.
posted by: streever on August 9, 2012 8:39am
you’ll be happy to know, then, that 25% of those workers live under 2 miles away! And another 25% live less than 4 miles away. All in all, 50% of the people who work in the corridor live either a 20 minute walk away or a 15 minute bike ride away.
If the city built this area to accommodate that use, traffic congestion would drop dramatically, and make it easier for your suburban or Westvillian commuter to drive here.
Streever is absolutely correct. In fact the only way to accommodate more traffic, more jobs, and more suburban commuters, is to design our city in a sustainable and thoughtful manner. On this metric, Downtown Crossing is an utter failure.
With all the tens of millions of dollars in expertise available to our planners, and to our delegation in Washington, it is very surprising that the City is allowing such a shortsighted plan. It shows an enormous lack of leadership in our government.
posted by: Elihu on August 10, 2012 1:41pm
I’m under the impression that Alexion’s commitment as lead tenant has been crucial to the advancement of this project. How, then, do Independent readers interpret the $51 million in State aid and tax incentives used to lure the pharmaceutical company from Cheshire to New Haven? An (in)direct subsidy to the developer? A good use of taxpayer money for job creation? If we were smarter about regional tax sharing - a pipe dream, I know - would Alexion’s move make any difference? (i.e., sounds like we’re juggling jobs within the region.) If Alexion’s move is being sold as an urbanistic triumph, I’d like to see incentives for new employees to walk/bike/ride to work. Good urban design counts as one of these.