Comcast Apartment Conversion Plan Advances

With a vote by lawmakers Thursday evening, developers moved a step closer to converting Wooster Square’s Comcast building into 200 luxury apartments.

The Board of Alders Legislation Committee voted to recommend a change of zoning for the building, to make it part of a BD-1 district. The matter now moves to the full board for a final vote.

The new zoning would allow for denser development and for mixed-use development, clearing the way for a company called Spinnaker Residential to replace the existing building with 200 apartments in two buildings with retail on the first floor. Spinnaker’s plan reflects a trend to more housing being built downtown and in Wooster Square, and, in this case, the underdeveloped stretch connecting downtown with Wooster Square.

Thursday evening’s vote came after approval from the City Plan Commission, where the proposal saw push-back from people concerned about “spot zoning.”

“Adding another new, mixed use space will bring even more vibrancy to the city and will be great news for the residents of New Haven,” city economic development chief Matthew Nemerson said in a written statement.

Others were not so sanguine.

“This area of the city is poised for a major zone change, but the BD-1 zone, a Central Business District zone, is not appropriate, even with the height of buildings limited to 70 feet, in this neighborhood area,” said New Haven Urban Design League head Anstress Farwell, in submitted testimony. “We have, from the first public discussion of this project in November 2013, advocated for the creation of a residential “transition zone”—one which would support a mid-scale, mixed-use residential area.”

“We also object to the plan to re-zone just one property at a time. This piecemeal approach does not support the public interest in establishing, through zoning, a stable environment.”

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posted by: Stephen Harris on June 13, 2014  6:27pm

Anstress is correct. A piecemeal approach to zoning reform is short-sited. Serving the interests of whatever project that’s on the front burner is a bad habit we need to break.

I would like to see the Harp administration spend some money on comprehensive zoning reform so we can shape development in an orderly, predictable manner that serves the interests of the City as a whole instead of the developer-of-the-day.

posted by: Bradley on June 14, 2014  6:29am

Anstress is an intelligent, thoughtful person who cares a great deal about the city.  But I think humility in setting urban design policy is a good idea.

I share many of Anstress’s design preferences. I enjoy living in a walkable neighborhood that mixes residential and commercial uses and where most of the buildings are small to mid-scale. But a very large number of people prefer living in single-family homes on large lots, even if this means they have to drive everywhere. Conversely, lots of people enjoy living at 360 State Street and its equivalents. Moreover, urban design is subject to changing preferences and fads. Like most New Haven residents, I think that urban renewal was a disaster for the city. But it was the conventional wisdom in academia and the planning profession at the time.

I’m a city planner by training and sympathize with Stephen’s desire for comprehensive planning. The zoning ordinance and map are seriously outdated, as is traditional Euclidean zoning. But the planning initiatives I have seen in the city have involved a very small, unrepresentative slice of the population. For example, the charettes on the redesign of the one-way street system, while informative and fun, involved a couple of dozen people. The vast majority of the participants were college-educated white folk; good people but hardly representative of the city as a whole. An earlier “visioning” exercise was held in Dwight, but drew few participants from it or other nearby neighborhoods. I suspect the lack of participation had something to do with jobs and family responsibilities.

posted by: wendy1 on June 14, 2014  9:21am

Please hurry up with this project.  I happily look forward to a lively neighborhood there and I cant wait to see the last of greedy Comcast.  This location is very close to the dog park, Elm City Coop, and all the other city goodies.  You dont even need a bike.

posted by: robn on June 15, 2014  12:25pm

I’d like to see zoning reform but done by a future administration; one not so intimately tied by $$$ to out of town developers and constructors.