At its grand opening, the Q House’s visitors might take up 260 parking spots — the same on-street parking that Dixwell United Church of Christ’s congregation was eyeing for its upcoming bicentennial.
The potential jam was addressed last week at a meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals, where the city sought a special exception to drastically reduce the amount of parking it needs to provide at the Q House, the Dixwell community center about to be rebuilt.
After talking through the issue, a city official and a reverend both agreed to work together on a parking plan.
Members of the zoning board encouraged the cooperation, but they added that the the question falls outside their review process. They said they didn’t want to be involved in the specifics or hold up the project because a parking deal couldn’t be hammered out.
An official vote on the special exception won’t take place until next month’s meeting, after the City Plan Commission also looks over the request.
The new Q House is planned to be a one-stop shop for the Dixwell neighborhood, featuring a full gym, a senior center, a recording studio, a new home for the Stetson Library branch, and a new location for Cornell-Scott Hill Health Center, all within the 53,130-square-foot rebuild.
To accommodate all those functions that could draw young and old to the Q House, the zoning ordinance requires 313 parking spots. But the city is seeking a reduction down to 51 spots.
Nate Hougrand, a planner who evaluated the project, recommended approving the special exception. He pointed out that there’s plenty of lots nearby that could be used for overflow parking, including at Wexler-Grant School and behind Dixwell Plaza.
Michael Pinto, the deputy traffic and parking director, also predicted that many would arrive at the Q House without a car. The site is right on the 212 bus line, “one of the most reliable and well used” in the city, Pinto wrote in an advisory report. There’s also a newly installed bike-sharing rack nearby.
But Rev. Frederick J. Streets, the pastor at Dixwell Avenue Congregational United Church of Christ, asked what would happen when both community institutions threw blow-out events, including his church’s 200-year anniversary and the Q House’s grand opening.
“We have concerns about satisfying our collective need and use of parking spaces once the Q House begins operations. We cannot anticipate all probable future situations that could create parking space conflicts,” Streets wrote in a letter. “We respectfully request that a formal memorandum of agreement between the City of New Haven and Dixwell Church, defining a process for resolving these issues, be contingent upon the BZA decision” for this special exception.
When Anne Stone, a new board member, asked the reverend to clarify exactly what he wants, he responded, “Something in writing.”
When parking’s tight, “everyone is going to have a different memory of who was supposed to use what, when and where,” he said. “We’ve had these things come up in the past and worked them out. It was not an acrimonious experience, but we just know that with the scale of this project, ti will be very easy to get lost in the whole process.”
Tom Talbot, the deputy zoning director, shook his head, warning against making a side deal a condition of approval. He suggested that the board could issue a non-binding statement in support of an agreement without putting the project at risk.
Stone agreed, communicating that to the reverend.
“We as a board can’t regulate that, because it’s a private issue,” she said. “But certainly, it really would be nice if you have some kind of memorandum resolving issues of parking if they come up in the future.”
Giovanni Zinn, the city engineer, said he’d met with the church and would continue to sit down with them to work out a deal.