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Garage, “Greener” 100 College Plan OK’d

by Allan Appel | Nov 21, 2012 8:34 am

(9) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development

Elkus/Manfredi Architects Pull the 11-story building back from the curb and wrap a continuous 15-foot wide sidewalk all around. Add walls of vines at the street level. Make the edges “friendly” for pedestrians with a café, stores, and a little plaza that spills down pedestal steps to the sidewalk.

Now lay on lots of translucent glass and metal grill work over the first two stories with narrow spandrels so people can see in and out. Inflect the façade on the east to “receive” you.

Those are some of the new ingredients that developer Carter Winstanley added to his new 100 College Street medical office building in a presentation before the City Plan Commission Tuesday night, changes that came in response to years of lobbying by critics of his project.

They were enough for the site plan review of the structure to sail to a unanimous vote of approval, although commissioners added a dozen conditions and pages of comments of city departments to be resolved over the coming months. They concern lighting, signage, design of underground tunnels (including creation of an emergency command center), and whether the railings all around the building be made of painted steel or anodized aluminum.

In a related unanimous vote by the commissioners, Winstanley also received permission to proceed with a 850-car garage that will serve 100 College and be built immediately to the west and beside the Air Rights Garage.

100 College is the debut building in the $140 million first phase of the city’s ambitious Downtown Crossing project, whose aim is to cover the Route 34 highway to buildings and sidewalks and plazas that link downtown with the medical district.

Winstanley already has a major tenant for his 417,000-square foot, 11-story building: Alexion Pharmaceuticals, which plans to bring 350 jobs there by moving its headquarters from Cheshire.

If all goes well, construction could begin in June 2013 and finish 24 months later, Winstanley said. The plan involves a complex choreography with Downtown Crossing’s infilling of Route 34, the creation of new roads that tunnel under the new structure and directly into its garage and Air Rights, along with other major infrastructure work.

Elkus/Manfredi Architects The changes to the building came about after Aug. 6, when the Board of Alderman approved a development and land disposition agreement that called on Winstanley to make the project more pedestrian-friendly and to add the 15-foot sidewalks.

Winstanley credited the subsequent changes to the charge he was given by the alders and in part to a peer review process of the initial designs conducted by the Boston-based Chan Krieger firm.

Winstanley said that for him the biggest and most difficult adjustment was eliminating the “plinth” or platform that he’d conceived the building sitting on as a zone of safety for its users. Now the sidewalk does that for users as well as pedestrians, commissioners agreed.

Over seven years and 70 plus meetings, the building and Downtown Crossing has had many critics, especially in the city’s bicycling community.

In particular they called termed the so called “urban boulevards” into which MLK Boulevard and South Frontage Road are to be transformed far too car-centric.

Only one critic was in evidence Tuesday night. Although she termed an 850-car garage “heartbreaking,” The Urban Design League’s President Anstress Farwell complimented Winstanley on the enormous progress of his design for 100 College. She also took some credit for it.

“It was a huge public effort to make that happen [the adoption of 15-foot sidewalks],” Farwell said after the meeting. She praised the Board of Aldermen for inserting that requirement into the development agreement.

Sidewalks Leading Where? A Building for the Birds?

Before passage of both items, commissioners peppered Winstanley, his engineer, Ted DeSantos; and his architect, David Manfredi, with questions.

“I admire that you’ve got a nice pedestrian opportunity. But who’s going to walk on the other three sides, apart from College?” asked commission Chair Ed Mattison. “If this is going to be meaningful you’ve got to make those two sidewalks paths go somewhere.”

“I have to agree with you, but someone’s got to do it first,” DeSantos replied.

Commissioner Roy Smith, Jr. said he foresees a “nightmare” at rush hour as cars from both the 100 College garage and Air Rights garage both exit onto route 34.

“I respectfully disagree,” said DeSantos. Just as each garage has a dedicated lane entering from Route 34 under the buildings, so there’s a dedicated lane leaving each garage, he said.

Finally Westville Alderman Adam Marchand, the commision’s aldermanic representative, asked about birds, specifically if coatings on the glass wouldn’t cause birds to fly en masse into 100 College.

“I’m very aware of the bird issue,” Carter Winstanley said. “It’s migrating birds. It’s an elevation issue. I’d suggest we’re not at a height for migrating birds to run into us.”

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posted by: Curious on November 21, 2012  10:21am

Wow, good thing Alderman Marchand is all over the bird issue.  What a relief!  It makes me feel so lucky to know that we have representation like that on this project.  That is true leadership and looking out for the community.

posted by: RevKev on November 21, 2012  10:41am

This entire thing could have been handled so much better. There was never any reason for there to be more than one “side” on this issue. I thought we were all after a better New Haven. Maybe one day we’ll learn to sit down and actually listen to each other before getting completely married to a position. Imagine how much more we could do if we actually used all the noted smarts we have in this city? Or maybe I’m just a dreamer.

On another note, it’s great having space for small cafes and stores but they won’t work unless we aren’t intentional about making it work. Most importantly, we have to make it easier for local folks to get into these spaces try things out. Cheaper rent to start and other kinds of financial help, marketing and administrative support, maybe even shared kitchens or other creative forms of collaboration. Project Storefronts had it’s issues but it did kinda feed into and launch a revitalization of the 9th Square. It’s getting kinda hot over there. And it’s happening all over town (Westville Village, Upper State, SoHu, Chatham Square to name a few.) We can make this work.

Or maybe I’m just a dreamer. (but I don’t think I’m the only one…)

posted by: anonymous on November 21, 2012  11:15am

The addition of more parking spaces in an area with so many environmental hazards is indeed a tragedy, but I suppose that this may be offset in 10 or 20 years when the Air Rights Garage is torn down.

Gratitude is due to Winstanley and Mike Piscitelli for putting the minimum-width sidewalks in, and also to the members of the Board of Aldermen who advocated for this. I was at many community meetings where City Hall said that sidewalks were not possible along Frontage/MLK because there aren’t nice sidewalks near the Air Rights Garage. Finally, Winstanley put in a four foot strip. It’s good that they finally came around and put in the minimum required standard.

Roy Smith is correct that the traffic situation will not be pleasant. Unfortunately, the Board of Aldermen’s Leadership, including their City Plan representative (who is right to ask questions about birds), recently voted down an opportunity to have the State and Federal government spend hundreds of millions of dollars improving our bus and transit system. The City simply can not grow without transit, and unfortunately, this project, if it even moves forward in the end, may represent the last major new economic development in New Haven for many years.

posted by: Charl on November 21, 2012  1:04pm

Is this currently where the empty lot is, where T.K.‘s (the buffalo wing eatery) used to be?

Do *not* trust these developers, and do *not* trust the administration to look out for the residents of New Haven. 

If you want a prime example of a large, expensive development project in downtown having major details bungled, take a drive down to the beautiful new Gateway C.C. campus on Church St.  The campus really is beautiful, and it has helped an aging, ugly downtown New Haven to show some signs of life.

But, take a left off Church Street onto Crown Street, and look at the traffic flow of the new Gateway parking garage.  The exit comes BEFORE the entrance, into a one-way Crown Street!  This means that vehicles can never enter and exit the parking garage at the same time. 

Have you witnessed the traffic at that intersection during the hours of 8am-9:30am and 4-6:30pm on weekdays?
How about the traffic on Route 34 downtown as is, without the new 100 College Street development?  It is horrible!

New Haven, for being the first planned city in the United States, has some of the absolute worst traffic patterns and traffic flow you could imagine.  The traffic lights are not set up to allow proper flow, causing unnecessary congestion, accidents, and air pollution from idling cars. 

A specific point I wish the New Haven Independent would investigate is the duration of yellow lights throughout the city of New Haven.  It appears that the length of time a yellow light appears on a traffic light is different throughout the city.  For example, the yellow lights on Whalley Avenue are short. The shortest yellow lights in New Haven are on Chapel Street, right near St. Raphael’s Hospital campus.  And guess where the NHPD is always set up, waiting to pull over vehicles which drive through the quick yellow lights? 

I began to investigate this topic, and I had a municipal attorney working for the city of New Haven courthouse admit to me that the duration of time of the yellow traffic lights are not standard throughout the city;  rather, some are shorter than others. 

The question this brings up is:  Why?  It certainly does not make the roads safer for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians if the yellow lights are not uniform….

posted by: Kevin on November 21, 2012  1:06pm

@RevKev

Agreed - one thing that would be helpful is for the city and the (constructive) critics of the project to sit down and identify the lessons learned from the process (I suspect Winstanley would also have some thoughts).

posted by: HewNaven on November 21, 2012  1:44pm

You’re not a dreamer, RevKev. You’re just a little ahead of most people. Consensus decision-making is the next great leap in technology for humanity. It is the tool that will allow us to ascend to the next level, and finally leave behind this paradigm of false dichotomies. Hopefully, there are more people like you who will lead us there by introducing new models of communication to this tired, old process.

posted by: abg22 on November 21, 2012  3:18pm

Strangely no mention here of the parking and traffic demand management committee that is part of the LDA and about which there was quite a bit of discussion at this CPC meeting. I guess you’ll have to read the Register story to learn about that. (Can the public see the full committee membership list? Agenda? Minutes?) Interestingly the color rendering in this story doesn’t show the garish corporate logo that will appear at the top of the building on the College Street side according to the signage plans, but not in any of the color renderings.

posted by: Stephen Harris on November 23, 2012  8:43am

Section 43(c)(5) requires a step-back for building at least 100’ tall. The rendering shows a building that must be at least 100’ tall given it’s eleven stories (twelve if you count the tip pity-top as a story).

Here’s the language of Section 43(c)(5):

“In the BD-3 District, if the average height of a principal building exceeds 100’ feet above average finished lot grade and if any portion of the principal building has frontage on College, Temple, Church, or Orange Streets, then one 15’ stepback of the upper levels of the building shall be required on the façade that fronts on such street, commencing no later than the point at which the height of the building is the same as the total of the width of the street that the building fronts on”.

The rendering shows what looks to be a step-back at the top of the building, but the step-back has to start at height that’s the same width of the street. In this case something like the middle of the building. Hum.

posted by: Kevin on November 23, 2012  10:42am

@charl

Actually, it makes sense that the length of a yellow light varies by location. For example, a longer yellow cycle is needed at an intersection where the speed limit is 45 mph than one where the limit is 30 mph (e.g., on Chapel Street). The length of the yellow cycle also needs to account for traffic volume.

You will be pleased to learn that the city plans to convert a number of one-way streets downtown (where the circulation pattern is idiotic) to two-way as part of the Route 34 project.

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