Zoning Overhaul Hearings Postponed; Criticism Aired

Thomas Breen photo Two hearings scheduled for a plan to dramatically change how New Haven makes major zoning decisions have been postponed, and the proposal ran into some initial public criticism Tuesday night.

The Legislation Committee’s proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance governing “Community Impacts” came under sharp criticism from members of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSMT) on Tuesday night during their monthly meeting at City Hall.

The plan would create a new “high impact” category of zoning approval that would require Yale University to go through a new layer of review — and detail a wide-ranging list of “community impacts” — before it builds anything in New Haven. (Read a previous full article about the proposal, and arguments for and against it, by clicking here.)

The Board of Alders’ Legislation Committee, which drew up the proposal, planned to hold a hearing on it Thursday night. Committee Chair Jessica Holmes said it needs to be rescheduled to provide more public notice. The City Plan Commission is also expected to table a public hearing on it planned for Wednesday night for the same reason.

Meanwhile, the idea was discussed informally Tuesday night at the monthly meeting of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSMT) on Tuesday night held at City Hall. Initial reaction was critical.

Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League and at-large member of the DWSCMT executive board, distributed a two-page memo to those present in which she clearly described her opposition to the alders’ proposed zoning changes.

The changes, which would apply to Section 63.D(6) of the city’s zoning laws, would create a new category of “High-Impact Special Exceptions” that would require public and private colleges and universities to complete a special application every time they wanted to make property-related acquisitions or development. The changes would also allow the Board of Alders an advisory role which would change the current rules on votes needed to pass an item at the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).

“This proposal has come up very last minute, and it is being inappropriately rushed to the City Plan Commission and the BOA,” she wrote in the memo. “With so little notice, and no meeting with the alder [Aaron Greenberg], this is not an item which [the DWSCMT] could move on one way or another, other than to say it is premature and extraordinarily and inappropriately rushed.”

Her primary concerns with the text amendments were not with their general impulse, which was to clarify and distinguish between procedural requirements faced by smaller and larger developers in town. Rather, her disapproval of the proposed changes to the zoning law focused primarily on the sloppiness of their composition, and the hurry with which the alders were seeking to get the changes approved.

“These changes need more consideration,” Farwell said, recounting her recent conversation with Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg. “These changes are uneven in their application. If you’re going to say that universities and colleges need to be subject to the new law, but not other large developers, it’s terribly uneven. It would exclude hospitals, large residential and commercial developers, and other large new business development in New Haven. There wasn’t any rationale for why you would discriminate in that way.”

She also expressed concern that convenience stores and other small businesses that would be subject to this law would simply not have enough time to read and understand its requirements between when the language was first introduced last Thursday and when the alders were seeking its approval later this week.

“This impacts more than the university,” agreed Karen King, community affairs associate in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs. “If people want to put a small business in a residential zone, they would be subject to these rules.”

Farwell said that she had recommended to Alder Greenberg that he and his colleagues review the website of the city of Cambrdige, Massachusetts for guidance on how best to distinguish between zoning requirements for small changes, big changes, small developers, and big developers.

“I think there are a lot of good models out there that would guide the Board of Alders on how to make this process work well,” she said. “And that it would be best to just withdraw this.”

Alder Holmes and fellow committee member Jeanette Morrison said in previous interviews that the proposal grew out of widespread concerns from constituents about being left out of plans to redevelop the city. The alders said the changes would spell out what community benefits come from university building in town and make the process more democratic without delaying or hindering development.

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posted by: budman on May 17, 2017  8:48am

Let’s call this for exactly what it is, the Union Alders trying to extort Yale University.  These people need to be voted out!  “Alder”, and I use that term loosely, Adam Marchand is one of the drafters?  And this supposedly grew out of concerns from constituents?  Bull!  I never raised this point to Adam, and I know of no one who did either.

posted by: Westville voter on May 17, 2017  11:10am

A union leader (Greenberg) and a union employee (Marchand) draft a proposal to allow the union-run BOA to shakedown Yale in a new way. This is what corruption looks like. The only constituents these UNITE alders serve are their union bosses, not the tax-paying public, whom they consistently ignore and abuse. This really does merit a criminal investigation.

posted by: Renewhavener on May 17, 2017  12:07pm

Drafted by Greenberg and Marchand, fronted by Holmes, not submitted in time for CPC’s agenda cut off, which incidentally is the day after the prior month’s meeting.  No political motivation here.

Am I the only one who wishes the BOA would just stop scheming on ways to get leverage on Yale and go learn how to value a relationship?  Twenty-years of progressively increasing coordination on shared priorities and historically high water mark for relations between town and gown, all flushed away since 2014…

posted by: LoveNH on May 17, 2017  4:38pm

The thing about special interest groups is that they usually don’t like to be called out as such, instead preferring to write a narrative of universal right. Thus is Unite here - a special interest group that mascarades as a universal pro-new-haven group. The irony is that it SHOULD be pro new haven and pro Yale. Why they carry on with their mascarade with needlessly adversarial self defeatism is beyond me.

posted by: Stephen Harris on May 17, 2017  5:25pm

Where is the City Attorney in all this?

“Section 61 (b) The Board of Zoning Appeals hears and decides cases in which it is claimed either that some ruling of the Zoning Enforcement Officer was in error, or that special circumstances require a variance from the strict terms of the ordinance, or that certain privileges are justified as special exceptions.”

I’ve looked at the zoning regulations, special act, state law, and the charter and I can’t find where the Board of Aldermen can waive the zoning regulations.

If I’m mistaken, please show me where such authority is found.

posted by: southwest on May 17, 2017  8:42pm

This BOA has been in power to long..they all need to be voted out,because it’s only about them now trying to extort cash from Yale not about their constituents at all..this is why people get disinchanted with Unions they start out with good intentions and once they gain to much power this is where problems being..Hate to say it but Yale need to out source all the Alders that work for Yale and then we would see what they will do..it’s obviously the Alders is attempting to extort more money from Yale at the expense of New Haven Taxpayers….well peeps election is coming up so you no what you got to do..some of these Alders isn’t qualified..like #45 isn’t qualified to lead this country..half of them don’t show up to meetings and don’t return constituents calls plus most are clueless about important issues regarding the city..they just like the title Alders because it sounds good..please residents of New Haven stop voting some of theses incompetents into office..

posted by: BevHills730 on May 17, 2017  11:15pm

When Yale had more control over the BOA and the mayor, the city was on a path of gentrification and it was reeling from a horribly high murder and shooting rate.  This was the high water mark that other commenters are referencing.  Comparing 2011 and 2016 the homicide rate is down 61.8% and the shots fired is down 62.4%  There is a long ways to go but this significant progress should be lauded. 

I didn’t see Yale taking great steps to prevent this violence.  Its cooperation with the city failed spectacularly on this count.  The current group of alders have brought forward the priorities of constituents and neighbors that that were simply ignored previously. 

This of course, inspired conservative sentiment that was crystallized in movements like “Take Back New Haven.”  Perhaps the next iteration of this movement will be “Make New Haven Great Again.” 

I don’t know what will become of this zoning legislation.  But I’m glad the conversation has been started and I’m happy that critical voices such as Farwell’s have been raised.