When the city presented a new “vision” for the “Hill-to-Downtown” area—complete with parks and plazas and a reimagined street grid—one landowner raised an objection: Your hypothetical new road runs right through my real property.
That objection came during a public hearing in front of the City Plan Commission last week.
The topic at hand: a proposed amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan, articulating a vision for the future of the area of town between the train station, the medical district, the Hill neighborhood, and the downtown. Click here to read the Hill-to-Downtown plan.
Part of that vision calls for re-engineering and extending Lafayette Street all the way from College Street to Union Avenue.
Hold it, said developer Clifford Winkle, who owns several properties in the area, thanks to a land deal with the city dating from 1996. The new Lafayette Street would run right through four of those properties, Winkle’s lawyer said. If the amendment is approved, Winkle will never be able to develop the land there. The threat of a new street being built would disrupt any plans.
Winkle and his lawyer, Marc Wallman, asked the commission to delay approval of the comprehensive plan amendment, to give them time to work out a solution with the city.
The amendment is just an “aspirational” list of ideas, countered Livable City Initiative head Erik Johnson. It includes all kinds of notions that would require land deals the city hasn’t even begun to contemplate, he said. It’s not meant as a blueprint, but as a guide, a wish list.
The commission sided with Johnson, and voted to approve the comprehensive plan amendment. The matter now moves to the Board of Alders for final approval.
Wednesday evening’s debate brought a number of city planning questions to light: Where do you draw the line between envisioning the New Haven of the future and mandating its creation? Can a vision for future development inhibit current development? And: What’s the difference between a development “vision” and a “taking”?
The city’s comprehensive plan lays out the New Haven’s intentions for future development. Zoners are supposed to refer to the document when making decisions about new construction or changes to the city’s infrastructure and buildings, to ensure that changes are in line with the city’s desires for growth. Rather than a granular set of building requirements, it is a general description of the kind of New Haven the city wants to become.
The city’s current comprehensive plan was drafted a decade ago. Planners are currently working on an updated plan to be completed by 2015. In the meantime, the Hill-to-Downtown amendment is designed to update the current plan.
Livable City Initiative head Johnson (pictured) presented the proposed Hill-to-Downtown comprehensive plan amendment to the City Plan Commission at the Wednesday night meeting. He told commissioners that the proposal is the culmination of a year of work, including both market research and community input. A total of seven community meetings were held, plus a trip to Philadelphia, in which Johnson gave the Independent a sneak peek at the plan.
The full Hill-toDowntown plan is 98 pages long. Johnson provided commissioners with a colorful 12-page summary.
The overall goal of the amendments is to “re-knit” the various neighborhoods surrounding the Hill-to-Downtown area. Johnson highlighted six “key initiatives” of the plan:
• Make Church Street the “Main Street” of a new “walkable, mixed-use district.”
• “Invest in Existing Neighborhoods.” The plan calls for investment in and around Trowbridge Square, including finding a new use for the vacant Sacred Heart Church “campus” on Columbus Avenue.
• Connect Union Station directly to Church Street with a new “pedestrian/vehicular” corridor.
• Redevelop the Church Street South housing project as a “mixed-income residential community” including “retail, restaurants, and a new destination open space at the doorstep of downtown.”
• “Build a new Lafayette Street” to increase access and improve “traffic demand management” while “opening up significant development opportunities on key parcels of land along Rt. 34.” The new Lafayette Street would connect with the extensions to Temple and Orange streets envisioned as part of Downtown Crossing.
• Turn Union Avenue into a “complete street” that balances the presence of cars, bikes, and people.
Full development of the district would create thousands of jobs and more than $23 million in new annual tax revenue, the summary states. It would mean up to 2.7 million new square feet of housing, 1.5 million in parking square feet, 150,000 in retail, 450,000 in offices, and 2.2 million in medical uses.
“Vision” vs. “Taking”
Westville Alder Adam Marchand, who sits on the commission, asked about a letter the board had received, from a lawyer questioning the district plan. Are we likely to face a lawsuit if the city approves the plan? he asked.
“The plan is an aspirational plan,” Johnson said. At some point, the city will face “tactical implementation” of the plan, and can deal with legal issues then, he said.
Any development would require extensive public processes, said Karyn Gilvarg, head of the City Plan Department.
The plan doesn’t create the basis for a lawsuit since “the issue is not ripe,” said Commissioner Roy Smith, a law clerk.
“I am the writer of the letter,” said attorney Wallman (pictured), who sat to testify along with client Winkle.
Wallman said Winkle’s company, AMA Connecticut Development Corporation, owns four parcels affected by the plan.
“We’re not against the plan,” Wallman said. But the plan wouldn’t just devalue the properties, he said; “it’s destroying them.”
The re-imagined Lafayette Street would cut through Winkle’s lots, which are currently vacant, Wallman said. If the Hill-to-Downtown vision becomes part of the city’s comprehensive plan, “these lots are taken,” Wallman said.
“Why would that constitute a legal taking when it’s just a vision?” Marchand asked.
“Once that occurs, we’re frozen. For planning purposes, these lots cease to exist,” Wallman said. If the new Lafayette Street vision is adopted as part of the city’s comprehensive plan, “it’s cemented,” and Winkles rights are destroyed.
Marchand asked if Wallman could cite examples where a “vision” has done that to a property owner in the past.
Wallman did not cite any specific cases. He asked for one-month delay in approval.
“I don’t think this is a taking,” said Gilvarg. The plan is not nearly detailed enough to qualify as a “taking,” she said. “This is 40,000 feet. We’re not on the ground. I don’t see how this would constitute a taking.”
“I don’t know what a month would do,” she said.
Johnson said the plan is just a “vision” and “aspirational.” He pointed out that the plan includes a new park (pictured) “on land we don’t own”—part of what is now Church Street South.
“There must be lots of property owners with the same claim” as Winkle, said commission Chair Ed Mattison. “How can you start working and turn it into something real if everyone has a veto?” he said. “The problem with your argument is that it’s too good to be true.”
It will be difficult to develop properties that the city has a vision of building a street on, Wallman said.
“But it’s the same for everyone,” said Mattison. “You need an argument that doesn’t make the whole deal impossible.” Everybody will want a month “as soon as they realize they’re getting screwed.”
But Winkle may be the only property owner in the area with a development agreement with the city.
“What in the world could you do in a month?” Mattison said. “What could they give you?”
Wallman said a solution could be found by dividing up lots and doing a swap with the city.
“They’re not ready to do that,” said Mattison. “They’re not going to switch lots with you in a month.”
After more discussion, Alder Marchand sought assurance from the city that New Haven “has a record of dealing with landowners in good faith” and that it would be a “departure from precedent” to go through the kind of “back and forth” Winkle is asking for. Marchand received such assurance from Gilvarg.
The City Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve the Hill-to-Downtown amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan.
The City Plan Commission also voted unanimously to approve a Mill River district amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan. That plan is based around three strategies for the area, creating an “industrial village,” a “home-improvement marketplace,” and a “mercantile food market.”
When it comes to safety, this plan looks like the “Big Dig” plan, but 20 years later. It’s too bad that it does not show truly “complete streets” for bicycles and pedestrians. A bike lane next to traffic and a regular crosswalk on a 40 mile per hour street doesn’t cut it.
New Haven is apparently still 20 years behind when it comes to traffic engineering that is good for the families and children who live here, not just for suburbanites and city staff who drive everywhere.
posted by: realitycheck57 on January 20, 2014 8:54am
As much as I’m one to endorse any development around Union Station to make it a more attractive welcome to New Haven than housing project that exists there, I doubt anyone with money is going to move into an area right next to The Hill until violent crime is drastically reduced there.
posted by: robn on January 20, 2014 9:40am
I respect private property rights but the city shouldn’t delay action because of Mr Winkle’s slow aspirations; after all, the rate of development in this neighborhood is glacial…when was the last building built here? Besides, a major axis from downtown to the train station can only amplify the value of Winkle’s remaining land.
BTW, the late 1800’s masterplan for New Haven done by Fredrick Law Olmstead included a major diagonal axis leading directly to the train station (I think from College Street). IMHO, the dumbest thing the city did since then was to build a public housing block at 49 Union Avenue, cutting off the Orange Street diagonal axis.
posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 20, 2014 10:28am
I notice the plan includes TREES. Has UI approved of this plan, or will they come along five years later and cut down all the trees?
Maybe it could include BURIAL OF UTILITY LINES, so the tree won’t be cast as EVIL DEMONS TO BE ELIMINATED.
I agree with many aspects of the plan, but I continue to be bothered by other aspects of not only this plan but others the city has done.
A central recreational green space surrounded by multi-story, mixed-use buildings could be a great way to connect Union Station to Church Street South, provide the community with an identity, and make the area more accessible and inviting. However, the steep change in grade on the proposed block for this “Union Square” may prove difficult.
Surrounding Amistad Park with a mix of uses is also a great idea, though I doubt it has the potential for as much retail as Union Avenue. Therefore Amistad Park likely needs a greater diversity of uses around its edges. In addition to the existing medical research building and proposed medical and residential uses, Amistad park could use some civic/institutional buildings - perhaps the new Police Station headquarters could go there.
The street reconfigurations for the most part make sense in terms of stated intent, but their geometries are not very urban. Urban streets don’t have to be an orthagonal grid, but they shouldn’t have sweeping geometries with hundred foot radii either. Look at Bradley, Eld and Pearl Streets in SoHu, they aren’t straight, but they also don’t curve, they bend and the building lots run perpendicular to the street, changing as the street does.
The proposed parking strategy also makes sense for the most part - though I fear it could still oversaturate the area. I think the Ninth Square plan has a pretty good parking strategy, and while not fully implemented still works well. A few strategically located garages throughout the distric or on the edges to serve the needs of multiple uses is a great idea, but they should be limited in height and supplemented by ample on-street parking.
I suggest switching the park and the roadway in front of Union Station. Make the roadway lead directly on axis with the station *from* Church Street to a park / plaza that becomes a main event right in front of the station. This plaza, perhaps like in this illustration with traffic moving around it (rather than through it), would become an interruption of Union Avenue. This would jibe nicely with the idea of making Union Avenue a Complete Street (no reason it has to be a straightaway thoroughfare).
Robn, the plan for New Haven was published in 1910 by Olmsted, Jr., and architect Cass Gilbert. In keeping with City Beautiful principles, which wanted to place major civic buildings on axis with major roadways (as the reconstruction of Paris had done in the second part of the 19th century), it envisioned a direct link between the train station and downtown by creating a brand new boulevard that would have hit the train station diagonally from an extension of Temple Street (from about where the hospital now is). This idea, like in Paris, would have required the demolition of existing blocks of construction, and the appropriation of much necessary land for the boulevard. And that boulevard would not have been axial with the station, but diagonal.
Obviously, it never happened.
But now, with the existence of Church Street South (the roadway), and the sure-to-happen-eventually redevelopment of Church Street South (the housing development), there is literally a once-in-a-century opportunity to realize a version of the Gilbert / Olmsted plan with the acquisition of only a modest amount of land for a new roadway—on property that will be redeveloped in any case.
The current city plan proposal is definitely on the right track in this regard, and is an improvement beyond some ideas that were floating around a year or two ago. It is very encouraging. I hope it can get tweaked to be even better.
The zoning map (p. 42) presents a district that is heavily segregated by use, which will likely result in dead spaces at certain times of the day. I’d like to see more blue (institutional/medical) and yellow (residential mixed-use) integration in the vicinity of Amistad Park and South Orange Street. As it stands in the plan, the medical district will continue to be deserted in the evening and at night, and Church Street South will have litle activity during the day outside of the train station.
Charles Moore’s Church Street South Housing is more exciting than any of the architectural renderings I’ve seen thus far. Moore somehow managed to design modern buildings using a modern building material that still had a human scale and a Georgian architectural character, while also creating ample open space, interesting urban squares, defined vistas, somewhat hiding the parking, and reimagining a dense townhouse typology all with an extremely small budget.
I’m not convinced that Church Street South can become a Main Street. Columbus Avenue is a neighborhood thoroughfare and its reopening would help improve its use as a neighborhood shopping destination. Union Avenue also has the potential to support retail for a regional market accessing Union Station. This “Union Square” could be the place where the neighborhood meets the region and shops around the park could become another shopping district like Broadway, Chapel Street and Ninth Square. Amistad Park could take on a secondary function as a place for a corner store, deli and restaurant to serve some residents and workers in the area.
Also the size of development parcels is worrisome because it can mean catastrophic failure for the area should any one entity change ala Shaws or Ninth Square.
realitycheck57, http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/all_quiet_in_hill_north/ There’s only so much that can be done to prevent violent crime through policing, a huge crime reducing force is investment like what is proposed in this plan or like what was done over the last 30 years on Upper State Street with small incremental investments from a variety of property owners to slowly improve the neighborhood and raise property values.
posted by: meta on January 20, 2014 2:40pm
I haven’t seen the full plan (is there a link to the documents that were presented?), but at first glance, I’m confused. At Church and Columbus currently, there is an enormous building that houses the Yale School of Nursing- what is imagined for the proposal to take over Yale properties?
The former Yale School of Medicine building is zoned as “commercial mixed-use”, even though another building on the site, the Yale Clinical Research Laboratory is a medical research building. This plan is not a “take over of Yale properties”, it is the equivalent of a zoning change - it is a document that recommends the future development of the area. Development proposals that go in accordance with the document will be fast-tracked and supported by the city, while proposals that go against it will be recommended to modify in order to comply with the plan. So if Yale proposes to use the old Lee High School building as a commercial property, the city would likely fast-track it through City Plan, the BZA, etc. However, if they propose doing some kind of tax-exempt building or a surface parking lot, the city will recommend modifications.
posted by: Stephen Wilcox on January 20, 2014 8:56pm
While I like the basic idea of this plan there is far too little park land set aside. The new Union Square park that is in the design looks nice in the pictures but looking at the map above it is about the same size as Trowbridge Square. Trowbridge Square is not a very large park. Most of the green areas on these diagrams are inside of courtyards and the public would have no access to them. How is such a tiny park going to inspire anyone to want to live in this area or visit this area. Imagine if our forefathers had made the Green this small. It seems the planners would rather populate their diagrams with shiny buildings that have little chance of being built over, a large park that we could build and that may be a bold enough statement to make developers want to build there and people want to live there.
posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on January 20, 2014 9:47pm
Why isn’t there a City Comprehensive Plan for the Rt 34 Connector? It seems to me that it would be exponentially easier to develop a plan for an area that is much smaller than the Hill and an area where the City owns all the parcels. The City ought to have a comprehensive plan for the RT 34 Connector/Highway to Nowhere stretch of property before, repeat before, it allows a developer to come in and build for a non-profit that will contribute nothing, nada, zero, zilch to the tax rolls.
posted by: citoyen on January 20, 2014 10:00pm
Thanks so much for the views of earlier roads to the train station, which I’d never seen.
I always read your posts with much interest, and you have blown me away with your master’s thesis (a bit hard to read on my computer, but I get the idea). We have a future Director of City Plan in the making.
And I am much taken by the idea, in spite of what I posted above, of thinking of the Union Square, as envisioned by the current plan, as what you call a way to knit neighborhoods together—as a potential focal shopping area. It would sit right at the intersection of Columbus Ave., which you envision becoming more commercial, and Church St., which the city plan envisions developing. It seems like a natural.
My point has been to want to encourage *movement*—traffic, of all kinds, along the routes of proposed development, with the train station serving as an anchor at one end. (Not unlike the way anchor stores get placed at the ends of shopping malls. Train station anchoring one end, the Green anchoring another.) I’m thinking Church St. South *could* become a Main Street for the city. Future city development clearly is going to be to the south (we are seeing this already), and the land along the road is ripe for development. Church St., made to lead directly to the train station, could be thought of as the spine for that development.
Primarily what encourages me is the fact that all this is being and will be discussed by so many thoughtful people. This is exactly what I hope to see more of in New Haven—people thinking seriously about the future, and using imagination.
posted by: Stylo on January 20, 2014 11:02pm
Might be going through his property, but bigger eminent domain has happened.
posted by: Stylo on January 20, 2014 11:08pm
Also, I love that design with the park in front of Union Station - and the road leading to the facade of the station. It’s designs like that which will grow New Haven into a really attractive world-class city and propel its growth.
posted by: Stephen Harris on January 21, 2014 7:05am
I thnk this is a good scheme. The new Union Square will be a good anchor to the new TOD and Church Street will bring people in an out of the neighborhood.
The northern area should have as much workforce housing for lower income hospital employees as can put there. It would also help to activate the park.
We’ll need good zoning to make this happen. The current code isn’t designed to create good urban form.
Stephen Wilcox, Keep in mind that the proposed “Union Square” is on private property and the owner would likely want to build on that block. Considering that, I think the park is an excellent size if not a little generous. Its scale fits in with New Haven’s typology of squares and green, which it has used to organize new growth for the last 200 years, beginning with Wooster Square in the 1820s and followed later by Trowbridge, Jocelyn, York, Monitor and Chatham Squares/Parks. Large parks like Edgewood, Beaver Ponds, West and East Rock were created from enormous private estates or left-over public land and shouldn’t be compared to “Union Square”, which could never be the size of those large park systems. The key to increasing usable public space in the city is to make the streets much more walkable and inhabitable for people because afterall streets represent the largest publicly owned space in the city.
citoyen, My thoughts on Church Street South have somewhat changed in the last couple years, so the design shown in my thesis doesn’t quite match up with my currect thinking, but thank you for the compliments. Turning Church Street South into a Main Street is going to be extremely difficult and expensive, but if done right, could be transformative for the city. There are other ways to redevelop the area, however, that would also be effective and wouldn’t require reconstruction CSS. As long as new streets and calm and pleasant and lined with buildings of decent proportions and materials then there shouldn’t be an issue with attracting new residents and businesses.
posted by: Serf of New Haven on January 21, 2014 4:09pm
The only thing missing from the plan are some unicorns.
Lets’ bond out another 100 million while were at it.
How about a zoo. That would be fun.
Don’t these people have anything better to do? ADD? Too much coffee? Lets get some cranes on the coliseum site first before we’re all allowed to go play the Donald again. Meanwhile our functioning neighborhoods and city services continue to deteriorate while the taxpayer continues to drown funding these dog and pony shows.
I do love the pretty renderings but I just can’t drink the kool-aid.
posted by: Stylo on January 21, 2014 4:41pm
@JH - I agree your thesis is extremely impressive. I don’t even want to know the amount of hours that took. :)
Who did the renderings of Church Street South?
Very impressive stuff. We’d be lucky to have someone like you in a high place in the city.