Faced with grassroots opposition to parking cars on a Route 34 lot as part of a remaking of a neighborhood leveled by urban renewal, city planners compromised: Make it four years, with an optional fifth year.
That decision came after extensive testimony and deliberation at the monthly meeting of the City Plan Commission Wednesday evening.
The matter at hand was a plan to create a new, temporary, $1.7-million parking lot in the block (pictured) bounded by Sherman Avenue, Tyler Street, MLK Boulevard, and Legion Avenue.
The new 473-space lot would provide parking for the commuters displaced by a planned development just up the street on the 5.39-acre megablock bounded by Orchard, Legion, MLK, and Dwight Street and across from Career High School.
That planned $50 million development includes a new office building, a hotel or medical building, a pharmacy, a restaurant, a garage, and a new $11-million home for social service agency Continuum of Care. That is part of a plan called “Route 34 West,” which aims to develop several blocks of the Route 34 corridor destroyed decades ago in the name of urban renewal.
The Continuum of Care headquarters and other new buildings would go up on what is now a 602-space parking lot, used by Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital staff. All those commuters won’t simply disappear, city officials told City Plan Commissioners Wednesday night. They’ll need somewhere new to park — hence the new lot down the road at Tyler and Sherman.
City officials acknowledged that simply creating a new parking lot there (pictured) is not an optimal solution. Mayor Toni Harp requested that the new lot have an expiration date: It would exist only for five years. During that time, the city and the parking authority will work with the hospital and the university to find a better solution — a different place to put commuter cars, or a way to reduce the number of people commuting by car to work at the hospital. And in a concession to asthma-weary neighbors, planners reduced the number of spots from 602 to 473 in the move.
Neighbors were still displeased. They told the City Plan Commission Wednesday night that their neighborhood is tired of looking at parking lots, tired of pollution from cars, tired of getting a raw deal in development.
City Plan commissioners eventually hit on a compromise. They approved the parking lot plan, but moved the expiration date to four years, with an optional fifth year, to put more pressure on the city to find a better parking solution, faster.
Then came another twist: The proposed parking lot doesn’t have enough shade. The lot’s heat index — the amount of reflected heat created by such a large expanse of asphalt — would be far greater than city laws allow. The City Plan Commission gave provisional approval to the parking lot’s site plan, with a requirement that the parking authority find a way to cool it down, maybe by planting more trees around the perimeter.
”I Feel Very Uncomfortable”
The parking lot proposal appeared twice on Wednesday’s agenda: First as a special permit request to allow the lot to be built. And second, as a site-plan review to examine the technical details of the plan.
Chuck Croce (pictured), an engineer working on the parking lot design, told the commission that the lot will have 10 handicapped spots, two spots with chargers for electric cars, 41 trees, LED lighting, access from MLK Boulevard and Legion Avenue, and “biofiltration swales” at the east and west ends, to filter rain water. In the center of the lot will be a shelter for an attendant and a pick-up and drop-off area for a shuttle.
The spaces in the lot, operated by the New Haven Parking Authority, will all be rented to Yale-New Haven Hospital, said David Panagore (pictured). Panagore, acting head of the parking authority. said construction and operation of the lot will not affect the city budget.
After Panagore and Croce’s brief presentation, neighbors started laying into the proposal.
“We’ve had temporary lots in the corridor for over 10 years,” said Frank Panzarella (pictured). “This is what the young people of our neighborhood have to look at for a good portion of their youth.”
Longtime West River activist Jerry Poole said he’s all for development and neighborhood improvements, but against the new lot proposal, which he said “just appeared, as a submarine surfacing; it just popped up.”
After three more neighbors spoke against the plan, Pannigore said that it “is not a long-term solution. This is an interim step.” The parking authority has already begun a mobility study to look for better parking and transit alternatives, he said.
City Plan Commissioners Adam Marchand and Ed Mattison worried aloud about the apparent lack of neighborhood support for the parking lot plan.
“I’m upset,” Mattison said. “I think I’m going to abstain. I feel very uncomfortable.”
“I don’t want to vote either,” said Commissioner Audrey Tyson.
Meanwhile city officials huddled and conferred with some of the neighbors in attendance. West River activist Stacy Spell, an outspoken proponent of the city’s broader Route 34 West plan, spoke with mayoral Chief of Staff Tomas Reyes out in the hall. Eventually, Karyn Gilvarg, head of the City Plan Department, told Mattison, the commission chair, that more people wanted to testify. The commission voted to reopen the public hearing.
Spell (pictured) took the podium. He said he hadn’t wanted to speak because he didn’t want to reveal the rift in his organization, the West River Neighborhood Services Corporation, caused by the parking lot plan.
“We cannot say we want progress” and jobs and development, “and then when it comes to shifting the parking, say, ‘Not in my backyard,’” Spell said.
“We cannot yell, ‘We want, we want, we want, we want, we want,’ and not make concessions,” Spell said.
“I’m for it,” Spell said of the parking lot plan.
Three more neighbors testified against the plan, including former Alder Joyce Poole. “I believe this parking lot will put us back several steps,” she said. “I vehemently oppose another surface parking lot.”
City officials, including Livable City Initiative head Erik Johnson, reiterated the mayor’s commitment to a five-year sunset on the lot. Finding a new place to put all the commuter cars can’t happen any faster than that, Johnson said.
“I don’t think we can have a situation that will please everybody,” Mattison said. “We can’t give everybody a veto.”
Mattison pronounced himself “reluctantly convinced” that the city has no alternative but to build the lot, although he said so with “anguish.”
“With regret, I’m going to vote for it,” Mattison said.
“In my mind, this boils down to trust,” said Marchand. Do people believe the mayor’s intention to remove the parking lot in five years, “or will the community be given the shaft?”
Marchand said he’s convinced that in the short term, the city can’t eliminate the 602-space lot without creating an alternative. With input from Mattison, Marchand moved the item to a vote, with an amendment stating that the lot sunset would be four years, with an optional fifth year with City Plan Commission approval. The commission approved the amended item unanimously.
A second controversy emerged as the commission took up the second parking lot agenda item — the site plan review.
One part of the parking plan jumped out at Mattison (pictured). Instead of 50 percent of the paved surface being shaded, as required by Section 60.2 of the zoning ordinances, the parking lot would have only 5.4 percent shade coverage.
“This is going to be a steaming parking lot!” Mattison said. He said he would like to send the plan back and have the parking authority do its “darnedest” to come up with more shade coverage.
“That is the darnedest,” said Jim Staniewicz, the authority’s head of planning and engineering.
Where 50 percent is required, “they are proposing 5,” Mattison said. “That’s crazy!”
Marchand suggested a provisional approval on the condition that the authority come back with a plan to hit at least 10 percent.
“That must be doable,” Mattison said.
“You’d have to double the amount of trees,” Staniewicz said. The lot can’t have more trees without losing spaces, he said. He said he would consider more trees around the perimeter.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the plan, with the 10-percent condition.
posted by: Anderson Scooper on April 17, 2014 8:41am
So the City has had this immense developable corridor and to date we’ve gotten what?
Let’s see, a Pfizer guinea pig facility in the Park to Howe section, a parking lot and YNHH-only hotel in Howe to Dwight, a non-profit, a Rite-Aid and god knows what else in the huge Dwight to Orchard parcel (soon to be given to a connected developer for retail development and more parking), and from Orchard out nothing but surface parking?
Where is City Planner Karyn Gilvarg in this scenario? Ten years later and she has no plan? It’s truly abominable, and she should be made to answer.
Also, isn’t the Mayor’s architecture degree from Yale in urban planning? How can she be doing this to our great City?
posted by: jim1 on April 17, 2014 8:41am
Let’s see now 473 spots and only 10 spots for handicapped people????????? and only 2 for electric cars. Looks like to me there should be more of each, or a lot less spots overall.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 17, 2014 9:00am
Mattison and Marchand deserve Academy Awards for their display of “anguish” and “reluctance” to approve another bad plan.
No, the neighbors do NOT trust the City to eliminate the parking lot down the road. We are still waiting for the transitional zone Marchand promised when the RMS plan for Chapel and Howe was approved.
Mattison is a left over from the DeStefano administration. For the record, when has he ever opposed a project in response to neighborhood opposition?
And where is Alderman Frank Douglass. Still mute?
The union leadership is no more neighborhood friendly than the administration of the previous 20 years.
As for Stacy Spell, a good man has now gone over to the dark side. Supporting a plan for short term gains is simply short-sighted.
No way this things gets ripped up in 4 years, or 5. Once it is in, it’s staying.
I also smell an opportunity for UI here. As they are so intent on ripping out all the trees around the city, perhaps they can relocate them into this parking lot!
posted by: HewNaven on April 17, 2014 10:37am
Stacey Spell has really fallen from grace with his ‘Development-by-any-means’ strategy. Who exactly is he speaking up for? Does anyone really believe this development will only produce 19 new vehicle trips per day as the traffic consultants have concluded and reported in previous article?
The residents (and leaders) of West River are being taken for a ride.
None of this yet speaks to the idiocy of converting one of the few remaining grass lots into another impervious service.
I said I will never leave New Haven, I lied. This plan is designed to get people to leave New Haven. It is not being developed to serve the people of New Haven, but the region. New Haven is not even on board with the state to get cars off the road and people on trains and buses. It continues to open up lots.
Another medical building? There is a medical building on Orchid st that is sitting empty. There is no market for another medical building in New Haven. O my bad, YNHH will use thus less taxes, and the state refusing to pay PILOT, an in issue Mike Stratton and other Board Members dealing with now.
Are the Hotels being filled in New Haven that warrants a new Hotel?
I have a idea build a play ground for children with slides,monkey bars and swings something the Dwight and other surrounding neighborhoods don’t have. Then we will not have to worry about a fat tax Toni “One Term Mayor” Harp” wants to the state to levy to address obesity.
Time for the people of New Haven to stand up and fight! FTM!
posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 17, 2014 1:47pm
As usual, the comments on Rte 34 are on target and futile. The fix is in. The City and developers - and now the unions - are all on the same development-will-solve-our-problems train.
And it won’t work as it has failed to work for the past 50 years.
The Dwight/Hill/ W River neighborhoods deserve a Wooster Sq. type park to bring people together, to offset the pollution and re-create a space that is people friendly.
I have a dream.
posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on April 17, 2014 1:55pm
So depressing. New Haven is simply years behind in the thinking about what makes happy cities. You don’t replace the parking spots—you eliminate them. Commuters have to find other ways in: they carpool, bike, take public transit, park on side streets where there is already ample street parking (and there are plenty of those north of 34). Poorer cities—Bogota, Colombia!—are ahead of us in this thinking. Getting rid of parking lots tend to improve the economy; improve public health (reduce asthma, obesity, etc); and promote social equity, since the cars are for people with more money, while the health costs are born by people with less money. Yes, you have to improve our bus lines and other transit hand-in-hand with eliminating parking spaces, but it’s worth it and saves money in the long run.
I understand Stacy’s frustration. He has been trying to get Route 34 developed for years. He has attended meeting after meeting and tried to work towards a plan that benefits the adjacent neighborhoods and the city. Unfortunately, the city has dropped the ball - having never produced a good Route 34 West Municipal Development Plan. The best we’ve gotten so far is a slight change in zoning, and a Land Disposition Agreement that hands over 5.5 acres of prime real estate to a parking garage, a couple strip mall-style businesses and a tax-exempt office building.
Stacy’s frustration, while understandable, has now led me to promote the exact kind of development that should be prevented in this area.
Mark, the existing 604 space lot is going to be replaced by a 473 space lot, a 22% reduction in spaces. Moreover, the lot across from Co-op High was closed for the new apartment buildings going up there, as will the Coliseum lot once the LiveWorkPlay project goes forward. In addition, several small parking lots in Wooster Square are slated to be replaced by housing. I’m all in favor of replacing parking lots with useful buildings - my point is that it is already happening.
posted by: anonymous on April 17, 2014 6:16pm
Your comment helps illustrate Mr. Oppenheimer’s point.
The good neighborhoods have their asphalt removed, and replaced by housing and plazas, which benefits their land values, health, and jobs.
The poor neighborhoods get tons of asphalt dumped in the middle of them, with no shade, which severely degrades their property, community, and lifespan.
posted by: Serf of New Haven on April 17, 2014 7:54pm
Mattison pronounced himself “reluctantly convinced” that the city has no alternative but to build the lot, although he said so with “anguish.” “With regret, I’m going to vote for it,” Mattison said.
The city has an alternative. Don’t build the lot. Who cares about Yale. If they can’t find parking they will move to New Haven and increase the tax base. Win win for New Haven. Let them struggle to find parking. Your responsibility is to the city first and out of town commuters second. You should never vote against your conscious. You are a traitor to yourself and your constituents. Shame on you.
“In my mind, this boils down to trust,” said Marchand. Do people believe the mayor’s intention to remove the parking lot in five years, “or will the community be given the shaft?”
Where have you been Marchand. Born yesterday? Parking lots don’t get removed unless a parking garage goes in its place. You’re another traitor to the people of New Haven.
What is Irony? The great urban developments of the 60’s with highways shooting through the veins of our cities heart. Demolish and remove entire neighborhoods so land could be turned to asphalt roadways for suburban convenience. Never completed because of its’ epic planning failure. Fast forward 50 years and land that stood idle from that failure of the original plan, documented in text by every urban planner in academia as a case study, is suddenly being turned to a parking lot to satisfy the suburban commuter once again.
I must be the only one who mourns our collective failure as a community to stop these people from repeating the same mistakes over and over again. People who don’t represent New Haven. They represent the suburban commuter. Shame on all of them.
And if I ever see these shysters downtown I will tell it to them straight, man to man. I suggest everyone out there do the same.
posted by: Stephen Harris on April 17, 2014 8:58pm
The article reports the parking lot is a Special Permit. Special Permits can be tightly conditioned, but I don’t see anywhere in the statutes or case law where they can have a sunset provision (land use lawyers, if I’m wrong please let me know). Once approved a Special Permit becomes a conforming use in the zone and runs with the land.
“Stacy’s frustration, while understandable, has now led HIM (not me) to promote the exact kind of development that should be prevented in this area.”
Thanks for the link. Indeed it appears that neither can the city include an enforceable sunset clause nor can the CPC vote away zoning requirements. Was it not just a recommendation to the BZA, though?
Excellent points by anonymous and Mark O.
posted by: ERres on April 19, 2014 7:26am
This is an eyesore for the community and such a disappointment after all the design ideas for this area. What an exercise in futility. Why doesn’t Yale build underground parking?
posted by: Stephen Harris on April 19, 2014 3:07pm
Jonathan, Special Permit and Site Plan approvals aren’t referred back to the BZA.
posted by: alex on April 21, 2014 2:23am
Maybe if it’s going to lack shade it’s a good place for some solar panels.
posted by: David Backeberg on April 21, 2014 10:12am
I’ve got a great plan to keep this parking lot temporary, and also to prevent the crazy heat buildup and massive rainwater runoff.
Build the parking lot, but ban paving it. They can install six inches of gravel, and put down chalk to mark the lines.
I agree with Jerry Poole and Frank Panzarella that this is inappropriate—that even 5 years is too long. What’s even more awful is the PERMANENT damage that will be done to the Hill and Dwight neighborhoods by the Centerplan project.
The City has claimed parking reductions for this parking lot and only “modest” increases on the Centerplan parcel. But the total number of parking spaces on the RT 34 West corridor will increase significantly. Currently, 603 cars park on the Lot F & G parcel. The new development will increase parking here to 857. This plus the 473 spaces to be built on the Sherman-Tyler lot brings the total to 1,330 spaces. The Centerplan project will engender a large increase in parking—from 603 to 1,330, or 737 new spaces on the RT 34 corridor.
The massive demolitions for “highway to nowhere” laid waste to a vibrant part of the city. Now, the opportunity to build something of value is being wasted. Totally wasted.
posted by: Don in New Haven on April 23, 2014 5:44am
Who benefits from this waste of money?
Will a huge parking lot increase the opportunity for crime?
Will more cars in such a limited space reduce air quality?
The City had problems with snow removal. How will this parking lot create new challenges?
Where have the desires for more green space gone? The City already has too much pavement.
Who is pushing this and for what reason? If this is raise revenue, why wasn’t a cost benefit study conducted?
The streets and neighbors cannot handle the increased traffic.