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.