Register Zone Change Advances
by Nicolás Medina Mora Pérez | Jul 13, 2012 8:00 am
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Media
The Legislation Committee of the Board of Aldermen gave the penultimate necessary approval to a zoning change proposal that would allow the New Haven Register to sell its building to a store rather than a factory.
Committee members voted unanimously in favor of the proposal at a public hearing held Thursday night at City Hall. The change would convert the 13 Long Wharf acres occupied by the Register building into a “general business” district.
The change would make it easier for the Register to unload the property and afford to move its newsroom to a smaller downtown locale—a cornerstone of its new “digital first” policy. (Click here to read a full story about the Register’s attempt to adapt to a changing media climate, and here to read a previous story about the fate of the paper’s present building).
The Long Wharf area was designated as a “light industry zone” several decades ago, when New Haven was still a manufacturing center. Most industrial tenants have left the area, which has come to feature a nightclub, Long Wharf Theatre, the 1 Long Wharf medical and office building, and IKEA.
Attorney Marc Wallman, who represents the newspaper, explained the need for the zoning change in succinct terms.
“The Register cannot stay [in Long Wharf],” he said. “The building is largely unoccupied, and it’s very expensive. The Register needs to sell the property if it is to stay in New Haven, and it would be much easier to find a retail buyer than an industrial one.”
Neighboring businesses also spoke in support of the proposal. Joshua Borenstein, Long Wharf’s managing director, explained that a quick transition to a new occupant is in the interest of all the ventures in the area.
“The worst possible scenario is that the building remains vacant for a long time,” which could happen if the zoning change does not happen, he said.
After hearing the testimony of several Register employees—including Publisher Tom Wiley and Community Engagement Editor Angela Carter—the committee agreed to send the proposal to the full board.
Economics Vs. Traffic
Although much of the hearing was dedicated to discussion of the Register’s future, the question officially at hand was whether or not a general business district is the most appropriate zone for the Sargent Drive property.
The entire Legislation Committee expressed support for the zoning proposal, arguing that a retail establishment would create jobs, boost existing neighboring businesses, and make the Long Wharf area generally more attractive.
Dixwell Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison said that she worked for 10 years at the Department of Children and Families, which off located on Sargent Drive behind the Register.
“I think [the zoning change] is an excellent idea!” she said. “That area is very dark at night. And because you have so many different businesses, you have the DCF, medical providers, and all these people that come in and out throughout the evening, to have a vibrant business that might be well lit would make it a safer area. We need to look at economic development, but we also need to make sure that people feel safe.”
Morrison also raised concerns about traffic from a large store. She explained that the cars of the neighborhood’s many tenants—including Gateway Community College and La Quinta Inn and Suites—often create jams.
“If you don’t get out of there a little before 5, you can be stuck in traffic 20, 30, maybe 40 minutes just trying to get out,” she said. “My concern is that in bringing a retail business, how would the new owners deal with traffic coming in and out. Would there be alternative routes? Because right now there’s only one way in and one way out.”
Joe Balskus, a traffic engineer who worked with the Register to draft the zone change proposal, responded that although a retailer would indeed bring more traffic to the area, the problem could be easily fixed. Widening certain roads and adjusting the length of green lights on strategic traffic stops could do a lot to prevent the jams, he said.
“You can add more traffic and still have shorter waiting times,” he claimed.
Unnamed Potential Buyers
Joe Miller, the executive vice-president of the Register’s parent corporation, had only vague words about the property’s potential buyers. He said that the company has already been approached by specific investors and users who are interested in the site.
“Because of confidentially concerns, we aren’t saying too much about it,” he said when asked about those potential buyers and whether any foreign money is behind any potential deals.
The zoning proposal still needs approval from the full Board of Aldermen.