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Route 34 West Plan Gets 6-0 Thumbs Up

by Paul Bass | Apr 3, 2014 7:34 am

(23) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, City Hall, The Hill, West River

Paul Bass Photos Last week, Dolores Colon wasn’t ready to vote. She worried about more pollution coming to an asthma-choked neighborhood. Six nights later, she had waded through reports—and voted for a plan to start rebuilding a bulldozed former neighborhood, a plan that she concluded won’t further dirty the air.

Five of her fellow Board of Alders members agreed. They voted 6-0 Wednesday night to approve the sale of 5.39 vacant acres along Legion Avenue across from Career High School to make way for a new office building, hotel or medical building, pharmacy, restaurant, and garage.

The swift vote took place at a City Hall meeting of the alders’ Community Development Committee. The matter now goes to the full Board of Alders for approval.

The vote supported a plan to sell the 5.39-acre megablock along Legion Avenue and MLK Boulevard between Dwight and Orchard streets to a Middletown developer called Centerplan for $2.65 million. It is block one of a larger plan to fill in 16.2 vacant acres between Legion and MLK — dubbed “Route 34 West ”— that the government leveled two generations ago to make way for a highway that never got built. (Click here for a previous story detailing the plan and the public’s concerns, and here for a story about the developer.)

The alders’ Community Development Committee held a public hearing on the plan last week. But it didn’t vote on the matter at hand, a land disposition agreement that paves the way for the sale. Members wanted more time to sift through the passionate arguments on both sides: From proponents who see needed new life coming to the area, not to mention tax revenue and jobs; and from opponents who see an anti-pedestrian and anti-cyclist suburban-style business park that will add or at least not reduce pollution in the neighborhood.

Committee Chair Frank Douglass called a special meeting Wednesday night to reconsider the proposal, as an important clock ticks: The full Board of Alders needs to pass a new city budget by the end of May. The proposed budget assumes the city will collect the $2.65 million from the megablock sale.

Before the meeting, committee members (including Douglass and Edgewood Alder Evette Hamilton, pictured) huddled with Centerplan CEO Bob Landino and his attorneys, Anthony Avallone and Rolan Young, to go over some last-minute concerns. Dolores Colon said that at the request of two determined “little old ladies” in her ward she wanted to add language to the land disposition agreement ensuring that the developer can’t sell any of the taxable property (equaling 91 percent of the block) to a not-for-profit without approval from the Board of Alders. Landino called it “redundant” because of other existing language in the agreement, but said he had no problem adding it. Douglass, a Dwight alder, said he wanted to make sure the eventual design incorporates ample sidewalks and other ways for people to bike or walk comfortably. Landino responded that he’d be happy to work with alders on that, but asked that they present a united position.

Then the meeting came to order. And promptly ended.

In contrast to last week’s inconclusive three and a half hour hearing, Wednesday night’s meeting lasted 20 minutes at most. Much of it included lengthy recitation of public notices and amendments. The six committee members present passed Colon’s amendment. Then, after a few laudatory comments from the committee, the alders voted 6-0 to approve the land disposition agreement. Now it goes to the full Board of Alders for approval.

Douglass spoke of the overwhelming support for the project expressed at the hearing by people working for or with Continuum of Care, the growing mental-health agency that plans to consolidate its offices in a building on the lot.

Beaver Hills Alder Brian Wingate (pictured with Colon after the vote) complimented the developers for “being open” to public criticisms and responding with alterations to the plan.

“We’re looking forward to holding you accountable every step of the way” to keep promises to hire local people, Wingate added. Centerplan has promised to work with the new New Haven Works agency to steer New Haveners to jobs created by the project.

After the hearing, Colon spoke of her evolving decision to vote yes.

She had been concerned about new pollution worsening the neighborhood’s already dirty air. She said she was heartened that the developers were willing to compromise by agreeing not to build the full 800-car garage if they don’t end up building the entire envisioned project. Also, a letter submitted to the committee by city traffic tsar Douglas Hausladen put the number of spaces in the garage at a maximum 745, plus 112 surface-lot spaces; his letter stated that the project will result in only 19 new vehicle trips during peak rush hour. (Click here to read Hausladen’s letter.)

Colon further received a 122-page air quality report from consultants hired by the developer. The report concluded that the project will result in “de minimus,” or barely any added, air pollution. (Click here to read a summary of the study. Click here to read Centerplan’s memo about how it plans to design the project to be as sustainable and pedestrian-friendly as possible. )

Colon complained that she hadn’t received the report until Wednesday morning. She didn’t have time to print it out. “I had to read it on my computer,” she said. She focused on the pages of text (rather than try to wade through detailed numerical charts and appendices on her screen). She was satisfied in the end that the project won’t make the air dirtier.

Christopher Bockstael/ Svigals + Partners

Opponents remain convinced that the project brings car-centered, suburban business-park-style design to a neighborhood that needs greener, more residential, walkable and bikeable development. Colon was asked by project opponents’ argument that, given the high asthma rate in the area, the alders should hold out for a project that lowers air pollution—by, for instance, not approving new parking and instead relying on mass transit.

“Let’s get real,” Colon responded. She said she personally does favor dramatically improved mass transit and development geared toward walkers and cyclists. She too wants to see pollution levels lowered, she said. But for now it’s unrealistic to expect employees of offices on the new site to be able to commute by bus or to walk. Some 70 percent of Continuum of Care’s workforce lives outside the city, for instance. And it’s hard to commute by bus from the suburbs, she said.

“Even in New Haven, on Howard Avenue, they cut bus stops. It’s not fair! Every day they’re cutting routes,” Colon remarked. She said the fight for better mass transit must continue, but meanwhile it makes sense to plan for the new Route 34 West development taking people’s real transit options into account.

Hours before the hearing, the advocacy group Elm City Cycling released a letter urging the committee to require the developer to include “a continuous, 10-foot-wide bikeway, designed to national standards for two-way bicycle facilities, fully open to the public and connecting Dwight
St to Orchard St by the time the first phase of the development is completed.” The letter noted the plans to create safe, separated bike routes from the east side of New Haven to downtown. Click here to read the Elm City Cycling letter. In this letter submitted to the committee before Wednesday’s meeting, city development chief Matthew Nemerson referenced a 2008 plan, never realized, to build a dedicated bike path out to West River Memorial Park. He wrote that city officials believe the plan “has merit and will further analyze the potential for building this route as a separate project. We will report back to you later in the year.”

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posted by: Threefifths on April 3, 2014  8:01am

Politricks.The voice of the people have not been
heard.

posted by: Shaggybob on April 3, 2014  8:46am

Page 5 of the report:

Expected Trip Generation:
Morning Peak Hour – 509 Total New Trips (358 Entering, 151 Exiting)
Afternoon Peak Hour – 719 Total New Trips (254 Entering, 465 Exiting)

Seems he forgot the 7 before the 19.

Admittedly, I didn’t read the other 200+ pages of the report where I’m sure they do some New Haven magic traffic math.

19 New trips in a 700+ space parking lot- common sense dictates otherwise.

posted by: beaverhillsnewhaven on April 3, 2014  9:12am

This is a good development. Continuum is a growing new haven business that hires lots of new haven residents. And the committee took the extra step to insure that the rest of the property doesn’t get sold off to a not for profit. The majority of people that testified at that long hearing supported the project. Doesn’t look like “politirics” to me.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 3, 2014  9:15am

Was the outcome ever in doubt?
The Board of Alders have rubber stamped another bad project that could have been better.
Can we clone Mike Stratton?

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on April 3, 2014  9:38am

In the previous column it was stated 35% of the CC employees will live in NH county.  Did that mean to say in the City of NH?  If this is where Colon got that number from does she mean to say over 70% live outside of NH county?

posted by: Hill Resident on April 3, 2014  10:14am

On the contrary, the voice of the people has been heard. It was heard at the many community engagement meetings held between the residents, developers and city officials in the neighborhoods of Dwight, West River, and the Hill, particularly the 8-10 held in the past year where the people of these neighborhoods told the developers what WE wanted and they responded in their design. The people did not wait until the final stages when there were hearings downtown to voice their opinions. The people were at the table through the entire process ... going back and forth to the various community engagement meetings working through issues with their neighbors, constituents and other stakeholders as well as attending the city meetings of the various committees that were involved in the process. Will everyone’s wishes, wants and desires be accommodated ... NO. Was the majority heard and were their concerns, suggestions and changes reflected in the developers design and use plan ... ABSOLUTELY YES. Did the policy makers hear the voice of the people ... YES.

posted by: HewNaven on April 3, 2014  10:30am

Colon’s position is the moral equivalent of saying:

“It’s OK that my neighborhood is on fire, just don’t add any more flames.”

She is letting down her at risk constituents (e.g. children and elderly) who are more prone to the hazards of air pollution.

posted by: cupojoe on April 3, 2014  10:33am

Time for the city to invest in its own bus system that is tailored to citizens who live and work here.

If we’d get the PILOT money that is legally ours this could happen!

Stratton ( a liberal democratic) can’t do it alone people - our alders are too invested in their personal power and the power of the MACHINE to rock Malloy’s boat with an election coming up! Malloy will probably lose anyway, and we’re not going to get our 50 million that is due us.

MOTTO above the aldermanic chambers: “Ask not what you can do for your neighbors, but what you can do for your fingerprints…”

posted by: HewNaven on April 3, 2014  10:43am

From the Fuss & O’Neill report:

The purpose of preparing a Traffic Impact Study is to identify the impact of the proposed development’s site generated traffic. The study efforts have indicated that the proposed Route 34 West Development will generate 509 new entering and exiting trips in the weekday morning peak hour, and 719 new entering and exiting trips in the weekday afternoon peak hour. In comparison to the traffic volumes currently being generated on the Site by the Dwight/Orchard Parking Lot, the proposed development will only result in a net increase of 19 new vehicle trips during the weekday morning peak hour and 309 trips during the weekday afternoon peak hour.

Where will the people who currently park at Dwight/Orchard lot end up going? There’s a good chance they’ll still be making trips on Legion/MLK. It’s asinine to assume those trips will just disappear completely, and yet that was a conclusion of this study. 19 new trips!?

posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 3, 2014  10:59am

Hill Resident:

Are you selling land underwater on the side?

To summarize the process and ignore the outcome is stunning!

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on April 3, 2014  11:14am

This is a really bad deal pushed through at the end of the Destefano era.

Instead of re-stitching Dwight and Hill it cuts off the 2 communities because the large block does not provide a walkway heading North and South. Foot traffic can only enter on the Hill side. Students at Career who live in Dwight must walk around the monster development.

It creates another nightime dead zone. The block will be dark and empty after 6PM. The developer should have included residential.

The City is giving more than $300K directly to COC, even though no other towns were competing for the COC HQ. That $300K should have/could have gone to neighborhood streetscape improvements.

The City is helping COC grow. The bad news is that COC already owns dozens of New Haven parcels (for housing patients) on which it pays $0 tax bc of its non-profit status. The city should have made any deal contingent upon COC paying PILOT on any new properties it obtains.

This is a bad deal for the Hill.
This is a bad deal for Dwight.
This is a bad deal for students at Career.
This is a bad deal for the NH taxpayers.

It’s a great deal for COC

posted by: Thomas Burwell on April 3, 2014  12:56pm

NHI poll says 54% of the public disapprove of this plan. How’s that for public input? I agree, there were alot of public meetings held on this proposal and all of them had a majority of unhappy residents saying more good than bad. But for some reason we go forward with this crap….

posted by: DingDong on April 3, 2014  2:55pm

What a disgrace.  Dolores Colon: if you build a City that’s unwalkable and full of parking garages, of course you have to drive everywhere.  You can even improve the bus service but by then it’s too late if you built the City wrong.

What have you done lately to improve transit?

posted by: anonymous on April 3, 2014  3:01pm

This is a nightmarish project for the city and the social and financial damage will be irreparable.

The community’s clear, 40-year-long vision for a reborn, walkable and culturally rich neighborhood has been trampled and destroyed by the elites in charge.

posted by: Kevin on April 3, 2014  3:33pm

@Thomas Burwell

541 people responded to the NHI poll. There are approximately 130,000 city residents and there is no evidence that the folks who respond to the polls are representative of the city or, for that matter, city residents. You could conduct a scientifically valid survey (which the NHI poll does not purport to be), but the results would depend a lot on how the question was framed.

@ShaggyBob
Page 11 of the Fuss and O’Neill report states:

The vehicle trips utilizing the existing parking lot at this location will be diverted to the new Sherman-Tyler parking lot being constructed to the west of the proposed development. As such, the traffic volumes along both MLK Boulevard and Legion Avenue were adjusted from the Background Condition prior to developing the Combined Condition traffic volumes for the purpose of this Traffic Impact Study. As a result of this shifting of vehicle trips, the development site will experience 72 less entering trips and 91 more exiting trips during the morning peak hour, for a net increase of only 19 additional trips in the Combined Condition.

In other words, there will only be 19 net new trips to the site itself, but most of the folks who travel there now will park in the new lot instead. I’m not sure that Alder Colon understood this.

posted by: Brian Tang on April 3, 2014  3:35pm

Kudos to Mr. Nemerson for supporting the revival of the dedicated bikeway idea! Last time around ECC reacted warily to it, but it is important to recognize that that was mainly due to issues with the details of what they had drawn (the road crossings in particular) and that we now very much support the creation of two-way cycle tracks in situations where traffic volumes and/or speeds are too great for young children and the elderly or frail to comfortably share the road with automobiles. I hope that the city and developer will accept my offer to provide them with standard details showing best practices in cycle track design. I would also like to point out that one need look no further than the Brooklyn Naval Yards to see that it is very much possible to build a temporary on-street cycle track to serve bike riders during later phases of construction on the site.

posted by: accountability on April 3, 2014  4:49pm

Moderator:

Please take down Westville Voter’s offensive, racist comment immediately:

“The developer gets a sweetheart deal, the UNITE mob gets to tout how effective its pet project is…”

Mob is an ethnic slur, especially in cases where one of the organization’s leaders is Italian-American.

When I used “fanboy,” it was taken down with a promise that this stuff wouldn’t make it through.

[Editor: Good point. Thanks. Taken down.]

posted by: Serf of New Haven on April 3, 2014  7:16pm

The Dwight Neighborhood will do fine without the Hill. It might promote its’ further gentrification and property values.

Anyone who lives in the Hill should be outraged at this deal. You are being cut off from downtown for the next 100 years. Your community is about to become permanently isolated by a super block parking garage.

Yale builds like a King, find the moats and walls and follow, this is one of them.

posted by: budman on April 4, 2014  7:17am

The voice of the people IS heard.  This begins to replace surface parking with garages -and more importantly buildings that will bring jobs, and activity to this barren land.

posted by: shadesofzero on April 4, 2014  11:48am

Sometimes, I can’t help but think the comments on the NHI needs to be a bit more pragmatic. Should we really reject a tax-generating development in a much-needed neighborhood because it isn’t our dream development featuring only futuristic rail lines and bike paths everywhere?

Unfortunately, not every neighborhood is going to be quaint and walkable like East Rock. While we want to push public transportation and bikes moving forward, we still live in a car-centric society and I think it’s silly to expect every development to be perfect. But New Haven NEEDS more tax revenue, period.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 4, 2014  1:46pm

shadesofzero,

We live in a car-centric society because we continue to build car-centric environments…

New Haven is in its current financial shape because it is a high-wage employment magnet for the entire region, while being home to a majority of the region’s suburban-employed low-wage workers. In order to improve this situation, New Haven needs to retain more high-wage workers as residents and the suburbs need to improve access to their employment centers for low-wage workers.

How does a non-residential development that provides ample parking at the expense of basic pedestrian and cycling infrastructure improve New Haven’s situation?

Tax revenue isn’t the problem in New Haven, service costs are. $500 Million should be plenty for New Haven to run smoothly, the fact that it isn’t, shows us that we are too cost-burdened and the rest of the region isn’t doing their share to care for the region’s population.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 4, 2014  5:03pm

One more thing. East Rock is successful because there are thousands of different property owners who each contribute in their own way to help the area thrive. Whether they’re a home owner, a landlord, a local small business, a chain business, a professional firm, a school, a church, non-profit organization, New Haven Housing Authority or any of the myriad of other property owners in the neighborhood, they are working and investing in making the area a great place to live, work, shop, learn, play or congregate.

How will Route 34 thrive if it will be controlled by a handful of corporate interests and developers? Is the recipe for successful places to have enormous areas controlled by Yale, Yale-New Haven Hospital, a handful of large developers? Where is the evidence for this?

Is the FBI building on State Street a success? What about the Walgreens on York Street? Pfizer? Lot E? What’s the pedestrian experience like on Whalley Avenue between Dwight and Sherman? That’s what’s being envisioned for Route 34 currently, so get used to it, I suppose.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 4, 2014  5:51pm

And Jonathan, the scale of East Rock helps a lot too. Even the larger apartment buildings are set back and contribute to the street scape.

Shame on Frank Douglass, Alder for the Dwight area. Where is he when it counts?

He’ll speak up when his bread business is undercut by Yale, but not when his neighbors need him to speak for the quality of life in an area that could benefit from a quality development.

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