For once at a public meeting, developers of the first megablock of a new “Route 34 West” didn’t hear complaints about planning too much parking. Instead, they had to convince zoners that they aren’t trying to put in too little.
That ironic reversal took place Tuesday night at a meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals.
It involved the $50 million office-retail project that Middletown-based Centerplan Development is building on the 5.39-acre megablock bounded by MLK Boulevard, Sherman Avenue, Legion Avenue, and Dwight Street, at 243 Legion Ave. across from Career High School. Centerplan intends to put a new home for the offices of Continuum of Care, Inc., a pharmacy, a restaurant, a medical office building or hotel, and a 745-space parking garage. The developer recently won final approval for the overall project after months of public meetings that included criticism that it should promote more walking and biking rather than include the parking garage. The development is part of a larger plan to fill 16.2 acres between MLK and Legion, dubbed “Rt. 34 West.” Government bulldozers leveled all the buildings in the area a half-century ago to make way for a highway that was never built.
Tuesday night Centerplan came to the zoning board on a smaller matter involving the nitty-grity of getting the project started: A parking variance. It plans to build the project in three stages. The first stage will not include the garage. The first stage will include putting up buildings on top of where surface parking spots sit.
Under New Haven’s zoning rules, Centerplan must provide 154 parking spaces for that first, pre-garage phase of the project. Tuesday night it asked the zoning board of permission to include just 79 spaces instead. The board heard arguments for and against the request, and is scheduled to vote on it next month.
Centerplan partner Yves George-Joseph and attorney Stephen Studer (pictured) said they don’t need all 154 spaces. Instead, they need that land to build on. They said they expect many people to come in by foot from nearby neighborhoods and offices, by bike, and by public transportation. Studer called the city’s parking requirements “excessive.”
New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell expressed concern that the development’s design isn’t friendly enough to cyclists and pedestrians. She called discussion about parking spaces was “premature” given the larger questions that need to be answered about the accessibility and safety of the planned project.
“There really isn’t an overall plan for transportation related to this development or the entire Route 34 corridor,” Farwell said. “At this point, this is a completely transit-poor environment.” She argued that the area has too few bus stops, and the streets are unfriendly to pedestrians.
In response, George-Joseph said Centerplan inteds to put storefronts close to sidewalks to encourage walking. Part of the plan in creating a lively mix of retail involves having fewer parking spaces, he said. He predicted the project will encourage positive changes in transportation and accessibility.
“While the existing condition looks pedestrian unfriendly, to a large extent, that’s why we’re here: to create the pedestrian friendliness and minimize the dependence and reliance on parking,” George-Joseph said.
Click here for a story about how the architectural drawing (above) of the new streetscape produced differing opinions on that effect.
“Someone has to be the first to come in and make a difference, and my client is investing a lot of money in this property,” Studer told the zoning board Tuesday evening.
The board referred Centerplan’s request to the City Plan Commission, which is scheduled to make a recommendation in time for the matter to return to next month’s zoning meeting.