A committee of alders voted to try to preserve SROs in New Haven — while seeking to ensure that a proposed new zoning plan for Westville Village does not undercut that goal.
That happened during deliberations at a City Hall meeting on two separate matters Tuesday night before the Board of Alders Legislation Committee.
The first matter was a proposal to declare a six to nine-month moratorium on converting single room occupancy (SRO) facilities into market-rate housing or lodging. The proposal, in an amended form that no longer can be construed to affect the renovation of the Duncan Hotel, passed the committee Tuesday night by a unanimous vote.
That vote came after the last continued public hearing on the matter was closed. Alders had continued the hearing on the matter after concerns were raised that the public had not had enough time to review an evolving version of the proposed moratorium. Only two people testified in Tuesday’s hearing: Chapel Street Special Service’s District Business Manager Brian McGrath and Whalley Avenue Special Services District Commissioner Allen McCollum.
Both men urged the committee to turn down the moratorium altogether—amended or not.
McGrath said the moratorium would do nothing to save SROs or facilitate the development of new ones.
“There’s a better way to do what you said you’re going to do,” he said.
The second matter concerned a proposed new zoning plan for commercial Westville Village that would allow more density and a greater mix of uses.The plan would create a new special zoning district for Westville Village. Currently zoned General Business or BA, the village would have its own Village Center Mixed Use designation, or BA-2, zoning district.
Lizzy Donius of the Westville Village Reinassance Association and students in the Yale Law School Community and Economic Development Clinic, who helped draft the recommendations for a new zone, testified in favor of the change. So did Westville neighbors Kate Bradley and Luke Hanscom of Lotta Studios, which is in the heart of the village at the corner of Whalley Avenue and Blake Street.
The committee passed that proposal unanimously as well but left the door open to address concerns about whether the zone should allow SROs conditionally, or maintain the status quo that disallows them throughout the city. The way the new zoning for the village is written it would continue the status quo.
Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg, who serves on a newly appointed affordable housing task force, asked what the danger would be in allowing rooming and boarding houses by special permit.
Kendyl Clausen, a student with the law clinic, said the biggest danger would be in skewing the type of housing that might actually get developed. She said the Westville market would be attractive to developers who want to build micro units aimed at young professionals.
“Westville would be a very good market for those types of units based on its proximity to the schools, based on the type of community that already lives there,” she said. “You want to be intentional about the type of affordable housing and the way we’re addressing affordable housing rather than this all-encompassing solution.”
The students suggested that if alders want to allow SROs by special permit or special exception. the process should be part of a model plan with guidelines that are not just based on “what the community feels like is OK at the time.”
“And we felt like Westville isn’t the right community to be deciding what should be the model for all of New Haven,” Clausen said. “We thought the [affordable housing] task force should be responsible for addressing those guidelines and that model so that we’re not setting a precedent the rest of the city has to live by.”
East Rock Alder Charles Decker made a pitch for allowing certain types of uses such as a theater with more than 250 people, or a hotel, to be done by special exception instead of by special permit. The former has to go before the City Plan Commission as well as the Board of Zoning Appeals, which he served on before becoming an alder. The latter goes before only the City Plan Commission.
He noted that the BZA already hears testimony on such “high impact” uses like restaurants that serve alcohol where members of the community get to weigh in on whether they think it is an appropriate use.
“I think that’s a great function of the BZA,” he said noting that a theater or a hotel would be a similarly high impact use where community members should be able to have their say.
“Those are sort of high impact developments…and I think of BZA being a potentially better venue for having the community have a say.”
Clausen said the rationale behind what to allow by special exception or special permit was based on the City Plan staff recommendation to streamline such matters for developers so that those already going before the City Plan Commission don’t also have to also go before the BZA. She noted that the types of development that Decker cited already have to go before City Plan.
Westville Alder Adam Marchand, who also serves on the City Plan Commission, urged his colleagues to support the Westville zoning plan, as he did the amended SRO plan. He suggested that their concerns be raised in amendments could always be offered on the floor when the full board meets to take up the matter.