Convenience stores are inconvenient for their neighbors, breeding traffic and crime, in the view of New Haveners who filled a zoning hearing.
Neighbors turned out en masse to the hearing, a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, to argue against granting approvals to two such proposed stores: a Cumberland Farms in Westville, which would include a large gas station; and a bodega in Newhalville.
The board, meeting at the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St., voted unanimously to reject the Cumberland Farms application. The other one goes to the City Plan Commission before the board votes on it.
Tough Crowd In Westville
For Cumberland Farms, a chain of convenience store/gas stations in the Northeast and Florida, Tuesday night’s vote was the end of a drawn-out process of community meetings and plan revisions. (Read about that here.) The developers, seeking special exceptions to put in a gas station at the corner of Whalley Avenue and Dayton Street and to stay open until midnight, faced two basic concerns: a fear of increased traffic problems and a sense that the neighborhood has no need for another gas station.
Mark Vertucci, the project’s traffic engineer, tried to quell concerns by citing a study the project had commissioned. He said it shows the plan would cause “no significant impact on traffic in the area.”
“I really can’t accept the claim that there will be no impact on traffic,” said board member Victor Fasano (pictured) as neighbors nodded in agreement. In a lengthy back-and-forth with Vertucci, Fasano argued that the traffic would get worse at the proposed gas station, as cars make left turns to enter from Whalley.
“It’s a horrendous situation as it is,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many of the neighbors who spoke at the meeting. “Now this is going to compound that.”
Perhaps an even greater obstacle for the developers was the sense among neighbors that, given the presence of a Hess station directly across the street, the area has no need for another gas station.
Patrick O’Leary (pictured), the project engineer, argued that Cumberland Farms wouldn’t be trying to set up shop in that location if there weren’t demand for it.
“This site was not picked arbitrarily by Cumberland Farms,” he said.
That argument didn’t sway the neighbors or the board. Matt Higbee, in one of the more forceful speeches of the night, argued that allowing the gas station would “saddle the neighborhood with gas pumps” long after Cumberland Farms’ 20-year lease is up, since developers are generally loathe to buy properties that have been used as gas stations.
“Approval for this project is approval for a vacant gas station in the future,” Higbee (pictured) said, holding up a photo of a vacant station on the Merritt Parkway.
Julia Chaffe, a neighbor, brought a poster to illustrate her point Whalley has 13 gas stations between downtown and Amity. That’s more than enough for such a small stretch of road, she said.
Some neighbors expressed concern that a highway-style convenience store/gas station wouldn’t benefit the character of the neighborhood. Colin Caplan, an architect who leads walking tours through New Haven, argued that the proposed store “has nothing to do with New Haven. It has nothing to do with our well-being, our memories, and our sense of place.”
The only New Haveners to speak in full support of the project were the current owner of the property, Al Morgillo, and his attorney.
“Who are they to tell me and my associates what to do with my property?” asked an indignant Morgillo. He said he has owned property in Westville for 50 years. “If this is not approved, my associates and I will stop maintaining the property and let it go down to nothing, and you can see what happens. I can afford to do it.”
Shortly after, Morgillo got the chance to make good on his threat, as the board voted to reject both of the special exception requests, killing the project.
Board member Stanley Kontogiannis praised the developers’ efforts to get neighbors on their side, but said it hadn’t been enough.
“Despite your community outreach, the community wasn’t behind you.”
Newhalville Not Interested
Humberto Collado had no idea opinions would run so strongly against his proposed bodega at 381 Shelton Ave. He hadn’t counted on opposition from Newhalville neighbors who see convenience stores as breeding grounds for crime.
New Haven police Sgt. David Guliuzza set the tone by reading a letter by Lt. Herbert Sharp, Newhallville’s top cop.
“The location has a significant crime rate,” the letter said, and the proposed store would only make things worse. “With convenience brings overpriced products, loitering, and a high probability of crime.”
The letter prompted loud applause from the 15 or so neighbors who lined up to speak in opposition to the proposed store, which would take over a building long occupied by Morena Hair Salon.
Collado (at right in photo) said he was surprised by the negative response. He said he had spoken with people who live in the area who welcomed his plan to open a store that would provide essentials like milk and bread in the early morning, before the Quick Check Stop across the street opens.
Rigoverto Alicea (at left in photo), who came to the meeting to translate for Collado, suggested that the owners of the Quick Check Stop may have been behind the opposition.
“It’s like any other business,” he said. “They don’t want competition.”
Star Gilliams (pictured in the photo at the top of the story, in the green sweater), who lives around the corner, would rather see zero convenience stores on her block. Like many of the neighbors who spoke at the meeting, she said the stores serve as hang-out spots for drug dealers and gang members.
“As long as the stores are open, people feel like they have the right to be on those corners,” she said.
Gilliams paused when asked what kind of tenants she’d prefer to see move into the space. After a moment, she thought of an answer.
Morgillo has some stones. Why does he think he is entitled to a special exemption zoning variance for a use not allowed on the property he owns? Furtunately for us, he is not entitled to the choice of allowing his properties to decay. Hopefully LCI will be on top of this.
posted by: TheMadcap on February 12, 2014 11:40am
““Who are they to tell me and my associates what to do with my property?” asked an indignant Morgillo. He said he has owned property in Westville for 50 years. “If this is not approved, my associates and I will stop maintaining the property and let it go down to nothing, and you can see what happens. I can afford to do it.””
he could be proposing the greatest development in the history of the city and I’d still say the board should veto it after reading such an entitled and indignant attitude by the guy over the fact people who live in the neighborhood might not want their neighborhood ruined.
posted by: wendy1 on February 12, 2014 12:11pm
Good for these citizens who took the time and effort to stand up for themselves and fight another corporate mistake.
I am with you in spirit and so is Ralph. I expect to see a lot more guts and glory in New Haven because this town has been pushed to the brink and now we are fighting mad.
posted by: anonymous on February 12, 2014 12:23pm
Matt Higbee is correct that this would have created a permanent toxic waste site in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Just look at the abandoned gas station sites in Dixwell.
The Board of Aldermen need to implement a citywide moratorium on new gas stations, ASAP. For any new gas station built, the city should require that at least 5 be removed first. Many other cities do this.
Hopefully Al will work cooperatively with neighbors or sell his property, not continue to threaten his neighbors.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on February 12, 2014 1:20pm
I would love to know the politics behind this decision to say no versus the gas station approved at the Stop & Shop on Whalley Ave.
Did the neighborhood really need another gas station with over-priced gas?
Zoning continues to be one of the most politically influenced activities in New Haven.
Don’t look for consistency. There is none.
posted by: WestvilleAdvocate on February 12, 2014 1:31pm
Interesting that Yale was able to get a variance to build that disgusting new management building (totally out of proportion with community surrounding it) but this guy wasn’t able to get a variance to build something he wanted (equally disgusting for the community in my opinion).
There seems to be a gross inequity in the way the city’s boards deal with regular citizens vs. dealing with Yale. And even more odd to me is that the regular citizens pay tax on all their property, unlike Yale.
For the record, I am glad this wasn’t passed but ask the city’s boards to treat all citizen’s and institutions in the city equally.
posted by: anonymous on February 12, 2014 1:44pm
Dwight: The new gas station on Orchard and Elm is much worse, because
1) It’s directly across the street from housing complexes where hundreds of children live. No other industrialized country would allow this type of increased cancer risk. In places that care about their people, gas stations are simply not allowed so close to housing.
2) The Dwight Neighborhood Plan has a detailed diagram showing this area for additional affordable housing and green space, which would have made the neighborhood complete. Apparently, the city and plaza owner had no problem ignoring the over 200 people who wrote that plan. Instead of a nice neighborhood, Dwight now has additional curb cut traffic, yet another permanent toxic waste site, and air pollution wafting into families’ homes. Nobody will want to purchase a home in that area now.
Not at all the same. For one thing, the S&S gas station was built on an empty lot that had blighted the corner for as long as anyone could remember. Secondly, there was already a heavily trafficked plaza in the location, and no additional driveways were required - it really didn’t increase traffic.
posted by: alex on February 12, 2014 2:41pm
Grassroots democracy in action.
Yes, the zoning process isn’t consistent, but situations like this show one of its few advantages - it gives neighbors a real voice on projects coming to their neighborhood.
One reason Yale gets its way on a lot of projects (like the new car dealership management building) is because it owns all the land in the area.
The funny thing is Yale’s perspective, that they’re always being stopped from doing what they want to do.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on February 12, 2014 3:00pm
Anon: Alderman Frank Douglass, whose house is across the street, was in favor of the gas station. Linda Townsend Maier of the Dwight Development corp was in favor of the gas station. The Dwight Management Team also supported it.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on February 12, 2014 3:45pm
Alex: If by “real” you mean an effective voice, the inconsistencies as to what is approved and what is not contradict that entirely.
Until you know who rounded up those neighbors, you don’t know how “real” their voices were.
And speaking of the Yale School of Money, were the voices opposing that monstrosity not “real”? Many of them were people who actually lived in the neighborhood.
If the City wants a property developed, it will be done and all the so-called stakeholders have a way of lining up in support.
Personally, I didn’t realize Cumberland Farms was such an evil influence until this neighborhood alerted me to it.
And PS, someone wrote that the gas station on Elm didn’t require new driveways. Wrong. The property was fenced in and now there are 2 additional driveways for the gas station: in and out.
posted by: alex on February 12, 2014 5:36pm
Fair point Dwightstreeter about SOM!
I wasn’t trying to say that the voices who spoke against that project were any less “real,” only that they were less successful.
Having a voice doesn’t mean always getting what you want - it means being heard. Clearly people - neighbors - were heard in this instance - and that’s a good thing.
posted by: robn on February 12, 2014 6:14pm
“If this is not approved, my associates and I will stop maintaining the property and let it go down to nothing, and you can see what happens. I can afford to do it.” Mr Morgillo should be aware that unkempt properties are subject to fines by a city agency called LCI. He should also be aware that by publicly stating a malicious intent, he’s invited civil suit by neighbors who will be negatively impacted by, increased squatting, drug dealing and crime and the attendant decreased property values.
posted by: Trustme on February 13, 2014 10:14am
If convenience stores or bodegas spread throughout New Haven go away, it will guarantee us a drop in crime, such as; drug trafficking, shootings, loitering, drinking in public, trespassing, prostitution, etc. The good residents of New Haven should not be used to seeing a bunch of misfits breaking the law in front or near a convenience store, it should not be a regular occurrence. They got to go.
Plus most of the owners and clerks allow drug dealing inside the stores, either because they are scared to say something or are criminals as well. These convenience store owners don’t care about the community. Walk inside these stores and see for yourself, you will see all types of drug paraphernalia ready for purchase, such as; small glass pipes and individually cut copper (the copper is used as a filter and the pipe is to smoke crack-cocaine)and drug-dealers can also buy little ziploc baggies (used to separate and package marijuana, crack, ecstasy, cocaine, mollies, etc.) and all corner stores sell “lucies”. Lucies is street term for individually sold cigarettes, which is illegal.
And for the biggest dissappointment to tax payers is, a crack or heroin addict will give the store owner his or hers EBT card in exchange for cash, the store owner will slide the EBT card a lilttle bit everyday and make a profit, and at the end of the month the EBT card holder will come back and pick up the card and will do it again and again. And drug addicts will often steal bar soaps, tooth paste, deodorants, etc., from a Walmart, Stop & Shop, C-Town and then go to these corner stores and sell it to make a quick buck. They go to go.
posted by: Seth Poole on February 13, 2014 10:26am
I am loving it! It is so refreshing to see residents actively participating in the democratic process. “Who are they to tell me and my associates what to do with my property?”-Mr. Morgillo
We are the People.
posted by: everloved on February 14, 2014 10:04am
The biggest crime around “bodegas” is the amount of litter outside the store.
posted by: everloved on February 14, 2014 10:11am
The owner can’t come up with anything more lovely than a gas station? Obviously thank goodness it isn’t going up. Use some creativity! Not everyone owns stores on their property. Try planting a tree buddy. Plant some flowers.
posted by: everloved on February 14, 2014 10:16am
That soap stealing scam is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.
posted by: Stephen Harris on February 14, 2014 9:27pm
“Who are they to tell me and my associates what to do with my property?” asked an indignant Morgillo.
The Board sanctioned by State Law to decide zoning matters, that’s who.