An assisted living facility would be OK, but not a boarding house. An apartment building could rise four stories and have a first-floor pharmacy — but no convenience store. Boutique hotel? Fine. Motel? Not fine.
And never shall there be a drive-through fast food restaurant in the heart of the Village.
Those are just some of the rules for how to develop Westville’s commercial core contained in a new plan currently before the Board of Alders.
The plan is to create a new special zoning district for Westville Village. Drawn up by the City Plan Department, the change would allow Westville Village, currently zoned General Business, or BA, to have its own Village Center Mixed Use designation, or BA-2, zoning district.
For that to happen, alders need to approve an ordinance text amendment first creating such a zone and then a zoning map amendment to change Westville Village from BA to BA-2. The request will go to the City Plan Commission for review, then back to the alders for a final review and vote.
The recommended special zoning designation is the result of a nearly two-year collaboration between the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance and students in the Yale Law School Community and Economic Development Clinic. It came in the wake of the fire that destroyed the former Delaney’s Restaurant & Tap Room at Whalley and Central avenues.
The students, after receiving 370 survey responses and conducting nine focus groups to gather more detailed information, learned that neighbors want development that favors “New Urbanist” principles — mixed uses, denser development, less surface parking, human scale, pedestrian-orientation over cars — while maintaining the eclectic nature of the village. They recommended in their report that the city create a new zone for Westville Village using the Neighborhood Center Mixed Use, or BA-1, zone designation as a guide. (Read a previous story about the students delivering their report here.)
That’s exactly what the city is now looking to do, according to acting City Plan Director Michael Piscitelli.
“The proposed text and map amendments to the New Haven Zoning Ordinance presented to you are primarily intended to facilitate the preservation and enhancement of the existing village character of this area while providing opportunities for very specific types of physical development that will ensure its continued economic viability,” Piscitelli wrote in a letter to alders. “These changes will help affirm this to an extent that current zoning regulations cannot.”
Piscitelli said the language governing the proposed new BA-2 zone for Westville will be similar to a BA-1 zone, which currently applies to Grand Avenue between the Mill and Quinnipiac Rivers, but with some “fundamental” differences in the pattern of development. He said the BA-1 zone regulations are designed for the more linear commercial development that you see on Grand Avenue, while the BA-2 zone regulates a zone that is a bit more diffused, less linear zone.
“The physical form of the district is regulated in a number of different ways,” he wrote of the proposed BA-2 zone. “To maintain and restore the traditional two- to four-story height of buildings in the Village new buildings must be at least two but no more than four stories in height.”
He said uses that would make it hard for pedestrians to navigate the Village, such as a business with a drive-thru, would not be permitted. And while many of the uses allowed by right in the current General Business, or BA zone will continue to be permitted, they will be subject to a higher standard of review, he said. The zone would allow for some first-floor residential uses.
Piscitelli also noted that developers will be encouraged to build up to the street, while solid security gates are prohibited. Landscaping, fencing, and screening standards are also established by the text amendment. The BA-2 zone would have the same parking standards as the BA-1 zone, reducing the need for off-street parking in the district, reducing the potential for empty parking lots and encouraging shared-parking for more efficient use of parking resources, he said.
“The most significant change, however, is that the FAR [floor to area ratio] standard to regulate the density of development in all other commercial districts in the city has been eliminated; the primary means of limiting density is now based almost exclusively on a 50 toot height limit.”
He said these changes are important for the building of infill projects, like the forthcoming redevelopment of the old Delaney’s site. He said the zone change would be consistent with what is happening at that site.That project, which is proposed to be three stories, is headed to the Board of Zoning Appeals next week, which will be before the proposed zoning overhaul for the village is reviewed by the City Plan Commission. It can be approved under existing rules.
WVRA Executive Director Lizzy Donius said in the wake of the fire that destroyed the Delaney’s building, Westville Village was in dire need of increased development and investment. Her predecessor, Chris Heitmann, enlisted the Yale clinic students to help WVRA. The work that the students have done will help the city address some of the underlying issues that have been barriers to development and growth.
She said the zone changes would incentivize mixed-used development and increase density, while also protecting against one-story drive-thrus or eight-story buildings.
“In the time since we undertook this project we have seen exciting progress towards our vision of a Westville Village that is denser and more vibrant,” Donius said. “Two exciting projects — the coming restaurant at the old First Niagara Building and a new mixed-use development on the old Delaney’s lot — are already underway. And the two large, stubbornly vacant properties that bookend the Village — 781 Whalley and 500 Blake Street and its large parking lot — are drawing attention from potential developers.”
She said the two large lots present big opportunities “for the right developers with the right projects to increase the density of the village.”
“Westville is an incredible community full of true diversity of every kind and a vibrant spirit anchored in artistic expression and a dedication to community engagement,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to live and to work, and I think many potential developers and investors see the potential. These zoning changes are designed to help the kinds of projects that will make the Village thrive easier to implement. ”
Andrew Parker, one of the Yale Law clinic students who worked on the recommendations, said being able to work with community leaders, elected officials and the city’s planning professionals was “a great learning experience for us.
“We have really appreciated the trust placed in us to help craft a proposal that will serve the needs of the Westville community,” he said in an email. “Overall, the process has shown us how rewarding community activism and engagement can be.”
Piscitelli called the proposal a “nice team effort with this being driven by the community with the support of the Yale Law clinic doing quite a bit of drafting.
“It validates the community input,” he said.
He also sees a marketing benefit for attracting developers and for businesses trying to attract tenants to empty storefronts. Piscitelli said the change is something that could happen in other parts of the city but not necessarily any time soon.
“This is one where we want to see how it plays out over the years,” he said. “Westville has some open and available parcels and it’s important to get these right.”