Report: Re-Zone Westville Village

Markeshia Ricks Photo As plans emerge for some of its empty spaces, Westville’s commercial district has a new suggested plan for denser, less car-dependent development.

The recommendations, which include a special zoning change just for the district, are featured in a report presented to the Westville Community Management Team.

Students in the Yale Law School Community and Economic Development Clinic worked on the report for a year and a half in conjunction with the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance in the wake of the 2014 fire that burned the beloved Delaney’s Restaurant & Tap Room at Whalley and Central.

Kendyl Clausen, a student with the clinic, told neighbors at the most recent Community Management Team meeting that the team realized early on that current zoning regulations for Westville Village would prevent the redevelopment of the now vacant former Delaney’s lot into what it was before —an alcohol-serving restaurant on the first floor with apartments above.

Much of Westville Village is zoned under the Business A, or BA, district, according to the report. That zoning district focuses mostly on retail space and allows for more suburban-style development that favors setbacks from the street and keeping residences and retail separate. (The old Delaney’s was grandfathered in.)

After receiving 370 survey responses, and conducting nine focus groups to gather more detailed information, the students learned that neighbors want development that favors “New Urbanist” principles — mixed uses, denser development, less surface parking — while maintaining the eclectic nature of the village.

“We considered amending the BA zone or replacing it with the BA-1 zone, but ultimately we recommended creating a new zone for Westville Village using BA-1 as a framework,” the students wrote in the report, which you can read here.

The city is currently overhauling the language that governs business zones in the center of the city. The students suggested that it might be an opportune time to create some code that specifically addresses Westville. Clausen noted that because of the current zoning it would be easier to bring a drive-through restaurant to the former Delaney’s site than a another brewpub.

“And if you do bring a new building there, there’s no requirement that ensures that that building really meshes with the rest of the downtown area,” she added.

That’s where a Westville specific zoning code would come in. Clausen pointed out that other parts of the city have such codes.

Fellow law student Andy Parker said that through the study the team learned how many elements of the neighborhood people value, including the arts community, the West River and views of West Rock. He said people also talked about making the neighborhood more walkable and making the village center more vibrant.

To that end, the study recommends reducing parking requirements in the Westville zone and establishing a parking district that would return the revenue generated to the neighborhood.

“Establishing a parking district in Westville ... mitigates the need for nonresidential parking requirements,” the researchers wrote. “In fact, if a parking district were established contemporaneously with a new zone, it might be possible to completely eliminate parking requirements for nonresidential uses. We further recommend reducing the residential parking requirement by lowering the number of spaces required per dwelling unit or by allowing spaces to be located at some distance away from the unit.”

The researchers suggested that the parking district would allow business owners to allocate the space that would have traditionally been required under current requirements for something more economically beneficial.

Parker pointed out that current zoning code has incentives for having lots of parking and buildings set back from the street. “But people thought that kind of disrupts this idea of a more pedestrian friendly neighborhood,” he said. “That we could walk down the street and have a street wall that makes it easier for a restaurant or shop to catch your eye at the sidewalk.”

Neighbors also noted to the researchers their concerns about empty storefronts and absentee landlords. Though the study doesn’t offer any specific suggestions to address absentee landlords, it does suggest that zoning changes could have an impact on attracting the right mix of business and residential uses.

The report suggests that having a densely developed village would make it more walkable. Expanding the uses through changes to the zoning code, while using that same code to regulate the look and height of what gets developed, would make the village not only more community friendly, but also more attractive to businesses and developers, the authors argued.

Clausen said the next steps for the team would be to create a new proposal for the Westville specific zoning code.

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posted by: westville man on March 16, 2017  4:26pm

When most people think of slumlords, they think of residential properties. Westville has an abundance of slumlords who own commercial properties.  They take the rents and do very little with the properties for years upon years. And the owner of 500 Blake and other properties happens to be a millionaire who could care less about whether his properties rent or sell. Unfortunately, there’s not much more we can do until some of these owners finally sell off or die.  The quaint buildings are becoming eyesores and many have not been upgraded in decades. Because the village is small, it only takes a few property owners to make it difficult to attract new business.

posted by: duncanidaho645 on March 16, 2017  8:16pm

I cam see why the rules are the way they are, but times, demographics, and the residents of the neighborhood are changing. It’s time the rules changed as well.  If this is what the residents want then I say let them have it.

posted by: ADAK on March 16, 2017  9:26pm

With 370 responses, and 1.5 years of research—these ideas seem pretty thought out. The village center is too dense to even allow much parking. It is not spread out like higher up on Whalley near Woodbridge, or even further down as it enters Edgewood/Dwight area.

The area is made up of tiny storefronts, densely packed, and easily walkable (once that traffic calming is complete…). Why limit having apartments mixed with storefronts in new developments anyway? It’s an easy cash flow—people live in the apartments and use the restaurants/salons/galleries below. I don’t see why this should be anything but a Yes, especially considering that is how all new development is happening downtown.

As far as those absentee landlords… if they could figure out a way to make them care, that’d be a miracle! I only hope making development more attractive, would entice new landlords to buy and take over what other won’t. (Looking at you 500 Blake Street owners and Leslie Roy.)

posted by: denny says on March 17, 2017  3:08am

The way you make the absentee landlords and vacant buildings change is by requiring that all vacant buildings be inspected every 6 months by LCI at the owners expense of say $500.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on March 17, 2017  12:55pm

A lot of the proposals make sense, but why limit them to Westville?

posted by: wiseman12797 on March 17, 2017  3:46pm

I wonder if there’s going to be any mixed-use development in Long Wharf. I think there’s plenty of space to build apartments, hotels, condos and stores. There’s also a few roads that could be knit back together near where the train tracks are. This “mixed-use zoning” should also apply to Long Wharf and some other areas as well.

posted by: Brian McGrath on March 17, 2017  4:09pm

to westville man
Your comment is correct. Under current city ordinances and current zoning Westville Village will continue to have problems as you mentioned-especially those caused by owners who care nothing for the community as a whole. BUT Westville Village has more than enough concerned residents, businesses,and property owners to collectively devise and promote a future plan of development that can be converted by the City of New haven Redevelopment Agency into the Westville Village Redevelopment Plan. The public does not have to tolerate economically useable and feasible real estate land or structures sitting vacant forever for no known reason to the detriment of an entire area. Nor does it have to tolerate use of property that is a nuisance to all other responsible owners.
Property can be acquired for fair market value, by eminent domain if necessary,and then be conveyed to a responsible developer selected by the community and approved by the Board of Aldermen.
Talk to your Yale Law School Clinic students about this concept. They have given it a little study attention recently. Get everyone together and get up a plan and submit it to the New Haven Redevelopment Agency for consideration. Speaking only for myself, as a Commissioner of the New Haven Redevelopment Agency, your plan submission would be welcome, and receive prompt attention.

posted by: Renewhavener on March 17, 2017  4:12pm

While I appreciate these students contribution and WVRA’s ongoing leadership, I do not believe the answer to over-regulation is to create more regulation or worse exceptions to the regulation.  Fundamentally, needing solutions to self-imposed problems does not address the root cause of self-imposition.

Moreover, while the city itself seems to be heading in this direction, neither they, nor the group featured in the article seem to have the boldness to rip it all up and start over again.  Rather, we see here (and at 165) a seemingly innate need to color within the lines.

Westville as a neighborhood, New Haven as a City and Connecticut as a State will never reach its full potential adhering to this status quo.  Some might rightly point out that we here in the land of steady habits have only ourselves to blame for the economic rut we are in.  Atlas should shrug.

Full disclosure, I participated in the survey.  But I did so because I would like to see change to a much greater degree.  Disappointed because I believe the goal of code reform ought not to be bring back a “Delaney’s” by-right, but rather to facilitate a frame-breaking and transformative change that makes our community within a community a nationally relevant model for demographic retention.  This next generation wants amenities that we cannot build by right.  Look at the last restaurant having to beg for exemptions.  This is madness.  It isn’t right and people will leave to places that gives them what they want.

Have to admit, it’s getting hard to keep the faith.  The less things change, the more it feels like we have outgrown here.

posted by: New Haven architect on March 18, 2017  10:43pm

Absentee landlords who allow property to be vacant, or partially used and rundown, damage the city greatly by keeping property tied up and out of circulation which prevents a new generation of entrepreneurs from acquiring the property and finding new uses for it.  Vibrancy is the quality we cherish in cities.  The city needs to use all available means to force absentee landlords to either finds users and upgrade their property or sell the property.   

Denny’s point of “requiring…vacant buildings be inspected every 6 months by LCI at the owners expense of say $500” is right on the proverbial money.  Such an action would force negligent owners to sell which might then allow a new owner to make improvements to “create life” where currently there is none.

posted by: Andy Parker, Yale CED Clinic on March 21, 2017  12:26pm

On behalf of the Yale Community and Economic Development Clinic, thank you to everyone who attended the CMT meeting and to those who shared your feedback on this page. We were pleased to be able to present our report to such a large and interested group of Westville residents. As we mentioned at the meeting, we are working to turn the findings of the report into a set of zoning recommendations, and we plan to share an update on that work at the April meeting. In the meantime, we would be happy to hear any further comments or questions from members of the Westville community.

Sincerely,

Kendyl Clausen, Joseph Jampel, and Andy Parker
Yale Community and Economic Development Clinic

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