Centerplan Goes 3 For 3 On 34 West

Diana Li PhotoAdam Marchand wished he could have said yes to a bigger garage.

Marchand and his fellow City Plan commissioners Wednesday night voted to approve a controversial 763-space garage at one of the biggest new development projects coming online in the city, a $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. Marchand said he shared concerns about the environmental aspects of building garages, but argued that the benefits of new development outweighed them.

Christopher Bockstael/ Svigals + PartnersThe commission also said yes to two other needed approvals for the project, the first piece in an envisioned rebuilding of “Route 34 West,” a 16.2-acre stretch of Route 34 that government bulldozed a half-century ago to build a highway that never materialized. One yes: The Commission approved a site plan for the entire development. The other yes: It recommended the zoning board allow Centerplan to have 79 parking spaces where 154 spaces on the initial part of the megablock. Centerplan intends to put a new home for the offices of Continuum of Care, Inc., a pharmacy, a restaurant, and a medical office building or hotel, along with the 745-space garage.

The project has already received its main approvals. These new approvals enable the developer to move forward and build it.

As throughout the approval processes for this project, the public testimony at Wednesday night’s meeting focused on that garage. Some neighbors and environmentalists argued that it will add to already intolerable pollution in the neighborhood. ( (Click here for a previous story detailing the plan and the public’s concerns, and here for a story about the developer. Click here for a story about how it won over key alders for the project’s main approvals.)

“Why do we need this garage?” Marchand, who’s also a city alderman, asked Centerplan’s attorneys, Stephen Studer and Rolan Young Smith. “Market demand, market demand is what you keep saying. What is the content [of the argument]?”

Studer and Smith resopnded that the development on the area would require more parking, and that tenants often need guarantees of parking spaces before they agree to move in. (The developers originally envisioned a bigger garage, then reduced the size in response to public opposition.) Bill Fries of Centerplan said his company would prefer to have less parking if it were possible to still make the project work.

“Quite frankly, we wouldn’t build more spaces than you need because every space in a garage is very costly,” Fries said. “It costs us about 30 to 35,000 extra dollars per parking space we build.”

Architect Chris Bockstael (pictured) showed the commission a visual rendering of the proposed garage and the other buildings as seen along Legion Avenue. The goal is to make the parking garage blend in with the other buildings and the rest of the neighborhood and to fit in as best as possible, he said. (Click here for a story and reader discussion about that aspect of the plan.)

“We hope you have a hard time understanding which one is actually the parking garage,” Bockstael said as he showed the commission the visual rendering.Marchand did indeed ask Bockstael to point out which one the garage was.

Ultimately, the vote was unanimous for the special permit, afters some discussion among the commissioners.

Marchand said that he felt torn about his vote for the special permit because he agreed with “much about the comments of opponents.” He said he decided to vote for the special permit because of the development it would bring, including new jobs and tax revenue for the city.

In fact, he said he wished there needed to be more parking spaces.

“I would actually love to see even more development on that parcel, including residential development. Of course I’m not the one footing the bill for it since I’m not the investor, but there’s a lot of space on the northwestern corner,” Marchand said. s seen on the map, currently, that corner is for surface parking. “If it were up to me, I would have a garage with even more capacity so we could have more development on the land.”

Marchand also said that he did not share neighbors’ concerns about the garage continuing to divide neighborhoods and preventing them from reconnecting with each other. Even without the garage, there likely wouldn’t be a way to walk across the huge block from Dwight to the Hill, he argued. He said itwas hard for him to imagine somehow creating a stoplight or a crosswalk in the middle of the block.

Commissioner Kevin DiAdamo also expressed reservations about approving such a large garage.

“If you look at the garage near the Yale-New Haven Hospital, the scale of that was a real disaster,” DiAdamo said. “But at the same time, I’m weighing the fact that I don’t know if there’s an alternative for this: If we deny [the parking garage], the project’s going to essentially fall apart.” While the city is eventually moving to become less reliant on cars, that time has not come yet, he said.

Commissioner Leslie Radcliffe, who lives in the Hill, said that as a newer commissioner, she could provide a “fresh pair of eyes” in evaluating these plans.

“We have to stay focused on what the issues are… There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle,” Radcliffe said. “And the garage we’re talking about is an integral part of that puzzle. Without the parking, the studies have shown that the business are not going to come.”

A “monstrosity” or “springboard for development”?

Currently, the site is a paved surface parking lot administered by Park New Haven. Livable City Initiative Executive Director Erik Johnson pointed out that while currently the whole site is parking, parking will cover only 1/3 of the land once Centerplan builds on it, making the new plan is “less invasive than what’s currently there.”

According to Mark Fortucci of developer consultants Fuss and O’Neill, the site plus some relocated surfaced parking down the street will add up to 857 spaces in total compared to the current 602 spaces, meaning the new plan is “not as significant of an increase” when acknowledging the existing parking lot. Still, the planned four-story garage would be a new structure and contrast the current existing surface parking. Opponents argue that the city should focus more on mass transit and walkable and bikable streets to get people to jobs or stores.

City economic development chief Matthew Nemerson (pictured) testified in favor of the plan, arguing that it will help improve and deal with the consequences of planning decisions in the past.

“The developers, the staff, planners and people who have been working on this for many months have come up with the very best compromise and a site plan that will do as much as possible for various constituencies, given the limitations we have,” Nemerson said. “Perfection is the enemy of the good, and I think this is a very good plan.”

Monica O’Connor of Continuum of Care explained that her group has had to rent 50 additional parking spaces annually because of the shortage of parking at its current locations. Sometimes, people with disabilities going to Continuum have to park over three or four blocks away and walk to the center because of the lack of nearby parking. This shortage impacts not only patients but staff and visitors as well.

Neighbor Elaine Quinn called Continuum of Care a “magnificent” agency, but said she found the parking garage particularly problematic. She said there iss no need for the “monstrosity in the middle of our neighborhood.”

“[Developers] wouldn’t [build this garage] in Manhattan. You wouldn’t do it in Boston. You wouldn’t do it anywhere else, and you sure as heck wouldn’t do it downtown or in East Rock,” Quinn said. “They do it where they think the people don’t have the voice to go against it, here.”

Anstress Farwell of the New Haven Urban Design League said she felt excluded from the planning process, along with two other people who testified. Neighbor Lena Largie pointed out that there already exist a number of other parking garages in the vicinity.

“Think about who’s going to be here at the end of the day – the residents – and who’s going to just come through during the day and then leave,” Largie said. “I ask that tonight, you give the residents a little more respect.”

The special permit was the first of three issues the commissioners voted on; afterwards they voted to approve the site plan, and finally they voted on the Board of Zoning Appeals parking exception. All votes were unanimous.

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posted by: Noteworthy on May 22, 2014  8:50am

Once again, an alder and the City Plan shunt aside residents and quality of life issues they raise in the name of jobs those residents will never fill and tax revenue that most probably overstated. While parking is needed, could it not have been built underground? Downtown Cincinnati is in the midst of rebuilding and it built its new parking garage completely underground in order to have a park on top of it around which businesses are sprouting and people are enjoying outdoor activities and concerts. In Savannah, GA - the city ended a long term lease and re-built another city square (parks) and below it, a city garage right in the middle of the historic district.

What’s New Haven’s problem? Leadership.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 22, 2014  9:30am

City “Planner” Karyn Gilvarg needs to go, and I hope the Route 34 West redevelopment disaster will be her lasting legacy. Where was Gilvarg’s plan for this giant tract of developable land? Tossed in the waste bin?

For all the talk about repairing the mistakes of the past, what have we gotten? The Pfizer guinea pig facility, a mammoth parking garage with a private YNHH hotel, a non-profit, another bigger parking garage, and a Rite-Aid!

The Route 34 West track was a magnificent opportunity, and now it’s largely lost.

posted by: anonymous on May 22, 2014  9:30am

“He said itwas hard for him to imagine somehow creating a stoplight or a crosswalk in the middle of the block.”

This quote makes it sound like Marchand has no imagination. Has he ever traveled outside of New Haven?  In London there are crosswalks every 200 feet and they have a lot more traffic and development than we do.

It isn’t about the perfect being the enemy of the good, it’s about the East Rock and Westville residents like Marchand and Nemerson being the enemy of the countless children and elderly pedestrians who are now going to suffer and die as a result of their terrible decision-making when it comes to the waste of our city’s land and neighborhood potential.  It’s too bad that the neighborhood residents - who actually spend time in these neighborhoods - are the only ones who can connect the dots on this, but even worse that they are not listened to by the Westville and East Rock powers that be.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 22, 2014  9:50am

Again People wake up.You have been sold out.Keep sleeping New Haven.Gentrification Vampires are coming.

Think about who’s going to be here at the end of the day – the residents – and who’s going to just come through during the day and then leave,” Largie said. “I ask that tonight, you give the residents a little more respect.”

To late for respect.This is the only respect you are going to get.

Bamboozled.Keep voting them in.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 22, 2014  10:13am

Marchand said he shared concerns about the environmental aspects of building garages, but argued that the benefits of new development outweighed them.

Democracy no longer is legitimate, no longer is honest, and no longer serves the interests of ordinary citizens.Keep voting them in and this is what you will keep geting.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 22, 2014  11:00am

I see three fundamental ways to develop this site.

1) Traditional: subdivide the land into 20 1/4 or 40 1/8 acre parcels with mixed zoning to be sold off to individuals for small scale, fine grain development.

2) Conventional: Sell the entire 5 acre single-use zone parcel to one developer.

3) Hybrid: Subdivide the 5-acre parcel into a handful of medium and small-sized lots with a mix of zoning and sell to a single developer or a few developers to develop.

Traditional development, like what produced the adjacent Upper Hill and Dwight neighborhoods, is very difficult to do today due to the desire for immediate and large returns on investment, which doesn’t happen with slow, incremental traditional development. Although this development pattern produces terrific walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods with a mix of uses and community identity, it is (mistakenly) seen as risky and is therefore difficult to finance in today’s car-centric environment.

Conventional development, has a more stream-lined financing process because developers can show up to banks with a pile of data about traffic counts, parking spaces, rentable square footage, etc. and get funding for a project. While easily and quickly financed, this development pattern produces ugly and dangerous environments populated with plain-looking buildings, speeding cars, after-hours dead zones, excessive parking, lack of community identity, and inadequate pedestrian, cycling and transit infrastructure.

A hybrid approach probably would have been best for this site. Subdividing the parcel into several smaller lots with a mix of zones could have provided for an opportunity to have housing, retail and office space together sharing parking and keeping the site inhabited at all times of the day and night with workers, residents, and shoppers.

Instead of moving in the right directions towards walkability and transit access, this parcel will continue the car-centric model of conventional development.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 22, 2014  11:57am

3/5 stay on topic. How is turning a highway into mainly parking and office gentrification? How does that make downtown more expensive?

posted by: Bradley on May 22, 2014  3:41pm

Contrary to Elaine Quinn’s assertion, a large parking garage has been approved and will be going up in East Rock as part of the Star Supply project. Quinn may be correct that a similar garage wouldn’t be built in New York or Boston, but both cities are far larger and more densely populated than New Haven.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 22, 2014  6:42pm

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 22, 2014 11:57am

3/5 stay on topic. How is turning a highway into mainly parking and office gentrification? How does that make downtown more expensive?

I am on topic,You need to talk to some of the the residents.Were you there.I talk to them.Tell me in your own words what is gentrification.

posted by: Olivia C Martson on May 22, 2014  7:37pm

This project has many flaws one most glaring is the lack of connectivity to the two mostly affected neighborhoods Dwight and the Hill. I agree that the parcels should be sub-dived and Waverly Street be reconnected.  There is just too much parking on the site, over 2/3 is parking.  It lacks creativity, open park land, greens-pace. residential apartments. bike lanes, 15 foot sidewalks.  Terrible land use and certainly not Transit Oriented Development or Mixed Use.  Overall a future failure for the city and its residents.  A very mediocre project and nothing to be proud of.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 22, 2014  8:18pm

3/5 who do you talk to? That is such a grandiose statement. Gentrification would be replacing the Dwight Coop with lux 400k condo or replacing C Town with a Whole Foods. Building parking lot and office space on a highway isn’t gentrification or at least your bogey man. This is beyond silly. You claim gentrification if a landlord paints his facade and pulls a couple weeds. Things should get nicer in New Haven, the residents especially the poor have earn that right.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 22, 2014  11:03pm

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 22, 2014 8:18pm

3/5 who do you talk to?

And who do you talk to.Have you read the omments.There are people who did not want this project.Read there comments. Talk to them.look at downtown.Again tell me who have you talk to.In fact This is also comming to New Haven.The Take over of the public school system.Gentrification is done in stages. Look at downtown again. How many Low-income residents who live downtown have been displaced by rising rents or evictions for tenure conversion. In fact it has happen already.I will say in the next ten years you will see the fruits Gentrification.

My Bad I for south street projects.They will be next.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 23, 2014  3:48pm

I think 3/5’s point is(whether you agree with it or not), basically the concerns of residents in poor sections of the city were more or less shut out for the will of upper income people who will now commute there, and in the long run potentially start pushing out current residents.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 23, 2014  6:01pm

posted by: TheMadcap on May 23, 2014 3:48pm

I think 3/5’s point is(whether you agree with it or not), basically the concerns of residents in poor sections of the city were more or less shut out for the will of upper income people who will now commute there, and in the long run potentially start pushing out current residents.

Correct.Do you see this happing down the road.

posted by: Don in New Haven on May 24, 2014  9:18am

Jobs? All I see is a small group of people doing a job on NH and its residents.

SNOW!!! Ever hear of it? Were you happy with the mess we experienced in the winter just gone by? Do you seriously believe that this new construction will not influence our movements during snow storms?

No matter how weather may cause problems, any increase in the temporary population along 34 will only create more nightmares for other commuters who may have no interest in 34.

I am surprised. Very surprised. Not one person has complained about the traffic jams along 91 and 95 that have been made worse by development along 34.

You would think the traffic jams created by Gateway are serious enough to cause people to think twice about more traffic on 34. Maybe the concerned people lack any concern for reality.

Already 95 is jammed all the way to Branford. What’s next? Jammed to Guilford? 91 jammed to Hartford? 95 jammed to Stamford? Idling cars will add to the already polluted air of NH. The 91-95 intersection will be impossible during shift changes…especially when we have snow. As people try to escape to George Street, new problems are created. There is no escape.

YNHH. Will this new development block emergency vehicles? Of course, it will!

What we see happening here is the return of a serious division of NH as residential areas are cut off from the City. No, this will not make the situation better…it will make everything worse and the first bad part will be during the construction. Where will those who benefit from this plan be when things turn bad? Comfortably enjoying life somewhere else.