When Andrea Konetchy heard workmen pouring concrete across from her house at the corner of Linden and Orange streets, she thought: Fine, the sidewalk is being repaired.
To her dismay, what emerged was a new sidewalk, but a eight-by-five-foot metallic stanchion bearing a McDonald’s advertisement.
The stanchion is right in front of the Hall Benedict Drug Company building, an edifice on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Orange/Linden locale is in a national historic district (though not a local historic district). So Konetchy and a half dozen neighbors brought the matter to the Historic District Commission at the group’s regular monthly meeting Wednesday night at City Hall.
They were seeking understanding, guidance, and, if possible, relief from the commissioners.
They got sympathy, in the form of a promised letter. But no practical relief.
Back in February, after months of public hearings in front of the Board of Alders, the city signed a contract with Bike New Haven to launch the long-awaited program. It allows for short-term bike rentals of hundreds of bicycles. The program aims to have about 30 stations and 300 bikes on line by the end summer and reach its maximum 40 stations by the end of the year.
The bike share program is funded by a mix of membership fees, program-wide advertisements, and station-specific sponsorships. It relies on no taxpayer dollars. Bike New Haven’s contract with the city grants the program managers the right to erect and sell advertisements for one eight-by-five ad panel for each bike station in the program.
That was the rub of the discussion Wednesday night: East Rockers, among the most enthusiastic bike riders in town, welcome the bike share program and the bike stations. What they did not understand is who approved the location of the stanchions, including their design. and why they felt they were not sufficiently consulted, if at all, on these matters.
They also objected to the content of the ads, as have neighbors in Dixwell.
“We would like it to be taken down,” said Bruce. “But we’re acting for the city at large. This is not an East Rock issue. It’s not bikes, it’s ads we want to address citywide. How was the decision made? The process, the suitability, and why has the city relinquished our public space to multinational corporations?”
“What are we valuing in New Haven?” Konetchy added in her remarks to the commissioners. “This was a big slight. It’s very ugly. I am angry.”
At the end of an hour-and-half discussion, the commissioners explained that they have powers only in the city’s local historic districts, which the Linden/Orange location is not.
They came to an understanding that their purview os limited to sending a letter to the Board of Alders expressing concern, after hearing the neighbors, but a concern limited to the suitability of such signs in a historic location such as Linden and Orange.
Along the way, the East Rockers learned from the city attorney John Ward and transit chief Doug Hausladen facts about the contract that they did not pick up from the series of aldermanic public hearings or appearances by officials at community management meetings or news articles published in recent months. (The City Plan Commission considered the issue in public, for instance.)
For example: “Anything in the public right of way, the Board of Alders has complete jurisdiction,” Ward explained.
“But was placement included in the public hearings?” Koneatchy asked.
“Anything out of the historic districts,we don’t have a lot of voice,” said Trina Learned, the chair of the historic commission.
“Exceptions have been made,” said Bruce, pointing out that there is a bike station in Wooster Square, but no advertising stanchion nearby.
Hausladen explained that per the contract with the city, the advertising stanchions are to be placed near the bike stations. In the case of Wooster Square, infrastructure concerns are such that no suitable place could be found near it. So “orphan” stanchion locations are being sought elsewhere to fulfill the contract.
City Deputy Director of Transportation and Parking Michael Pinto said the Orange/Linden location was chosen for the bike station — and the stanchion that by contract goes along with every station — because it’s a commercial hub in East Rock, with the pharmacy and Romeo’s grocery across the street.
Pinto had told the City Plan commissioners back in March that the bike share contract approved by the alders allows the company, P3Global Management (P3GN). one ad panel for every bike share station. As the program rolls out, the company has found out that it will not be able to put up ad panels at each of the approved and proposed stations. Pinto said that the city parks department will not allow for ad panels to be erected at the four bike share stations that stand on city park land, and that the state Department of Transportation will not allow for an ad panel to be put up at a forthcoming bike station at Union Station.
So P3GN has five “orphan” ad panels that cannot be placed alongside certain bike share stations, but need to be put somewhere if the company is to recoup all of its potential advertising revenue.
The neighbors kept coming back to the size of the stanchions and their look and content.
Architect Ben Northrop: “The signs look like something appropriate to Fifth Avenue. These are so obnoxious. I love bike share, but this is about allowing a bad precedent in the public way.”
“There is an identical one in front of the New Haven Museum,” Learned cautioned.
Canner street resident Dick Lyons told Hausladen that he does not recall when the program was being discussed at the East Rock Management Team meeting months ago in the run-up to the contract that Hausladen had made clear the signs would be the size they have turned out.
Hausladen begged to differ, that he had always been clear about the stanchions to come.
Lyons persisted, to the commissioners: “These are not signs. They are, in the context of small residential streets, like billboards. If the Historic District Commission has a policy on billboards, you may construe it that way.”
Learned reiterated that this is not in the purview of the HDC.
Hausladen explained that all the bike station locations, along with the locations of the advertising stanchions, are approved, through the site plan review, process, one by one, by the City Plan Commission.
New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell, also in attendance, pointed out the site plan process is a discussion among commissioners only, not a public hearing in which aggrieved neighbors, for example, can participate.
“There is a public contract,” Ward said.
“I’ve asked for it, but not received it,” replied Bruce.
Hausladen immediately took out his cell phone and emailed the contract to Bruce.
She said her next step is to review the contract and look at the City Plan record and to get more clarity about where the jurisdiction is and who decides.
“We’d like to see the sign taken down, but we’re into this for the long haul and we’ll see how the investigation works out. And it’s not just East Rock. It’s city wide. If it turns out nothing can be done for five years [for example, the length of the bike share program contract], we’ll turn our attention to the content [of the signs’ advertisements],” she added.