Piqued SOM Neighbor Isn’t Giving Up

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAs Yale clears the way for a mammoth new $146 million School of Management building, attorneys for the university found themselves before a judge, still trying to prove that the bold glass and steel design fits in with the neighborhood.

The action unfolded in a fourth-floor courtroom in Superior Court on Church Street on Monday afternoon. At issue is the plan for a 219,000-square-foot new Whitney Avenue home for Yale’s School of Management (SOM). After months of hearings featuring the complaints of neighbors upset about the design, Yale won city approval in March to go ahead with the project. Workers have already demolished two buildings at the site (pictured) and are prepping to break ground on new construction.

But one neighbor hasn’t given up.

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoJoseph Tagliarini (pictured), who lives at 265 Bradley St., filed an appeal of the Board of Aldermen’s approval of the Planned Development District (PDD), the decision that opened the door for Yale’s new SOM building. He argues that the new building is too big and will “loom” over his property. His complaint, prepared by attorney Marjorie Shansky, argues that the PDD’s approval process was “arbitrary and illegal.”

Joseph Hammer, attorney for Yale, argues in his response to Tagliarini’s appeal that the procedure was perfectly legal and that Tagliarini is objecting simply because the planned building is not to his liking.

Those and other arguments were heard for over two hours on Monday by Judge Thomas Corradino, who did not make a ruling. He’s expected to do so after further briefs from both sides.

Tagliarini’s appeal centers on Yale’s new city-approved PDD, a zoning tool that allows for special localized changes to building restriction. With the approval of the Board of Aldermen, a developer can ask for a PDD in order to obtain permission to build something that otherwise would not have been allowed by local zoning.

The SOM PDD allows Yale to build a flashy new building designed by internationally known architect Lord Norman Foster. The building, which will be 300 feet long, has a unique architectural design that some have criticized as airport-like.

It’s a design whose mass and bulk are not in keeping with the context for which it’s planned, argued Marjorie Shansky, attorney for Tagliarini. The building does not fit with the city’s comprehensive plan, she said.

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoIt could have been worse, responded Joseph Hammer (at left in photo), attorney for Yale University. Without having to ask for special permission, Yale could have built one or even two huge towers on the SOM property, he told the judge. He argued that the fact that something even bigger—or at least taller—could have been built there undermines the claim that the plan as it is doesn’t fit with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Yale could have built an 11-story, 138-foot tower, Hammer said. “Or you could have twin, 91-foot-tall, seven-story towers.” That building would have been even closer to Tagliarini’s house than the 53 feet the current plan calls for, he said. Yale could have built a four-story building that was just 22 feet from Tagliarini’s property, he said.

Hammer produced illustrations of each of these possibilities and handed them to the judge.

“If you could have had a seven- or eight- or 11-story tower, that speaks to the appropriateness of the PDD,” Hammer said. “It’s less mass, less close to the plaintiff than we could have done as of right.”

Thomas MacMillan File Photo“These drawings are virtual red herrings,” Shansky (pictured) said. They only show how much worse Yale could have made it, she said. But that doesn’t show that the design is appropriate.

“This is about context, mass, scaling, and bulk,” Shansky said.

Hammer argued that the plans create benefit for the neighborhood by removing a surface parking lot and creating a pedestrian and bike path through the property.

Shansky replied that that path has been there for years and that other improvements could be made to go along with any design. “We’re not saying don’t build. We’re saying build appropriately.”

The debate later moved into the question of the approval process. Shansky argued that Yale has outsize influence over city planning. “We are a company town,” she said. “But shame on us” if we let Yale determine land use policy.

Hammer objected to the characterization. He said the city carefully reviewed the PDD.

“I think she’s saying it can’t be like a meeting of the politburo,” Judge Corradino said. Shansky later declined to agree with that characterization of her argument, but did not refute it.

In the hearing, Shansky did argue that the PDD was pushed through to approval very quickly. “There was a rush to get this done,” she said. “It was a foregone conclusion.”

“This is a willful imposition of a specific plan irrespective of ... the concerns of the neighborhood,” she said.

During closing statements, Shansky reiterated that the building is simply too large. At 300 feet long (Shansky spread her arms wide) and 64 feet tall (she put her arms in field goal position), “you’d have to go downtown to get this kind of scale.”

She objected to Yale’s characterization of her appeal as “subjective.” It is an an analysis of the law that shows that BOA had no basis for approving the PDD, she said. Further, the approval process was not properly conducted, she said.

“We continue to call out the process as eroding our confidence in the validity of the outcome,” she said. For instance, she said, when it wrote its advisory report, the City Plan Commission simply cut and pasted Yale’s description of the project. Then, when it came time for the Board of Aldermen to discuss the plan, very little time was devoted to addressing the building’s scale, mass, and context, Shansky said. Aldermen then “soft pedaled” on the PDD’s conditions of approval, making them recommendations instead, she said. “The city abnegated its control over this process.”

“To say that due consideration was not given is completely counter to the record,” Hammer responded. The plan went through “substantial redesign” as a result of City Plan Commission feedback, he said. Those changes created 11 feet more of space between the building and Tagliarini’s house, he said.

Hammer cited letters of support from a number of neighbors and “several well-regarded architects”

He closed by returning to the argument that the plan could have been much worse, by including blaring sirens and screaming ambulances, for instance. “You could have put a hospital in here,” he said. “That’s another benefit.”

Who’s Got This One?

The hearing closed with last-minute wrangling over the timeframe going forward.

Judge Corradino asked for briefs from each side. He proposed a due date of 30 days after transcripts from the day’s arguments were made available. Hammer asked that it be sooner. Demolition and construction are underway, he said. A drawn-out appeals process will delay the building schedule, he said.

“I’m charmed by the notion that construction proceeds” despite an appeal that could force Yale to cease building, Shansky responded. She asked for more time to draft a brief.

What about expediting the transcription service? Hammer asked.

Fine, if Yale will pay for it, Shansky said.

Judge Corradino suggested the plaintiff and defendant split the cost.

“No!” whispered Tagliarini’s wife, from the gallery.

After more discussion, the judge and the court reporter brokered a deal: The state will pay for expedited transcribing. The lawyers will pay for expedited copies. The briefs will be due 10 days after the lawyers receive their transcripts.

The judge declined to say when he would make a ruling.

“Whatever I do is going to be appealed,” he said.

“Next time, I want to see a little old lady who wants to put on a two-car garage,” Judge Corradino joked before adjourning the hearing.

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posted by: anon on October 5, 2010  11:11am

Funny that the taxpayers are, either directly or indirectly, paying for the legal costs, court costs, costs of transportation for all parties to and from the court, etc., on this case. 

Frivolous lawsuits should be abolished.

posted by: showhimthemoney on October 5, 2010  1:13pm

Has Yale considered buying this guy out? With all the legal fees piling up, I’m sure a healthy offering for his property would be very attractive even though his house isn’t.

posted by: HewNaven?? on October 5, 2010  1:40pm

“During closing statements, Shansky reiterated that the building is simply too large. At 300 feet long (Shansky spread her arms wide) and 64 feet tall (she put her arms in field goal position), “you’d have to go downtown to get this kind of scale.”

Or you could just go across the street. There you’ll find similarly large-scale buildings (Peabody, Class of ‘54 ES Building, GeologyLab).

posted by: disbelief on October 5, 2010  2:15pm

This plaintiff is the owner of Fort Bradley, that fortress that dominates the middle of the block. ...  How can he complain of the “appropriateness” of the Yale building when his contemporary house (not to mention the flashy new addition on the back), is surrounded by an eight-foot-high rampart and stands in such stark contrast to its landmark neighbors?...

posted by: kevin on October 5, 2010  2:39pm

This issue is not whether the design fits with the neighborhood (I live 1,000 feet from the site and can tell you that it does not). the issue is whether the city followed proper procedure in approving the PDD.

posted by: WalledCompound on October 5, 2010  3:10pm

Wondered what had happened to this story and glad Independent keeps us informed. Taglirini’s actions are just too rich to believe. Seems he bought his compound for $715,000 in ‘04 and has sunk six figures more into fancy addition, poolhouse, and upgrading wall around the compound. How urban! Now he’s funding a vanity lawsuit that costs city & state taxpayers more money & he won’t shell out a few bucks for copies of a transcript. Amazing! ...

posted by: Moses on October 5, 2010  5:00pm

I said it once and I shall repeat it again-” When yale coughs New Haven catches a cold!” !  When I attended the meeting in the Spring it was a classic standoff.  The city was kowtowing to the elephant which it has to share the bed and the covers with in the chilly apartment.  Yes the city needs jobs but the last time I rode down Elm Street ; Yale is not going to pick up its toys and leave the sandlot because we are placing demands upon it to not only create jobs and bring interesting people from around the globe but to leave up to its reputation and responsibilities as a good global citizen in theory and practice. 
When the architectural plans were presented one did not have to be an architectural genius to see that the plans were not congruous with the prevailing landscape and building design.  The city allowing the construction to go forward has set a precedent which lays the foundation for other parts of New Haven’s architectural heritage to be laid to waste because we have to wipe out the past and bring in the new.  Do not misunderstand I believe in progress but not at any and all costs.
When the Large and powerful do ill in collusion with the politicians in the name of might because they can and then what comes in to question is the legitimacy of the politics and the institution.  Rome was not built in a day,but its decline began the moment the interest of the citizens became secondary to greed and power.

posted by: jay bright aia on October 5, 2010  5:01pm

As a historic architect certified by the state historic commission, I continue to have concerns about how this huge building will fit into the neighborhood and street.  A few years ago, across the street the university put a lot of attention into the restoration of the cream colored house to which the anthropology department added a substantial addition that is beautifully hidden in the rear respecting Whitney/Hillhouse avenue mansions.  The SOM project seems to take the opposite, in-your-face approach.  I don’t recall ever seeing a rendering of both sides of Whitney Avenue including the Peabody Museum looking north and south.  Is this building is as high as the Peabody tower?  Long as a football field with west facing five story glass, this will be an aesthetic disaster, even if the shading louvers do work for a while. It will throw a big shadow on on the street on icy winter mornings.  Even if a legal PDD it will be a monster and sets a precedent for anything goes on Whitney Avenue.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 5, 2010  6:26pm

“It could have been worse, responded Joseph Hammer (at left in photo), attorney for Yale University. Without having to ask for special permission, Yale could have built one or even two huge towers on the SOM property, he told the judge. He argued that the fact that something even bigger—or at least taller—could have been built there undermines the claim that the plan as it is doesn’t fit with the city’s comprehensive plan.
Yale could have built an 11-story, 138-foot tower, Hammer said. “Or you could have twin, 91-foot-tall, seven-story towers.” That building would have been even closer to Tagliarini’s house than the 53 feet the current plan calls for, he said. Yale could have built a four-story building that was just 22 feet from Tagliarini’s property, he said.”

Is this really what urban design has come to? As long as it’s better than the absolute worst it possibly could be, it’s acceptable? What ever happened to Civic Art, City Beautiful, and traditional town planning? Are the New Haven Free Public Library, Union Station and the New Haven County Courthouse not good enough? Are the standards practiced today as dictated through Euclidean zoning, function-based codes and arbitrary engineering manuals really better than the accumulated knowledge of thousands of years of human habitat building practice as manifest through design principles? Can anyone guess which of those two design approaches gave us all the buildings and spaces that we love in New Haven, and which gave us all the ugly, malfunctioning buildings and spaces that we hate?
This may not be a winnable battle, but the long term goal of reforming zoning and development practices should not be lost just because this particular case might be. The history of Whitney Avenue, its established (although partially compromised) character and scale of development between Trumbull and Humphrey, and the consensus of the community are each highly important factors in determining appropriate design. However, they are not the only justifying elements for any given design. It is conceivable that a building could be appropriate AND also not be to the liking of the community, not fit in with the surrounding buildings and not correspond to historic uses. This exception could make sense if, for instance, development were maxed out in the city and there were no other available pieces of land, if the service provided by the building were meant the greater good of an under represented community, or if this building is the first phase in a comprehensive plan to increase density along a major transportation route. This SOM proposal, as it stands now, is completely unjustifiable. It offers no benefit to the community in exchange for an out-of-scale private glass box.

posted by: anon on October 5, 2010  8:56pm

Good work, Attorney Shansky and Mr. Tagliarini.

Norman Foster does occasionally do a brilliant building; but for that he does 9 more for bread and butter. This is one of the latter. It is completely inappropriate for the surrounding neighborhood. If I lived nearby, I would feel much like Mr. Tagliarini.

posted by: Michael Coe on October 5, 2010  9:11pm

I’ve heard Yale’s attorney utter these “take it or leave it” statements before. They’re what I would call “retrospective threats”—just think what we at Yale could have done if we’d wanted to, and you in the community couldn’t have done a thing about it. Why didn’t Yale and Lord Foster try to modify this over-grandiose, super-inflated design before the deals were closed, the way it was achieved so successfully with Louis Kahn’s far more distinguished Center for British Art?

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on October 5, 2010  9:51pm

Geez, it really is hideous.  What about “hideous” do they not understand?

posted by: New Haven resident, Yale affiliate on October 5, 2010  10:24pm

I cannot imagine how this super-modern, glass and steel design was selected.  Yale is renowned for its historic, distinguished architecture.  Norman Foster’s design may be interesting but is totally inappropriate for this site.  When New Haven Board of Aldermen approved this project as a PDD, they certainly abused the intent of the PDD designation (as they have many times before.) 

If a building this size is needed for SOM, it is tragic that it was not at least designed in a way to be harmonious with the surroundings.  How much has been spent to date on architectural design fees?  Why didn’t Yale listen earlier when objections to the design were made??

posted by: too many years in new haven on October 6, 2010  12:30am

The determined homeowner is, of course, making the fight and paying the freight for all us.  This monstrous permanent urban-blight-in-disguise (how about “emperor’s new clothes?”)is exactly the mess commenters Hopkins and Bright describe.  This phony “Lord” architect (Amazing how Yale just sucks up to that stuff, as if His Lordship in London -where that City DENIED his plan for The New Biggest Building, finding “it didn’t fit the neighborhood(s) and surroundings!!!- as if His Lordship has a fine-tuned handle on Bradley, Lincoln and Whitney.)
Recall that the Grand Plan by the Great Architect for the British Art Center did NOT include space for replacement of the retail space that Yale ripped down on Chapel Street to begin their project.  Sound Familiar?  Thye mayor would not let the monolith go up without putting back the retail.  Yale said, so to speak, “WHAT?  A booksore cafe and a few specialty shops?  Impossible! The Great Architect’s plan cannot be changed.  The mayor stood his ground, and thuggery did NOT prevail.  Years later, he stand by the Mayor, and the grudging compromise by Yale, fade with the time and the success of the “compromised” design.  It would be terrific if the current Mayor would get off his knees and bring them to the table.

posted by: anon on October 6, 2010  7:03am

Where was the “public” outcry when the FBI building was put up?  Or Pfizer?  Or Walgreen’s? Or Career High School? Those buildings damage entire square miles of the city, both right now as well as many generations down the road.

SOM is nothing by comparison, and will probably improve the area overall (especially when compared to the underutilized parking lots and 1920s auto-sprawl architecture that had been there earlier).  Of course Yale should be held to a much higher standard than Walgreen’s, but it makes one really question the intent of the concerned citizens here.

posted by: Beansie's Mom on October 6, 2010  7:25am

During closing statements, Shansky reiterated that the building is simply too large. At 300 feet long (Shansky spread her arms wide) and 64 feet tall (she put her arms in field goal position), “you’d have to go downtown to get this kind of scale.”

Perhaps Attorney Shansky should drive down the less historic area of Fair Haven Heights on Eastern Street.  There are larege buildings much higher that tower over the residential neighborhood.

This seems very much a NIMBY issue.

posted by: Too many years in New Haven on October 6, 2010  9:01am

To Anon and Beansie’s Mom:

Neighbors, please:  Yesterday’s ugliness cannot be corrected today.  And: this is NOT a “NIMBY” fight, it’s a fight for all of us, NOW, and for the future.  It’s not going to cost you a dime.  Consider being productive with a letter to your ... alderman, and to the Mayor, and do it NOW.

posted by: meta on October 6, 2010  9:36am

The comments here have become too harsh and grandiose. Look around and realize that Yale pays for quality design and buildings. This project is large, but it respects setbacks and will address the human scale in detail and landscape and will be an improvement to the wide Whitney thoroughfare. The new building will compliment the Peabody, KGL, future YBB, and the Science Hill campus. The design will contrast with the graceful mansions and villas (which in my mind is much better than sticking out by trying to blend in as in the case of the Hooker School). Whitney Ave should strive to be a grand boulevard with architecture of scale that welcomes motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, to New Haven and Yale.

posted by: robn on October 6, 2010  10:27am

The real neighborhood fabric doesn’t begin until the following blocks. If Yale invades that, they may see a real fight.

The design for this site is elegant, the buildings being replaced were mediocre, parking will be hidden below grade at great expense, and an as-of-right solution would have been terrible by introducing towers into a low neighborhood.

posted by: anon on October 6, 2010  10:37am

Meta is correct. 

Despite a few minor problems, such as the lack of progressively-designed pedestrian and cycling infrastructure (which you can easily chalk up to the fact that few or none of the city / university planners are forced to walk or cycle this neighborhood on a daily basis), the SOM will be a beautiful building and a welcome addition to the intensity of the Whitney Avenue streetscape.  It will be much more useful and contextual than what had been there before.

My only real wish with SOM is that Yale had increased its density even further, so that it was befitting of a high-intensity urban employment center like New Haven.  10 story towers, or the purchase of adjacent properties for an even larger structure, would have been appropriate.  The relatively moderate density of this building just means that Yale will be forced to expand somewhere else, down the road, creating more traffic and congestion.

posted by: Miss Peabody on October 6, 2010  9:38pm

“If a building this size is needed for SOM…”

Funnily enough, at the last PDD hearing, the Dean of the SoM stated (with some exasperation) that the current design is “already too small for our purposes.” So I wonder what happens when they outgrow their new premises within the first year?

posted by: Geraldine on October 7, 2010  10:37am

Go for it. Anything to stop this hideous airline terminal being built is a good thing.

posted by: An EastRocker on October 9, 2010  9:00am

Would be nice to move the building about a half mile north along whitney, so that it would be a few yards from Yale President Richard Levin’s property. 

Don’t think it would have been approved so readily in that case.

posted by: East Rocker on October 10, 2010  6:02am

I have to say I find many of these comments odd. Whitney is not—at least at the intersection of Sachem—a purely residential street. As you can see in the picture above, the new SOM building will be down the street from 6 or 7 story tall concrete building and parking structure. In between the new SOM and that is a light industrial building and the rather ugly Lawn Club parking lot. Taste is a matter of opinion, but it seems a stretch to argue that the replacement of two slightly run down 4-story office buildings and their crumbling parking lot with a new academic facility and adjoining park is going to harm the neighborhood. Nor is the new building out of character with existing buildings. There are both large buildings and modernist buildings on Whitney. In this economy, New Haven needs all the development it can get and the fact that some people don’t like modern architecture isn’t a good enough reason to prevent Yale from building what it wants on its property.

posted by: fact check on October 11, 2010  2:19pm

Dear Disbelief and Fort Bradley:

The front wall, changes to the facade, and the swimming pool were designed and built by the previous owner, Fred Koetter, architect, and at that time, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. He has moved back to Boston, continuing to practice with Koetter Kim Architects. Their firm also designed the new Political Science building on Prospect Street. The current owner added a pool house in the backyard, and an addition to the rear of the house—these were designed by ABK architects of New Haven.