Lot-Street Swap Eyed For Cut-Through

Thomas Breen photosThe city plans to trade a publicly owned parking lot for a private stretch of Fair Street in order to build out a better bicycle-and-pedestrian-friendly connection between Downtown and Wooster Square.

Deputy Economic Development Administrator Steve Fontana made that pitch at the regular monthly meeting of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSCMT) on the second floor of City Hall.

Fontana said the city’s latest plans to reconnect the two adjacent downtown neighborhoods involve purchasing and reclaiming the block of Fair Street between Union Street and Olive Street, which is currently privately owned and closed off to public access. He said that the owners of the private Fair Street block, Stephen and Lucy Ahern’s SPA Associates, LLC, are open to selling Fair Street back to the city in exchange for a city-owned parking lot at 77 Olive St.

“Fair Street is and could be and once was a main thoroughfare between Downtown and Wooster Square,” Fontana said on Tuesday night.

Fontana said he has been working on the Fair Street reclamation project for two and a half years. The current plans to buy back Fair Street stem from a Wooster Square Planning Study that the city and the Boston-based design firm Utile produced in 2016 that singled out the private, closed-off city block as a potential salve for stitching together the two city neighborhoods.

(Click here to download a copy of the 2016 Wooster Square study.)

City of New HavenFontana said that, if the city follows through and purchases the section of Fair Street in question, it will prioritize bicycle and pedestrian access on the newly-reopened city block.

But he said the current owners of the shuttered Fair Street block want more than money in exchange for selling it back to the city. Fontana said that the Aherns want to purchase the city-owned parking lot at 77 Olive St. just up the block between Chapel Street and Court Street.

Stephen Ahern did not respond to a phone request for comment by the publication time of this article.

Thomas Breen photosThe Aherns already own properties at 71 Olive St. and 81 Olive St., the latter of which is the new home to the Hope Child Development daycare center. Fontana said the Aherns want to provide 16 currently city-owned parking spaces to Hope, and block off another 9 currently city-owned parking spaces for the daycare center’s new playground.

That would leave only 24 city-owned parking spaces at the lot, he said. And the city’s Parking Authority currently leases out 62 parking permits for the 49-space lot.

Fontana said that the Parking Authority is open to working with current parking permit lease holders to find alternative spots at other city-owned lots in Wooster Square. He said the Aherns are also open to leasing up to 10 parking spaces at their property at 71 Olive St. to accommodate car owners displaced by the prospective 77 Olive St. parking lot sale.

New Haven Urban Design League President Anstess Farwell criticized the proposed parking lot sale for taking away mid-block parking from neighborhood residents.

“Don’t consider the sale,” she said about the parking lot, “but please keep going with Fair Street.”

“Unfortunately,” Fontana responded, “they’re linked.”

Fontana said his next step for the project is to touch base with Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg. If the city decides to go through with the parking lot sale and acquisition of the private Fair Street block, he said, there will be a public hearing before the Board of Alders, as is always the case when the city looks to sell publicly owned land.

Greenberg did not respond to an email request for comment by the publication time of this article.

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posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 2, 2019  9:02am

Tom did his usual fine job on this story. But the headline strikes me as a little odd. A “cut-through” makes me think of a dirt path; the pedestrian/bike connection is more substantial. It could also be designed to be accessible to emergency vehicles by installing retractable bollards.

A couple of the Parking Authority lots in Wooster Square are substantially underutilized. The authority could give any permit-holders affected by this deal a discount on spaces in these lots.

posted by: opin1 on January 2, 2019  10:58am

In having a discussion about whether to sell or trade something it would be helpful to know the values/costs of the parcels in question:
1. how much revenue does the city-owned parking lot currently generate?
2. how much would the city-owned parking lot be assessed for after its transfered to the LLC? (i.e. what would the property tax consequences be?)
3. How much would the tax assessment decrease by on the piece of land the city would be acquiring?
4. is any money being exchanged between city and developer or is it strictly a land swap?
5. based on the above, what’s the net cost of making the trade?

I would also be interested in hearing the opinion of the developer who’s preparing to build the Union St apartment development. Doesn’t Fair St border that property? Does their development plan to access Fair St in any way?

posted by: 1644 on January 2, 2019  11:41am

Who in New Haven could be opposed to converting parking spaces to a daycare playground, especially a daycare which caters to low-income families?  Antress Farwell.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 2, 2019  11:58am

New Haven Urban Design League President Anstess Farwell criticized the proposed parking lot sale for taking away mid-block parking from neighborhood residents.

“Don’t consider the sale,” she said about the parking lot, “but please keep going with Fair Street.”

“Unfortunately,” Fontana responded, “they’re linked.”

To late.The Bike Nazis are taking over for 2019.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 2, 2019  2:19pm

Opin1, good questions. I spoke with Steve after the meeting. He also characterized the deal as a swap. If the market value of one parcel was notably more than the other, its owner would presumably be asking for cash in addition to the other parcel.

With regard to foregone revenue, NHPA charges residents $45/month for a space in the lot. I bike by several times per week (which may make me a bike nazi in 3/5ths book) and rarely see the lot lot half-filled. You would also have to consider the authority’s cost in maintaining the lot (mainly snow plowing).

I believe the city has already approved the site plan for 87 Union and that construction is supposed to start this winter. The development is not a gated community and residents could use the Fair Street extension to get downtown.

1644, I periodically attend BZA meetings. If a homeowner wants to put in dormers in her home, neighbors will complain about parking.

posted by: Ryn111 on January 2, 2019  4:25pm

Utile makes great presentations and does a good amount of urban planning.

They make both great and OK recommendations with neither rooted in economic realities.

Did their 2016 plan project an 11% tax increase?

posted by: 1644 on January 2, 2019  4:42pm

Ryn111:  Presumably, this bike and pedestrian path would increase the desirability of Wooster Square properties.  The question is what would be the ROI and payback period for the city’s investment, and do Wooster Square residents really want the increased assessments and taxes that would result?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 2, 2019  6:30pm

1644, I think the path will increase the desirability of properties in its immediate vicinity. But once you get a block or two away from the path, its impact is likely to be minimal If you live north of Chapel Street, you will use the path infrequently.

posted by: LookOut on January 2, 2019  6:59pm

1644,

New Haven, for some reason, has a history of giving voice to those that want to stop or reverse progress.  All are allowed their opinion but in the end, let’s hope that we are progressive enough to move this forward quickly.

posted by: Ryn111 on January 2, 2019  8:01pm

I’m not sure the city focuses about ROI but yes you are echoing my point.

The math is - what does the city currently make from the lot and what will it pay taxed by a private owner. I assume the land swap is 0$.

The increased tax value will happen regardless as the city continues to reach for a high grant list as WE fall deeper into deficit.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 3, 2019  8:34am

We are spending a lot of time, money and effort to cater to a very small few. And it may be getting smaller:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/01/02/bike-work-fewer-americans-new-trails-share-programs/2319972002/