Nearly a year ago, a yacht club looking to move to New Haven was tossing in a storm of neighborhood opposition. Now, with a new commodore charting the course, the club is sailing straight into neighbors’ open arms.
Last summer, when Bridgeport’s Pequonnock Yacht Club first proposed moving to New Haven’s City Point neighborhood, neighbors rose up in opposition to the plan. By Wednesday night’s meeting of the City Plan Commission, locals were bubbling over with praise for the move.
Here’s what changed: Under the leadership of new commodore, Len Walker (pictured), the yacht club abandoned a controversial plan to put a large addition on an historic oyster house. Instead, the club worked out a mutually beneficial deal to share space with Sage restaurant. The new plan preserves two historic buildings, protects a local business, and pleases neighbors.
After the glowing recommendations of locals, the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to approved the proposal at its monthly meeting Wednesday night. The yacht club is now cleared for launch. Commodore Len Walker said he aims to have the new club open by the end of June.
That will be the final chapter in a drama that turned the traditional neighborhood-versus-builder narrative on its head, a story of how neighbors, businesses, and preservationists can work together creatively rather than fight.
Wednesday’s vote marks the final leg of a voyage that began in June 2009, when the Pequonnock Yacht Club first appeared before the commission, asking to move to City Point. At that time, under a different commodore, the club had purchased the historic Oyster Point Marina building (pictured) and was planning a large addition to convert it into a clubhouse. Controversy ensued, as neighbors protested that the addition would be unsightly, out of keeping with the neighborhood, and would destroy the nature of the historic building.
The City Plan Commission nevertheless approved the plan, which was soon torpedoed by the Historic District Commission in July.
Then, shortly after a suspiciously surreptitious meeting of the Historic District Commission, neighbors and yachters finally came to a new agreement in August. That plan allowed the club to put a smaller addition onto the oyster house.
Although questions remained about the adverse impact of the yacht club on the nearby Sage restaurant, the new agreement seemed to ]end of the story.
But by the end of 2009, work still hadn’t begun on the new clubhouse. In December club elections, Walker was voted into office as the club’s new commodore. He began to talk with the owner of Sage. Before long, a superior clubhouse plan emerged.
Under the plan, Sage owner Dave McCoart (pictured) has agreed to sell his building to the yacht club. The club will then lease the first floor of the restaurant back to him and use the top floor at its clubhouse. The historic oyster building nearby will remain largely unmodified. It will be renovated and turned into offices and storage. A nearby historic barn will be preserved, and McCoart will have built-in year-round clientele.
“I’m the new regime,” Commodore Walker said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I came in to straighten out this mess.”
The new plan is a “win-win right off the bat,” Walker said. It avoids the “monstrosity” of an oyster house addition, “which I hated,” he said.
All told, the yacht club will invest over $6 million in the area, Walker said. That includes buying Sage restaurant property, doing some dredging, rebuilding a wave break, and renovating several buildings.
On Wednesday, before the meeting, McCoart expressed his satisfaction with the plan. “I’m all for it,” he said.
McCoart said he approached Commodore Walker and said, “Look I think we ought to join forces.” McCoart said he was looking to downsize Sage, which struggles in the winter months while operating costs keep going up.
The new plan joins together a number of separate parcels that were a single property until 1974, McCoart said. Under the old plan, Sage would have been beholden to the yacht club for parking, which could have put a strain on his business, he said.
Under the new plan, “We’ll have the best yacht club on the east coast,” said McCoart who is not a member of the club.
Anstress Farwell, the head of the New Haven Urban Design League, voiced her support for the project before the commission. “Everything is becoming quite shipshape,” she said. Farwell had previously filed to intervene on behalf of neighbors in the proceedings between the yacht club and the historic commission.
Kris Sainsbury, a City Point resident and another former yacht club foe, also expressed her support. “They’re working with the neighbors and it’s becoming beautiful,” she said. “Neighbors are sitting back and breathing lightly.” It’s a wonderful feeling, she added.
“Everything’s working out and we can all sing Kumbaya,” said local Alderwoman Dolores Colon. Several other neighbors also voiced their support.
City plan staffer Joy Ford asked the yacht club to plant trees in the area where possible. She mentioned the mayor’s goal of planting 10,000 trees in five years. That goal was announced in October at Sage restaurant.
After the voting, Walker said he was heading to Sage for some cocktails.