Two hearings scheduled for a plan to dramatically change how New Haven makes major zoning decisions have been postponed, and the proposal ran into some initial public criticism Tuesday night.
The Legislation Committee’s proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance governing “Community Impacts” came under sharp criticism from members of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSMT) on Tuesday night during their monthly meeting at City Hall.
The plan would create a new “high impact” category of zoning approval that would require Yale University to go through a new layer of review — and detail a wide-ranging list of “community impacts” — before it builds anything in New Haven. (Read a previous full article about the proposal, and arguments for and against it, by clicking here.)
The Board of Alders’ Legislation Committee, which drew up the proposal, planned to hold a hearing on it Thursday night. Committee Chair Jessica Holmes said it needs to be rescheduled to provide more public notice. The City Plan Commission is also expected to table a public hearing on it planned for Wednesday night for the same reason.
Meanwhile, the idea was discussed informally Tuesday night at the monthly meeting of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSMT) on Tuesday night held at City Hall. Initial reaction was critical.
Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League and at-large member of the DWSCMT executive board, distributed a two-page memo to those present in which she clearly described her opposition to the alders’ proposed zoning changes.
The changes, which would apply to Section 63.D(6) of the city’s zoning laws, would create a new category of “High-Impact Special Exceptions” that would require public and private colleges and universities to complete a special application every time they wanted to make property-related acquisitions or development. The changes would also allow the Board of Alders an advisory role which would change the current rules on votes needed to pass an item at the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).
“This proposal has come up very last minute, and it is being inappropriately rushed to the City Plan Commission and the BOA,” she wrote in the memo. “With so little notice, and no meeting with the alder [Aaron Greenberg], this is not an item which [the DWSCMT] could move on one way or another, other than to say it is premature and extraordinarily and inappropriately rushed.”
Her primary concerns with the text amendments were not with their general impulse, which was to clarify and distinguish between procedural requirements faced by smaller and larger developers in town. Rather, her disapproval of the proposed changes to the zoning law focused primarily on the sloppiness of their composition, and the hurry with which the alders were seeking to get the changes approved.
“These changes need more consideration,” Farwell said, recounting her recent conversation with Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg. “These changes are uneven in their application. If you’re going to say that universities and colleges need to be subject to the new law, but not other large developers, it’s terribly uneven. It would exclude hospitals, large residential and commercial developers, and other large new business development in New Haven. There wasn’t any rationale for why you would discriminate in that way.”
She also expressed concern that convenience stores and other small businesses that would be subject to this law would simply not have enough time to read and understand its requirements between when the language was first introduced last Thursday and when the alders were seeking its approval later this week.
“This impacts more than the university,” agreed Karen King, community affairs associate in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs. “If people want to put a small business in a residential zone, they would be subject to these rules.”
Farwell said that she had recommended to Alder Greenberg that he and his colleagues review the website of the city of Cambrdige, Massachusetts for guidance on how best to distinguish between zoning requirements for small changes, big changes, small developers, and big developers.
“I think there are a lot of good models out there that would guide the Board of Alders on how to make this process work well,” she said. “And that it would be best to just withdraw this.”
Alder Holmes and fellow committee member Jeanette Morrison said in previous interviews that the proposal grew out of widespread concerns from constituents about being left out of plans to redevelop the city. The alders said the changes would spell out what community benefits come from university building in town and make the process more democratic without delaying or hindering development.