Version 1: City alders voted Monday night to bring common sense to an antiquated zoning code that had shut the public out of decisions determining the city’s future.
Version 2: City alders shut out the public Monday night by advancing a thinly disguised attack on Yale without letting Yale, city planning officials or the public weigh in for more than three minutes.
Those were two versions offered about a public hearing and then a vote that took place at City Hall during a meeting of the Board of Alders Legislation Committee.
The committee voted unanimously to amend the city’s zoning code to require that any building plans of a university or a college (read: Yale or, very occasionally, Albertus Magnus College) receive a special exception. Right now Yale can build in 12 separate residential and business and commercial zones of the city “as of right,” meaning it doesn’t need to ask the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for permission first. This amendment would change that. Every Yale (and Albertus) project in any residential or business zone would require the ZBA to approve a special exception.
Now the amendment heads to the full Board of Alders for expected final approval.
East Rock Alder Jessica Holmes presented the proposed amendment as chair of the Legislation Committee. It was a stripped-down version of an earlier draft that would have overhauled the city’s zoning rules in a way that critics, including the writer of this City Plan Department staff memo, described as illegal.
The new version introduced Monday night, Holmes argued, simply brings New Haven in line with cities like Providence and Hartford in requiring that the public gets to weigh in, through hearings and an approval process, on university expansion. And Yale has been by far New Haven’s busiest builder, constructing over 1 million square feet of new uses, such as dorms and health centers and police stations, in the past 15 years. But unlike, say, barber shops or restaurants, it has usually been able to do that without undergoing an extensive public review.
“There’s only so much developable land in the city,” Holmes said. And “the public deserves to testify ... and ask questions ... just like with a restaurant.”
City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg pleaded with the committee to hold off on voting Monday night. She said she and other members of the government and the public learned about the official new wording of the amendment only at the hearing. They had no time to analyze and review it, she argued. The alders should have publicized the new proposal before the hearing so the public could have reviewed it and prepared testimony for the hearing.
“We are not being allowed due or fair process,” complained Yale attorney Joseph Hammer, who like other speakers was allowed three minutes at the hearing to address the committee before it voted. After Yale Alder Sarah Eidelson held up a sign with a big zero to indicate that Hammer’s time had expired, he ended up spending about another three minutes arguing with committee members about how he should be able to offer more testimony beyond the three minutes. He lost that argument.
The Latest Chapter
On one level, the heated debate Monday night was about process, about the fine points of how a proposal should become law, about who should get to review it, how, and what constitutes a “new” proposal.
On another level, it was the latest power struggle to play out in the Alder Chambers between New Haven’s most powerful private institution, Yale, and a Board of Alders whose majority of members either belongs to or works for Yale’s UNITE HERE union locals or were elected with their support. The majority has been in place since the 2011 elections.
The debate over the merits of creating a new zoning category for university uses, or over who gets to speak up when about a legislative proposal, reflected a larger difference of opinion in the room and in the community at large: Whether subjecting Yale’s plans in New Haven to greater public review is a means of holding the university accountable to the public, or of holding it hostage to a union’s agenda.
That broader debate also centers on how to define democracy on a local level. Is a “labor” agenda a narrow special interest (a local union’s bid for a contract, say, or to win a first contract for a new sister union local representing Yale’s graduate student teachers) that unfairly comes to dominate other public interest making? Or can a “labor” agenda, crafted with community groups, represent a broader agenda that affects the wages and working conditions and neighborhood control of everyday New Haveners by challenging corporate power — by allowing working people’s representatives to play a part in government decision-making that powerful special-interest institutions like Yale already play as well?
Monday night, both sides claimed the “democracy” mantle.
After the vote, Yale’s point person for New Haven affairs, Associate Vice-President Lauren Zucker, argued that the alders rushed to approve, without receiving real public input, a proposal that they billed as injecting greater public input into government decisions. She also argued that Yale undergoes extensive review of all projects under current zoning rules, so there’s no demonstrated need to change the code.
“This had the least amount of public engagement. This legislation never even went to community management teams” for review, Zucker argued. “The first we all saw it was tonight.”
“I am trying to comment on something I haven’t seen until now,” complained Win Davis of the Town Green Special Servics District. “This seems like a rushed job. I don’t see why something as serious as the zoning code would be rushed.”
Holmes responded that the public had plenty of time to see the proposal — because the alders hadn’t changed any of the wording of the original earlier proposal. All they did was strike almost all of the language and preserve, word for word, one sentence: “The text of Section 12(b)1(g) shall be renumbered as a new Section 12(b)2(f), and the Use Table of this Zoning Code shall be updated such that university and college uses shall only be approved by Special Exception.” The public has already seen that sentence. (Click here for an earlier story about the farther-reaching elements of the original proposal that for now are off the table, and the arguments on both sides.)
Yale attorney Hammer argued that the act of excising almost all of the original proposal and leaving that one sentence behind substantially changed it, making it a new proposal. He argued that the proposal now unfairly “singled out” universities like Yale. And that in any case, the new proposal needs a fresh new review by the City Plan Commission, which the commission itself has advised.
“It’s important not to create a class of one with Yale University,” agreed Anstress Farwell of the Urban Design League, in her three-minute testimony before the committee.
Furthermore, Holmes argued, the proposal doesn’t single out Yale. Not only is Albertus affected, but state universities would be affected if they decided to build on private land rather than on the public land they now occupy.
Holmes also introduced a local zoning attorney newly hired by the alders to advise them on this proposal, named Keith Ainsworth. Ainsworth testified that because the alders didn’t add any new language to their original proposal, but rather eliminated parts of it, they met the public posting requirements and didn’t need to start over.
After hearing hours of testimony, the committee unanimously voted to follow his advice and send the matter to the full board for final approval.
Dixwell Alder Jeanette Morrison argued that the zoning change merely codifies a process that already takes place when Yale officials like Zucker and Community Affairs Associate Karen King consult with the public on building projects.
“Yale is so against this [proposal]. However, this is what Yale does all the time,” Morrison remarked. “Every time Yale wants to build something, move something, I always get a call from Lauren and Karen. They always come to management team meetings. This just makes it formal.”
“We all want to be good neighbors,” Morrison said. “Yale’s Office of Community Affairs has tried to be a good neighbor. To put it on paper, what is the problem?”
Morrison said the city needs to codify this process “just in case we don’t have a Karen or a Lauren,” but rather a less inclusive set of Yale officials, to deal with in the future.
Zucker was asked whether Yale will file a lawsuit to challenge the zoning change if the full Board of Alders approves it. She said she couldn’t comment yet: “I still need to read it.”
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posted by: Bill Saunders on June 20, 2017 3:21am
How does this proposal effect the Growth of other ‘Non-Profits’ like YNH Hospital, and if it doesn’t, might that be the Achille’s Heel that makes this proposal patently illegal….?
looking for answers….
posted by: robn on June 20, 2017 6:12am
It would be nice to return the BOA to a state in which it’s actually advocating for all citizens, not just a special interest. This move is right out of the national GOP playbook.
posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 20, 2017 8:01am
I believe Alder Morrison is sincere in her position. But she is incorrect in saying the amendment merely codifies current practice. The amendment substantively changes the process Yale has to go through for its projects and requires it to prove its case while holding it to a very amorphous standard.
I was on the non-partisan staff of the legislature for many years, staffing the Planning and Development Committee for much of this time. Part of my job was telling legislators when a bill or amendment wasn’t doing what the legislator intended. Neither the anendment nor the current law requires consultation with stakeholders. While Yale staff routinely present proposed developments to community management teams, neither section 63 of the zoning ordinance nor the amendment requires this. The amendment provides no opportunity for public input beyond that afforded for special exception applications under current law. The notice requirements of current law. which are unaffected by the amendment, are very limited. As a result, very few people provide input on most applications.
The proposal gives the ZBA a great of power. Its members are conscientious. But they are unelected and not acountable to the public.
posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 20, 2017 8:04am
FWIW, I have no connection with Yale - I’m a Cornellian.
posted by: GroveStreet on June 20, 2017 8:13am
I doubt that the alders have considered this, because they don’t think very deeply and aren’t primarily concerned about the people they represent, but Yale does a lot of things for people in the community.
If you want to keep being union-focused bullies, I couldn’t blame Yale from pulling back its community efforts because these city officials clearly don’t care and don’t give them any credit.
I have come to really dislike the board of alders. They are unwise and unconcerned.
posted by: Booksmarts on June 20, 2017 8:54am
Those arguing for this change on the grounds that it allows more public input are either deeply cynical or incredibly naive. This is about getting more bargaining power for the Yale unions in the next contract negotiations, pure and simple. Recall the words of the head of the Yale union at the time of the last contract: (from the Independent, Jan. 19, 2017)
“Inside the meeting, Proto pitched members on putting aside money to support UNITE HERE’s local political action committee. “We have 23 out of 30 allies on the Board of Aldermen, and our chief steward [Tyisha Walker] is the president of the Board of Alders in New Haven,” Proto said to applause, in remarks that were audible outside the hall. “Don’t think Yale’s not going to run somebody against that. Don’t think Yale wants us to have our hand on the steering wheel as it relates to political leverage in this town. This is New Haven. Yale is the company in New Haven. They want to have the power. Right now, we have the power.””
The board of alders is using the techniques of the congressional Republicans to pass rules that serve on the narrow interests of their backers, at the expense of a transparent democratic process. That’s all this is.
posted by: Mark Firla on June 20, 2017 9:09am
Bill Saunders My understanding is that universities are actually the entities that have an exemption from existing law/code. All other organizations are already required to go before the city/public for approval. This language closes that gap.
posted by: Noteworthy on June 20, 2017 9:36am
Three Words Note:
1. Disgraceful, Disingenuous and Deceitful.
2. This was a manipulation of the process and it denied fair notice, proper preparation and public input. To say otherwise - is just lyng and is a deceitfulness that brings disgrace to the BOA and the entire concept of open government and transparency.
3. The goal may be laudable - this process is pathetic. It was a ram job - and in the process, denied the public including Yale and other city staff from doing the very thing that Ald. Holmes claims she wants - public input on university expansion.
4. That Holmes says this isn’t targeting Yale - it is just as deceitful as the rest of this effort. Everybody’s BS alert should be on shrill.
5. As for the ridiculous 3-minute rule - a rule that has been deployed against the public in budget hearings and other hotly contested issues is by its nature designed to limit public input because the fix is already in. The votes were already counted. The alders already met in private to cook the outcome. The public comments are just a formality and therefore, the 3-minute rule is deployed so they have to listen to as little of it as possible.
6. Fxxx the 3-minute rule.
7. Note to Holmes and the other Rubber-stamping Vote Chefs: You can still cook the vote and pretend to listen and care while giving all interested parties an opportunity to voice their opinion. You don’t have to cram it down the throats of those at the table and make them choke on it.
posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 20, 2017 9:37am
Bill, the proposal only applies to colleges and universities. This might raise an Equal Protection Clause issue. But I believe a challenge would be subject to the “rational basis” standard of review, a pretty easy threshold for the BOA to meet.
Alder Holmes’ statement that the proposal would apply to SCSU and Gateway if they build on private land strikes me as odd. Land use applications are generally filed by the property owner. Tenants usually cannot make structural changes to buildings or substantially change their use without the owner’s consent.
posted by: Renewhavener on June 20, 2017 9:39am
@JM “Yale is so against this [proposal]. However, this is what Yale does all the time,” Morrison remarked. “Every time Yale wants to build something, move something, I always get a call from Lauren and Karen. They always come to management team meetings. This just makes it formal.”
Wait, what!? That’s because Marchand and other spineless Unite amoebas at CPC choose to trash any proposal served up to them that has not been precooked at the CMT’s. Groups formed for the express purpose of enhancing community policing btw who have no technical, spatial or economic guidance when it comes to land use! #missioncreep.
It’s comforting knowing that our local representatives are so caught up in the Yale vs. UNITE battle that they can’t be bothered to represent the enormous amount of New Haven residents who are not, in fact, affiliated with Yale at all. It seems that most of the Alders are perfectly content using their political positions to fight a proxy war with Yale, and have little concern for their constituents otherwise.
posted by: DrJay on June 20, 2017 11:27am
These alders are following President Trump’s game plan- self interest above all. Too bad there’s no emollients clause in our city charter. But this is s clear an example of conflict of interest. Shame on the board.
posted by: FacChec on June 20, 2017 11:46am
For more than 200 yrs Yale has been allowed to freely build, buy, sell and cajole the BOA to sell parcels of land in New Haven without the slightest peep or resistance. For example, the streets off York St and Broadway, the parking lot in front of Yale book store, expanding the curbing in front of the clothing shops on Broadway. Tossing out mom& pop shop such as Broadway dinner in order to expand the print shop. There was no outcry then from the Alders that Yale should receive a zoning exception and operate under a public hearing just like everyone else seeking to build or expand.
Yale has had a defacto right of way for too long. The change of the code seems to involve a simple sentence modification to ensure that Yale follow the zoning procedures just like the food trucks that have recently had to comply with.
However, the question does arise; why now? It does appear United-here has an ulterior motive for this change in an attempt to gain leverage on Yale for upcoming negotiations. If true and I believe it is, then united-here Alders have exposed themselves as self serving minions who hold their own interest above the taxpayers they represent.
They are not interested in public input, if they were they would not let city dept. heads speak unlimited time and hold taxpayers to three minutes, at their own public hearings on the budget.
Yale should beheld in compliance.
United-Here Alders should be thrown out.
posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 20, 2017 1:06pm
Mark Firla, land use law applies to uses of property and the characteristics (e.g., height) of structures. Ownership is generally irrelevant.
If the maximum building height in a zone is 35 feet, you need a variance to build a 50-foot building. Same thing if you want to erect a building closer to its neighbor thab allowed under the zoning ordinance. Thus, Yale had to obtain several variances to build the grad housing that is going up on Broadway. It was subject to the same notice and hearing requirements as any other applicant and the same standard of review applied.
Similarly, a narrow range of uses require special exceptions in specific zones, regardless of who owns the property.
posted by: budgeteer on June 20, 2017 1:10pm
The city closes its books on the fiscal year ending June 30 at the end of August.
Will Yale accelerate its voluntary payment to August, as it has in the past? At this rate, I doubt it.
There goes the city’s bond rating…. Thanks, UNITE, picking a fight with your employer and causing collateral damage to New Haven taxpayers.
Why does the New Haven electorate put up with this blatantly conflicted behavior on the part of people who are supposed to be public servants? The Alders are serving their own private interests, not the public’s.
posted by: Albatross on June 20, 2017 1:46pm
The hypocrisy is astounding. Proposing an amendment under the pretense of public input, and then surreptitiously forcing it through with no real opportunity for public review. And now a zoning attorney has been hired to add to these shenanigans. Who is paying for that? Again, another signal to developers to steer clear of New Haven and its obstructionist BOA.
Who thinks this amendment is so urgent? Oh right, no one except for UNITE. Many or most residents are sympathetic with resistance to Yale and side with labour in general, but this has all gone way too far, and at the actual expense of constituents, especially those in Ward 9 who bear more and more of New Haven’s tax burden and are not served while their representative is too busy doing the union’s bidding.
posted by: Renewhavener on June 20, 2017 1:47pm
@FacChec, “...Yale should beheld in compliance.”
In compliance with what exactly?
For anyone who cares to pay attention to the approval process around here, or who has carried projects through it, the situation is clear. It is already absurd! Why add another fun house mirror to the Daliesque experience?
Moveover, yale has not been given centuries worth of a pass. They still need to comply with the regulations as they are written to build ‘by right’. The job needs to be the appropriate in use, shape, size, massing and lot coverage as any other. To the extent some aspect of the job is out of those limits, they must walk the walk through the zoning board of appeals, as all applicants must. So what’s the issue?
All that I see being proposed here is yet another layer of capricious bs that some poor professional has to wade through to do their job as an architect, engineer, lawyer, planner or other hapless project actor who may sadly find themselves assigned to a project oriented towards furthering the aims of a higher educational institution within our fair city.
It’s just another barrier.
We have plenty of those already.
posted by: Noteworthy on June 20, 2017 3:08pm
What a great idea - Yale should just withhold its PILOT payments until say February - far too late for the city to lie to the public about balancing the budget and far too long even for the morally challenged city auditors to help the mayor cook the books with a gnarled, half eaten fig leaf for legal cover.
posted by: FacChec on June 20, 2017 4:46pm
Yale (Conway) says it has paid its pilot of $5.6M in August 2016, paying a year forward towards the current FY16/17 budget. If Yale were to pay in Aug. 2017, according to Conway the payment would be for FY 17/18 which starts on July 1.
The city on the other hand has always contended that Yale pays late each fiscal year, paying in Aug. on a debt due by June 30th. Who is right? Depends on what books their keeping or cooking. If Yale indeed is paying forward, which is a strange financial deal, and then the city has to be inaccurate in the way it is reporting to the BOA. Conway wrote the following letter to the NHR editor. http://www.nhregister.com/opinion/20170610/letter-to-the-editor-yale-paid-new-haven-56m-for-2016-17-despite-claim. To date there has been no response from the city or the recalcitrant BOA. In addition Yale pays another $2.8M for fire services from the city. Since the MOA was signed by Destefano after 1998, these amounts have remained constant while city taxes for fire service as the increasing maintenance of the general fund grow each year.
Therefore, while the city and the BOA continue to allow this $8.2M discrepancy time line payment to linger, the NH Taxpayer is carrying the highly questionable back charge. Yale has new dorms coming on board soon and should negotiate a new pilot payment for both fire and dorms with the city. Harp needs to get on top of this now!
posted by: 1644 on June 20, 2017 5:51pm
Fac: Yale is paying in advance, and has been for years since DeStefano needed money to balance his books. (Of course, if New Haven had a competent Finance Director, the city would have received $5 million in LoCIP grants. Instead, Clerkin lamely rolled notes, year after year, until the LoCIP money ran out. Now, he may as well bond the money, adding to New Haven’s long term debt.) Similarly, the sales of city property to Yale were prompted by the city needing to cover shortfalls in hits budget, a budget the Alders adopted. Had the Alders not underestimated expenditures and overestimated revenue (a tradition that continues), the city would not have had to go begging Yale to buy streets, York Square parking lot, etc. Like you, I miss the Doodle, but its demise was a generational shift, not really Yale’s doing. I do appreciate Alexander’s management of the York Square parking lot. Gone are the monthly parking, meaning the parking can support the retail establishments, and arrived are the sidewalk vendors selling artwork, etc., adding to the “festival marketplace” atmosphere that Alexander is enamored of, and which actually works on Broadway.
posted by: Morgan Barth on June 20, 2017 10:58pm
What a self-serving over-reach from the Alders…very disappointed that this moved forward after the strong and vocal opposition to the original proposal. Nobody has ever come to New Haven and said, “Gee, it’s just too easy to build, renovate or invest here.”
posted by: GroveStreet on June 20, 2017 11:17pm
These alders are simply the antithesis of the great Shirley Chisholm.
They are BOUGHT & BOSSED. We need to start running them out…
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 21, 2017 1:39am
People need to run against them…....
posted by: OutofTown on June 21, 2017 9:05am
Hunger Strike Watch - All fairness-minded folks in New Haven should now stop eating. I’ll take the first 15 minutes. Anybody care to take my place, then wheel me into Brueggers when my fame is up?
posted by: budman on June 21, 2017 9:40am
We need to band together and vote out these special interest board of alders. This is bull. Whether you agree with the general outcome or not, to not allow the people heir voice is simply unconstitutional. I’ve sat at meetings where they’ve allowed people to ramble on for ever, and now you throw something at people, and then some smug alder sits there and holds sheets on papers with numbers on them. They are absolutely disgusting! No one trump won, with people like this taking the helm.
posted by: JCFremont on June 21, 2017 1:12pm
Exactly what type of “Industry, Business and or Economic Growth” would New Haven accept? High End Tech or Bio Med? Why that would be concentrated in the “already” need I say gentrified areas of downtown? Manufacturing? That would have to close to I-95 and 91. Cue up the calls to build a plant that won’t make noise, or disturb any part of New Haven’s land, sea or air. So what do we get? Retail or relay on Yale and the Four Campuses to continue to expand.
posted by: win win on June 21, 2017 11:26pm
I’m embarrassed that so many seemingly educated, articulate NHI readers could be so easily bamboozled by Yale’s crying victim at anyone having the audacity to hold them to the same standard as other developers, businesses and universities.
For far too long Yale has had free reign to build -or tear down or push out- whatever they want without input from or regard for the communities impacted. It’s about time we had some checks and balances from our democratically elected body
posted by: win win on June 21, 2017 11:30pm
“There goes the city’s bond rating…. Thanks, UNITE, picking a fight with your employer and causing collateral damage to New Haven taxpayers
HMMMM is not Yale’s unchecked gobbling up of our entire taxable land mass for tax exempt purposes -speciously so in many cases- collateral damage to New Haven taxpayers!???
I only wish this ordinance had gone further to include criteria for building in our city. Like benefits to the actual taxpayers and workers instead of the antiquated, pathetic build anything at any cost and maybe eventually something will trickle down approach CT clings to at its own expense
posted by: Renewhavener on June 22, 2017 9:08am
“I’m embarrassed that so many seemingly educated, articulate NHI readers could be so easily bamboozled by Yale’s crying victim at anyone having the audacity to hold them to the same standard as other developers, businesses and universities.
For far too long Yale has had free reign to build -or tear down or push out- whatever they want without input from or regard for the communities impacted. It’s about time we had some checks and balances from our democratically elected body”
@winwin. Clearly you have never tried to get a project approved here before nor get anything built in this town. So how about a quick street-view orientation from people who actually do?
They ARE held to the same standard and must comply with the rules of the zone in question where they aspire to build. If what they want to build is conforming to the zone they may do so, “by-right”. Just as a home owner who would like to modify their own personal private property may if that modification is conforming. It is private property. Meaning theirs. Not yours. Let’s get that clear for starters.
Moving to checks and balances from a democratically elected body, here again you are off base. The CMT’s are not elected. They are active neighbors. CPC reps are not either. They are appointed by the Mayor. ZBA reps are appointed by the mayor and then approved by the BOA. So if you think Yale can get Mayor/ZBA on their side and have carte blance for zoning relief, you are incorrect as a check-and-balance already exists at the moment of appointment. Here’s a little link you can take a look at in case you would rather not read the code. Maybe it will assuage your embarrassment and get you as “seemingly educated” as the rest of us: http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/Government/Boards_Commissions.asp
Fact is, everyone in the mix who is either professional or objective thinks this is wrong. Anyone who thinks it is right has a vested interest in having leverage on Yale.
posted by: budgeteer on June 22, 2017 11:29am
Winwin: “anyone having the audacity to hold them to the same standard as other developers, businesses and universities.”
This comment gets the situation upside-down. The proposal under discussion would require universities—and only universities (which means most Yale, and Magnus a bit)—to go through a hoop that no one else has to go through.
This is an anti-Yale proposal from a board of anti-Yale alders.
So much for 20 years of cooperation and progress. All thrown under the union bus.
posted by: Fiat on June 23, 2017 10:46am
First, a special exception is an extra review of a use ALLOWED in the zone. It is not a variance. Look at the list of items that require a special exception- the majority are far less intensive than university projects. About time that somebody decided to get a measure of review over such development. Second, 200 years ago or more, excuse my date innacuracy, Yale-educated legislators slipped a tax exemption into the state constitution, and have enjoyed their white shoe old boy’s favor ever since. Everytime there is a move to change it, more white shoes rant that the Yale Corporation would have to approve the change, and the Corporation will not approve it. Give me a break. This is New Haven, not Yalehaven