Upper Chapel West district residents and retailers voiced strong opposition to a plan to move a magnet arts high school to their neighborhood at a community meeting Tuesday night.
The New Haven Board of Education and the school-wide construction committee have already approved the relocation, which would move the Cooperative (Co-op) Arts & Humanities Magnet High School from Orange Street to the portion of Upper Chapel Street currently occupied by Yale Parking Lot 80. If approved by the New Haven Board of Aldermen, the relocation would displace 12 area businesses due to the principle of eminent domain.
Tuesday’s meeting, organized by the Dwight Central Management Team and Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, drew more than 100 people. Nearly all the audience members applauded as, one by one, local business owners and area residents stood up to voice their concerns about the potential impact of a 650-student high school on neighborhood retail and residential life. Many also criticized the city for not consulting them before choosing the site.
Like many local business owners, Geraldine Cullinan of Geraldine Florist said construction of the school would destroy the social and economic fabric of the neighborhood. A former arts teacher, she expressed confidence in Cesar Pelli, the architect chosen to design the school, but asked city officials to consider alternative sites.
“If I have to leave, I don’t know where I’ll go — it might put me out of business,” she said. “Cesar Pelli is an internationally renowned architect. He could put this school on a postage stamp if he wanted to; he could put it anywhere, and it would be great. Just don’t put it here.”
If construction moves forward, Cullinan will be given three months to move. But even the owners of area businesses who would not be displaced by the project, like Mike O’Mara of Three Chimneys Inn, said Co-op’s proposed relocation made them worried for their livelihoods.
“We love being there; we love being a part of the neighborhood,” O’Mara said. “What’s going to happen when this school moves in? Are my guests going to want to stay at the Three Chimneys Inn if it’s next to a 650-student high school?”
Many residents of Howe, Dwight, Edgewood and Chapel streets said that besides destroying the vitality of the local economy, the proposed school would change the overall quality of life in the neighborhood. Their concerns included a reduction in the availability of parking — already a pressing issue — as well as an increase in crime in the community.
One 52-year resident of Dwight Street said late-night businesses like Main Garden and Pizza House make her feel safe during her nightly walk home from work at Family Dollar. If such businesses are gone, the resident said, she does not know how she will be able to get to and from her job.
Sue Weisselberg, coordinator of New Haven’s School Construction Program, said she understood area residents’ concerns and would work with the community to address them. She said city officials have been looking at parking replacement options, as well as the possibility of incorporating retail space into the new Co-op building.
“We looked long and hard for a site over the last eight months,” she said. “Something that has been true in New Haven as we build these schools is that there is no perfect site.”
One of the key advantages of the site, Cesar Pelli Senior Associate Ann Haynes said, is that its proximity to Yale would allow Co-op to expand its current collaborations with the graduate arts schools. Haynes said this proximity, in addition to spatial and parking considerations, makes the Upper Chapel West location the one most suitable for the school.
“One of the key features for this school is to connect the arts facilities [with] the downtown cultural life, so we looked for sites within range of downtown facilities and cultural facilities that would create a symbiotic relationship with the new school,” Haynes said. “[But] we want to continue pedestrian life.”
The proposal for the school is now in the process of being reviewed by the New Haven Board of Aldermen. It will be voted on in March, Chen said.