A little-noticed amendment that passed the New Haven Board of Aldermen last month may have political implications for development projects undertaken by Yale and other large institutions in the Elm City.
The approved changes to the city’s zoning ordinances are largely technical and passed with little fanfare, designating a maximum size for so-called “Planned Development Units” that can be approved by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. But in practice, the change would require all new development projects over two acres to pass through the Board of Aldermen.
Although the University has faced challenges on development projects from the Board of Aldermen in the past, Yale Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said he did not expect the new ordinance to place an undue burden on the University. The University has faced little opposition from city government in its recent development efforts, and Morand said the new legislation was unlikely to affect any projects currently under consideration.
Yet at the same time, the size and nature of Yale’s growth is an important political issue in New Haven, especially since the University is largely exempt from property taxes. Because the elected Board of Aldermen is larger, more public and more politically charged than the appointed Board of Zoning Appeals, the new statutes could result in larger debates over some local construction projects by Yale or others.
“As an institution that has done a fair amount of renovation and construction, the zoning laws in the city obviously impact us,” Morand said. “We have all confidence that developments on campus that will require aldermanic review and approval will pass muster on their merits.”
Morand said he did not believe the University was the target of the changes, although he said some ongoing projects on Science Hill might have been placed before the aldermen had the rules been in effect before this year. Morand also said large development projects by the University already required review by the Board of Aldermen even before the amendments were passed.
Aldermanic President Jorge Perez, who sponsored the changes, also included new requirements for developers seeking approval for new parking plans in his legislation. In recent weeks, a planned expansion of parking facilities at Yale-New Haven Hospital has come under criticism by some residents in the Hill neighborhood.
“Multiple individual applications can each deny a significant parking impact, while the large-scale impact is exempt from City oversight,” Perez wrote in a letter submitting the legislation. “Years can go by with absolutely no oversight regarding institutions with major parking impact upon the city.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who chairs the committee which reviewed the legislation, said he felt the changes encountered limited opposition because most legislators believed the original statutes were intended to place all larger developments under aldermanic review. Although Healey said the New Haven Chamber of Commerce expressed concern about the legislation, it passed unanimously on the 30-member Board.
“Plan development units were not intended to be exceedingly large, and essentially, we just clarified that legislative intent,” Healey, who represents much of the Yale campus, said. “It had just become clear that developers were going to continue to use exceedingly large PDUs to both get around the zoning code and avoid the Board of Aldermen.”