The heated debate over the proposed construction of a 350-car parking garage just north of Ingalls Rink remains unresolved as Mansfield Street residents and city officials anxiously await the verdict of a lawsuit filed last fall.
After the city approved the project in September, two families that live within a 200-foot radius of the development sued the city and Yale secondarily, citing concerns about noise, increased traffic, pollution and lowered property values. Initially scheduled to break ground this spring, the project is now on hold until a court decision is reached.
Although no official announcements have been made, a decision from the Superior Court as to the fate of the garage is expected in the near future.
Plans to build the three-level garage were initiated as a result of Yale’s construction of the new chemistry and engineering buildings on Prospect Street. This eliminated the number of parking spaces available to Yale faculty and staff to below the amount required by the city.
The two couples involved in the lawsuit, Ian and Lisa Nielson and Michael and Carey Curtis, both live in houses that would be directly in sight of the garage. Although they are the only families directly involved, Michael Curtis said he feels the majority of the neighborhood shares their view that the vacant space is an inappropriate site for a parking garage.
“A 350-car parking garage does not belong in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Curtis said. “Yale seems to feel entitled to build it there because they own the space, but it is a huge exception to the zoning rules that we feel should not have been granted.”
The five-acre green stretch of Yale-owned land between Prospect and Mansfield streets was chosen by the University as the best location for the new garage, despite criticism from local residents and professors at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The project, which required special approval because it violated city zoning laws, was reviewed and approved by all the necessary commissions of University officials and New Haven citizens.
Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said it is not uncommon for neighbors to file lawsuits when new buildings are being constructed, but the city’s threshold for conceding to these demands is quite low.
“We are confident that we have a solid case for all the reasons the proposal itself was initially approved,” Morand said.
At a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting held after the project’s approval, over 100 Mansfield residents signed a petition against building the garage. They also obtained a study from the Hamden real-estate firm Norman Benedict Associates that said the houses within sight of the parking garage would lose 15 percent of their value, but a Yale-initiated study disputed that claim.
Along with two of his colleagues at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, professor Gaboury Benoit wrote a letter to University President Richard Levin indicating his misgivings about the lot’s construction. Although he maintains his belief that the space could be put to better use, he said the University was very open to their suggestions, making several modifications to its plan.
“There is so little open space either on Yale campus or in the city of New Haven at this point that I think the space should be preserved,” Benoit said. “Besides the effects of increased storm-water runoff, added pollution and the aesthetic distaste of the garage, I think the space would be better off as an open area available to both the Yale community and New Haven as a whole.”
In response to these complaints, the University has made efforts to mitigate the effects of the garage through its design and positioning. Latticework on the facade, a lowered building structure and special lighting techniques to eliminate the glare of headlights should help minimize the garage’s intrusive presence. Yale also plans to restore the wetlands surrounding the base of the planned garage site.
The architecture firm responsible for the designing of the garage, Herbert S. Newman and Partners, declined to comment on the project at the request of the University.