Some say city hearing was unjust

Two weeks after the New Haven Board of Aldermen offered preliminary approval of the city’s plan for downtown development on the site of the derelict Coliseum, a former alderman and current mayoral candidate is complaining that the board rushed to a decision, unfairly depriving the public of a chance to discuss the issue.

Thomas Holahan ’63 GRD ’72 last week sent a letter to the state Freedom of Information Commission, claiming that the Board of Aldermen failed to call a requisite vote closing public hearings before moving to private deliberations.

“In order to go from public testimony to private hearings, the board has to vote,” Holahan said. “It was sloppy administration on the part of the aldermen.”

City Corporation Counsel Thomas Ude Jr. said Holahan’s complaint is essentially a nuisance suit.

“The complaint doesn’t have any merit,” Ude said. “Holahan wasn’t denied due process. He’s unhappy about the project and just doesn’t want the vote to take place.”

The Freedom of Information Commission will probably rule on the case within the next two or three months, Ude said. Until then, the city’s project will continue as planned.

Last June, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the state unveiled their ambitious proposal to raze the Coliseum and move the Long Wharf Theatre and Gateway Community College downtown. The Board of Aldermen has held formal public hearings for several months, giving city residents a chance to argue against the plan.

Holohan said he participated vocally in public hearings, constantly urging the aldermen to slow their decision-making process on the downtown project. He said he hoped his complaint would help force the city to pay closer attention to the details of the project.

“My complaint gives the aldermen more of a chance to consider their vote,” Holohan said. “Will it change minds? I don’t know, but it also sends a message to the city not to be sloppy.”

But, according to aldermen, only a persistent minority voiced opposition to the proposal throughout the deliberative process.

“I don’t think the city has rushed in any shape or form,” Ward 7 Alderman Frances Clark said. “There is a set of people who feel passionately and strongly about the issue and deserve to be heard. But I haven’t heard any screaming or yelling from the people who live there.”

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said the board extensively broadcast information about the hearings in New Haven media and publicly announced that the last session would be reserved for the board’s private deliberations.

“All this was made incredibly clear in newspapers and on TV,” Healey said. “Everything substantial was done in public. This suit is just a delaying tactic for someone unhappy with the outcome.”

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