Group studies Chapel Street district

Although the blocks lining Chapel Street west of downtown have come a long way since retail woes and crime plagued the area a decade ago, local organizations are now making new efforts to breathe life into the area.

Last night, at a meeting attended by over 50 community members, the Chapel West Special Services District, a business advocacy group, presented the results of an extensive neighborhood study analyzing the urban and economic situation of the district. The study, conducted by AMS Advisory Service and Yale School of Architecture lecturer Dean Sakamoto ARC ’98, is the first step in the redevelopment process.

Chapel West President Brian McGrath said he hopes the process will result in the formation of a comprehensive neighborhood redevelopment plan that will revitalize the area.

Pointing to Yale University Properties’ success in redeveloping the Broadway and Upper Chapel districts, McGrath said a concerted, centralized plan could significantly raise Lower Chapel’s prominence in the larger New Haven area. He said a set of design guidelines formed with the input of community members will be the final product of the project. Although Chapel West itself has no official political power, McGrath said, the organization will make recommendations to the city government for zoning changes.

“We want to become a catalyst for economic development instead of just hiring street sweepers,” McGrath said. “We’re hoping that after a few sessions of soliciting opinions from the community … We can recommend to the powers such things as changes in zoning … that will give us the power to carry out a process [of redevelopment] that otherwise might not happen.”

Although the area has a stable business base, good traffic flow and one of the densest populations in the city, it suffers from parking problems, security issues and a weak link to the Broadway and Upper Chapel districts, AMS representative Lawrence Kenney said. Another problem with Lower Chapel is the lack of cohesion between the separate zones of the area, Sakamoto said, which include the areas surrounding the British Art Center and the Yale Repertory Theater, St. Raphael’s Hospital and Dwight Street. This fragmentation has hindered the formation of a cohesive personality for the area and thus the redevelopment effort should center on creating an identity for Lower Chapel, he said.

“Chapel Street and the area surrounding it is an extension of [residents'] living space,” Sakamoto said. “When you come out of the door of your shop or your apartment you’re in place with people you know. We need to build a neighborhood, and I think we should keep that at the front of our minds as we go through [this process].”

Audience members pointed out other problems plaguing the area, including the lack of a permanent residential base and public relations for the area.

New Haven Real Estate Developer Joel Schiavone ’58 said many West Chapel residents only live there temporarily, largely because Yale students make up a large part of the population — another factor that detracts from the formation of a cohesive neighborhood identity.

“If we want to create a neighborhood, we may have to gradually over a period time find more people who will live here [permanently],” Schiavone said.

Greater Dwight Development Corporation President Linda Townsend Maier said Chapel West officials need to include other community groups in the planning process since surrounding neighborhoods will be affected by changes in Lower Chapel.

Some community members said they do not think Chapel’s identity needs to be entirely reconceived.

“I don’t think the ‘creation of a neighborhood’ is the correct phrase to use for beginning this discussion,” said Chris Alexiadis, whose family has owned property in the Lower Chapel area for generations. “I think we [should be] looking at enhancing and charging the energy so that we can draw people in to what’s special about our district.”

Chapel West’s next planning meeting is slated for the beginning of next year.

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