Alders discuss Oak St.

The Black and Hispanic Caucus on Monday night put their support behind a West River community group’s plan — in lieu of a city development proposal — to redevelop New Haven’s Oak Street Neighborhood.

As the Board of Aldermen prepares to authorize a plan for a 26-acre swath of land that was razed in the 1960s to make room for a highway that was never built, the West River Neighborhood Services Corporation hopes to convince the Board of Aldermen to pass a proposal they say represents the interests of area residents better than the city-commissioned plan. At a meeting Monday night, the board’s Black and Hispanic Caucus voted to send a letter to the city expressing their support of the West River-sponsored plan.

The Board of Aldermen meet to discuss the future of a tract of land, which was debated yesterday by the Black and Hispanic Caucus.
Lauren Woo
The Board of Aldermen meet to discuss the future of a tract of land, which was debated yesterday by the Black and Hispanic Caucus.

The West River Self Help Investment Plan commissioned Jerry N. Poole Associates, a New Haven-based consulting firm, to develop a plan for constructing a mixed-use project that would place a greater emphasis on economic growth than would the city’s plans, director Jerry Poole said.

SHIP hopes to diminish poverty and violence by encouraging neighborhood residents to consider store ownership.

“America’s culture is deeply and vigorously entrepreneurial,” Poole said during his presentation to the caucus. “We need an economic solution to this problem.”

The city’s plan, formulated by New Hampshire-based RKG Associates Inc., called for more housing — 620 units as opposed to 320 units — and less commercial retail than his company’s plan, Poole said.

But beyond the concrete differences between the plans, one of the main goals of the SHIP plan was “inclusion” — incorporating community members’ desire to have an impact on the redevelopment of their neighborhood.

“Our entire vision is that we be included in the entire process and that we’re not just signing off on it at the end,” West River Neighborhood Services Corporation President Kevin Ewing said. “We want to build it. We want to be owners and operators.”

Through workshops and education opportunities, SHIP hopes to change the neighborhood’s mind-set from job-seeking to job-creating, Poole said. The plan estimates that 400 jobs could be created in a variety of businesses, from a UPS store to an IHOP restaurant or a bowling center.

Several of the dozen or so aldermen present at the meeting expressed concerns that the city had not adequately considered SHIP’s proposal. SHIP submitted the plan to the city in July.

But Deputy Director of City Planning Mike Piscitelli said the current timeline of the project allows adequate time for the two sides to work together.

The Black and Hispanic Caucus threw its support solidly behind the SHIP plan with a unanimous vote to recommend it to the city.

“As long as I’ve been the representative of the West River neighborhood, this has been a focal point of interest,” Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said. “We’re tired of seeing developments come up in New Haven that we’re not a part of, and I would ask my colleagues’ support for this plan.”

City officials announced a $342 million conceptual plan in October to redevelop the area, which lies southwest of the central Yale campus and touches the Yale-New Haven Hospital on its eastern end.

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