Quinnipiac River focus of zoning fight

For some residents of Fair Haven and Fair Haven Heights, industry is no longer a welcome neighbor, and a proposal for zoning changes may eventually drive these businesses away.

In the latest development in the ongoing debate about a proposed change in zoning along the historic Quinnipiac riverfront, the Board of Aldermen Legislation Committee met Tuesday to hear testimony from both sides. The proposal — which is almost two years in the making — calls for a limit to industrial development in the mostly residential area, aldermen said.

Although supporters of the plan said the limits would improve quality of life for nearby residents, a representative of Buckeye Pipe Line said the changes would hurt the company.

If the Board of Aldermen passes the rezoning proposal, industries in the Quinnipiac River area would not be immediately affected, Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale said. Instead, she said, they would only be prevented from expanding.

But new businesses moving to the area would not be able to use the land for heavy industry, she said.

“It’s time to start phasing away the heavy industry in this area,” Sturgis-Pascale said. “It’s no longer appropriate.”

Although the area was once very industrial, Sturgis-Pascale said, the neighborhood has become much more residential in recent decades, as factories and businesses closed down. She said that today the area along Quinnipiac River is an “odd pocket” of heavy industry surrounded by historic houses.

She said there are currently three businesses that would be affected by the change from a heavy industrial zone to a marine commercial zone — Gateway Terminal, Buckeye Pipe Line and Unlimited Auto Repair and Towing.

Roy Haase, a senior manager at Buckeye Pipe Line, said the zoning change would prevent his company from adapting to the changing business climate. If the zoning rules were changed, Haase said, the company would not have the right to make necessary modifications to expand its capacity and services to the community.

“Our particular property — a utility property — cannot be subject to the regulations that are possibly being mandated,” Haase said.

Buckeye Pipe Line is a petroleum-pumping station that provides products such as gas and jet fuel to cities from New Haven to Springfield, Mass.

If the facilities of Buckeye Pipe Line were to burn down in a fire, the company would not be guaranteed the right to rebuild — it would have to appeal to the city for permission to reconstruct the facilities, Haase said.

A lawyer for Gateway Terminal could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Although Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said the proposal for rezoning is an appropriate one, he said he also has reservations about how the increased restrictions will affect commerce in the area.

“We don’t want to drive business out of New Haven,” Shah said. “We don’t want to discourage anyone from doing business here and paying us taxes.”

Industries such as Gateway Terminal and Buckeye Pipe Line would also face financial problems if the rezoning occurs, Shah said. Because these industries would be in non-compliance with their zone, they would need to carry extra insurance and would also have a hard time qualifying for any loans, Shah said.

He said aldermen should keep in mind that Gateway Terminal also employs about 200 workers from the area. If in the future a non-industrial business or park replaced an industry there, the change could limit employment opportunities for residents.

Heather Findlay, a resident of Fair Haven who is advocating for the passage of the rezoning proposal, said heavy industries no longer belong in the community because they contribute to noise, air and water pollution.

“The bottom line is that this is a residential community, no matter what,” Findlay said. “These industries are using this area in ways that aren’t in keeping with a residential neighborhood.”

Companies like Gateway Terminal also detract from the beauty of the historical community, Findlay said — for example, with the eight-foot chain-link fence that surrounds the facility, which Findlay said is out of compliance with the historical zoning of the neighborhood.

“It makes the area look like a prison yard,” she said. “They have made it apparent that they don’t care.”

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said she thinks the controversy over zoning along the river reflects a need for dialogue about the changing role of commerce in New Haven. She said she hopes that business owners and members of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce will be present at the next meeting of the Board of Aldermen and make their feelings on the rezoning issue heard.

“This is a microcosm of an issue that needs to be brought to the forefront in this city,” Clark said. “We need to be growing business as much as we need to be growing everything else.”

The rezoning issue will next come up for discussion at January’s meeting of the Legislation Committee.

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