Residents mixed on Winchester projects’ impact

Some residents of the Newhallville neighborhood of New Haven say they have learned an age-old lesson: You can’t always get what you want.

Besides the recently renovated 266,000 square feet of Yale office and lab space at 25 Science Park, the portion of the neighborhood located along Winchester Avenue between Munson Street and Division Street will see, within the next few years, four significant development projects: a chilled water plant, a 1,186-car parking garage with retail space and the renovation of the two long-vacant Winchester Repeating Arms factories into an apartment complex and a mixed-use office building. All but one of these projects feature the University as a major player.

But some local residents in the neighborhood said that although the developments will benefit the area by creating jobs and spurring economic development, the process of designating which projects would come to fruition involved decisions made without enough regard for residents’ input.

“What needs to be in that area, and what’s slated for that area,” Ward 21 Alderwoman Katrina Jones said, “that’s two different things.”

The sale of sites in Science Park is conducted by the landowner, the nonprofit Science Park Development Corporation, as well as by the owner of a particular building when the two are different. The SPDC is made up of three members: Yale, the city of New Haven and the Olin Corp., the private owner of some of the buildings in the area.

At 25 Science Park, 344 Winchester and the Winchester parking garage, the choice to develop or renovate a site has been contingent on acquiring the commitment of a major tenant to occupy a large part of the building. For these three developments, that tenant has been Yale.

SPCD Chairman and CEO David Silverstone said the corporation looks for financial feasibility, expected job creation and “fit” within the neighborhood when planning an area’s development. Prospective tenants come to the developer, who then draws up a plan to build or renovate to suit. The final step is approval by the City Plan Commission.

With the exception of the parking garage, overall area development has met with approval by neighbors, according to interviews with area residents. Although Jones said aspects of the project at 344 Winchester are not ideal and that she would have liked to see a new teen center built instead, she said the development plans will revitalize an area of previously vacant buildings.

“It takes a desolate area and brings life to it,” she said, “and where there’s growth there’s prosperity.”

Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and State Affairs, said the renovation plans by Winstanley Enterprises LLC, the firm that is building and renovating the parking garage and the newer factory at 344 Winchester Ave., are a blessing for the area.

“Winstanley’s developments in Science Park are taking previously vacant and unproductive property and putting them back into use to benefit the City’s tax base, employment base, and economy overall,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “This kind of development, being done without any public subsidy, would be great news at almost any time — it’s fantastic news given the state of the economy.”

But some area residents interviewed took particular issue with Winstanley’s plans for the 1,186-car garage, arguing that community input was overlooked when the project, estimated to cost $30 million, was approved last year.

“A garage with 1,000 places … is a very, very large garage, and it means an enormous amount of traffic in the neighborhood,” said political science professor David Cameron, a resident of the area.

Cameron presaged the potential for deterioration in the quality of life of the nearby residents through changing levels of auto emissions, noise and lighting.

“The deal was done in secret, and it was done behind closed doors, and it wasn’t announced,” Cameron said of the parking garage. “It was clear that the decisions about the size of that garage had been worked out in negotiations … prior to the public getting wind of it.”

Others interviewed had more general issues with the type of development in the area. In reference to the residential apartments being built on the site of the old Winchester factory, resident Ken Joyner said he saw a disconnect with what Newhallville actually needs.

“It is supporting a plan that residents for the most part are not going to be able to live in,” he said of City Hall, “while at the same time ignoring its own commitment to the Newhallville Plan,” which he said includes support for low- and middle-income housing.

Carter Winstanley, a partner at Winstanley Enterprises LLC, said he attended several neighborhood management meetings in both Dixwell and Newhallville to gauge community concerns. When told by a reporter of the residents’ complaints, he said it was “hard to believe.”

“I would say that we’ve sought out public comment through the entire process, and we’ve changed our plan to accommodate a lot of those comments,” Winstanley said, pointing out that he and his firm had, in response to neighbors’ concerns, revised the original plan for the parking garage and scrapped a fence proposed to surround Science Park.

Morand, for his part, pointed out that the water chiller plant went through what he called “an extensive set of public approvals and review.”

But as plans move forward — the renovations at 344 Winchester are due to start construction this summer, Winstanley said — some residents nevertheless said they feel they have been left out of the process.

“Neighborhoods get upset, and then they sort of go away,” Cameron said, referring to vocal residents. “Neighborhoods … they don’t win typically against City Hall.”

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