Zoning plan aims to preserve ‘village feel’

At a Board of Aldermen community workshop Tuesday night, the Economic Development Administration proposed a business zoning plan designed to maintain the “village feel” of New Haven streets. While several aldermen vocally supported the idea, a handful expressed reservations about some of the plan’s details.

The proposed zone is intended to prevent big-box stores and encourage the development of neighborhood commercial districts comprising smaller businesses and mixed-use buildings, EDA officials said. The new zone, which would be called a BA-1 zone, would first be implemented along Grand Avenue, from James Street eastward to the Quinnipiac River, they said. But, they added, it would hopefully be expanded to other neighborhoods throughout the city.

“The zoning we have had up to now has allowed for big-box development,” said Michael Pinto, the EDA’s economic development officer. “But it doesn’t really fit the character of some of these neighborhoods.”

Existing buildings in the new zone would not be affected, City Deputy Director of Zoning Tom Talbot said. But Talbot left open the possibility that renovations to existing buildings might have to comply with the new regulations, adding that the draft proposal did not address the question.

According to a draft of the proposal, the new regulations would require that new buildings be between two and four stories and that non-residential buildings have first-story facades of at least 75 percent clear windows. It would also ban the use of roll-down metal gates over windows. The proposal also places vague requirements on roofs, facades, awnings and light fixtures, calling for all of these features to be compatible with the style and architecture of the neighborhood.

While many aldermen expressed general support for the EDA’s intentions to preserve various neighborhoods’ “village feel,” some opposed a few specifics of the plan. Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro expressed concern that businesses might be scared away by the cost of meeting some of the regulations, such as a 75 percent glass facade. And Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said that the proposed regulations on large spaces might negatively affect churches and other religious institutions.

Following the presentation, the aldermen agreed to hold meetings for public comment on the proposal.

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