Designs for the new School of Management campus stepped closer to City Hall approval at an aldermanic hearing Thursday night. But the action of a single local preservationist five minutes before the meeting could knock the entire process off track.
Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, filed an application to delay aldermanic proceedings to allow herself more time to present her argument. She said she hopes to convince the aldermen that the current SOM design does not fit in with the neighborhood aesthetic. But Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar, the chair of the committee that held Thursday’s meeting, said the city’s legal counsel must review her motion before the committee can consider it.
The application caught the aldermanic legislation committee off guard, Lemar said, and while several dozens of supporters of the current design showed their desire for immediate approval, Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said the University remains undeterred by Farwell’s course of action.
Morand said he was confident the approval process will move forward with “all due speed” and construction would commence soon. University President Richard Levin said in a recent interview that he expects construction to start this summer.
“We trust that the zealous few who seek to kill or delay this project will not succeed, as their success would come at a much greater cost to many more,” Morand said in an interview Thursday.
University Planner Laura Cruickshank said delaying the opening of the new SOM campus would be “terrible.”
Farwell told the News she plans to go into the second hearing with “cold, hard facts” and expert testimonies. Lemar said that if Farwell’s application both passes legal muster and is approved by the committee, the aldermen would be obligated to hold another meeting to hear her concerns. He added that he expects that the city’s legal counsel will move “quickly and efficiently” to review the application but does not know how long the application process will take.
He also called Farwell’s move “last second” and unnecessary.
“There are some people who throw wrenches into the system,” he said.
Still, John Herzan, the preservation services officer for the New Haven Preservation Trust, said his organization is glad that Farwell is “buy[ing] some time to assess the quality of the proposal.”
At the meeting, businessmen and local residents extolled Yale’s efforts to compromise with the community. To address the concerns of neighbors, Yale officials asked Foster + Partners, the firm that designed the new campus, to modify the plans, reducing its footprint.
Lemar and Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11 both expressed approval of the revised design. In a change of heart, Lemar said he has heard more support for the design than opposition from New Haven residents and that he is eager to approve the proposal. As late as last week, Lemar told the News that “there is still room for improvement.” In a January interview, before Yale officials presented a revised SOM design, Jones said the campus was “a little out of scale” with the buildings currently on the site and that he would reduce the scale and reuse the preexisting buildings.
Lincoln Street resident Richard Kane, associate director of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, said at the meeting that he and his wife look forward to the construction of the campus as it currently is designed, describing the current buildings as hideous, dirty and smelly.
Kane said in an earlier interview that he knew Yale would tear down the buildings now on the lot, 155 and 175 Whitney Ave., when he bought his nearby home at 54 Lincoln St. in 1997. He added that the uncertainty over Yale’s final design has made people hesitant to move to the area.
But some Bradley Street residents remain opposed to the plans, President of the Lincoln-Bradley Association and Lincoln Street resident Jane Jervis GRD ’78 recently said, because they will be closer to the driveway leading to the new campus’ underground parking garage. Thus they will see an increase in traffic by their homes, she said.
Although Yale has held many meetings with neighbors over the past few years, Jervis added, “it’s very hard to satisfy everybody with a plan of this magnitude.”
For Farwell, the problems lie in the proportions of the new building design, and Yale has not made drastic enough changes to its size.
“What’s broken isn’t being fixed, and what’s not broken is being broken,” she said.
Cruickshank said at the meeting that if Yale officials needed to drastically redesign the campus, it would delay the opening of the school. And in a recent interview, University Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65 said he hopes that Yale officials would not have to remake the design, which he said “fits the context of Whitney Avenue very well.”
“Any other changes [to SOM design] would require a significant redesign, a substantial delay in progress and significant redesign fees,” he said.
Despite Farwell’s application to intervene, Lemar said he hopes the meetings will not extend beyond Feb. 11: “We owe Yale University the consideration of their application,” he said.
Over 100 local residents attended Thursday’s meeting.
Vivian Yee contributed reporting.