After a total of 11 hours of testimony from more than 40 residents over two hearings, the designs for the School of Management will finally appear before the full Board of Aldermen next month.
On Thursday night, the aldermanic legislation committee held its second public hearing on the designs and listened to objections from 10 residents and outside experts — including preservationist Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, who had filed a petition last month to delay aldermanic proceedings. But ultimately, the committee rejected Farwell’s petition, which argued that the campus would destroy historical landmarks and cause damage to its natural surroundings, and unanimously decided to recommend approval of the new SOM campus. The full board is expected to make a decision about the proposal March 1, aldermanic legislation committee chair and Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar said Thursday.
But the aldermanic committee tacked on three amendments before it approved the proposal. The amendments, which include forcing Yale to open the proposed campus’s walkway to the public, were created to address concerns from some neighbors about the campus designs, aldermen said.
The approval process for the SOM designs has had its share of difficulties. Before the first public hearing, held Jan. 28, Yale asked Foster + Partners, the firm that designed the new campus, to modify the plans for the 230,000-square-foot SOM structure. The new plans included more landscaping and walking space.
At Thursday’s meeting, which ran six hours long, aldermen remained attentive to the nearly 20 different testimonies, including one from University Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 and University Planner Laura Cruickshank. Lemar said Thursday that he is excited to move on with the process. Morand said the approval marks a success after four years of the University cooperating with neighbors and city officials.
“I would like my colleagues [on the full board] to take seriously the unanimous decision of this committee,” Lemar said after the meeting. “We made a well-informed decision.”
Farwell said she still wants the city to review the plans further with residents. But Lemar said that, like for all city projects, the process to approve the SOM designs includes a mandatory 120 days of “public commentary,” which are now over.
FARWELL’s LAST STAND
Still undecided by the beginning of Thursday night’s meeting was the status of Farwell’s petition. New Haven Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden told Farwell at the meeting that for her petition to succeed, she needed to give evidence that the new SOM campus would damage the natural resources, such as air quality and surrounding trees, or destroy a national historic landmark. The legislation committee has the right to approve her petition, but before then, Bolden must evaluate it.
At the beginning of the meeting, Bolden expressed reservations about the petition but added that he was willing to listen to Farwell’s argument.
Farwell presented a 20-minute slideshow presentation, in which she showed designs of the SOM campus in the context of its future neighboring buildings. As she addressed the audience of 70 that had assembled in City Hall, she explained that when Yale presented the building designs in previous meetings, it showed only the campus and not its surroundings, failing to show its visual impact on the community. She also argued that in order for Yale to construct the new campus, it must raze two buildings that have architectural value, 155 and 175 Whitney Ave.
Along with her slideshow, Farwell and her lawyer, Timothy Yolen, presented Yale officials with a set of 14 specific questions concerning topics such as the reuse of the two Whitney Avenue buildings and the impact of the campus construction on nearby trees. Although Morand said he did not know of the questions beforehand, he nonetheless addressed some of them during the meeting.
And Morand’s answers apparently satisfied city officials.. Bolden ultimately said Farwell’s presentation was not enough. The buildings were not considered national historic landmarks, he said, and the current design or its visual impact do not provide evidence that the building is destroying natural resources. Bolden recommended that the application be rejected, and the aldermanic committee unanimously agreed.
Farwell said she was disappointed with the committee’s decision, adding that she considers the information she brought to the table to be important enough to merit more public discussion.
Still, the aldermen at the end of the meeting recommended that the full board pass several amendments to accommodate some of the SOM’s new neighbors.
The amendments were adapted from proposals made by the City Plan Commission in December. The first amendment would make official the newly revised designs, which Morand and Cruickshank presented during the first public hearing. The second amendment forces Yale to grant pedestrians and bicyclists access to the walkways around the building, so that they can travel more easily through the neighborhood. The third amendment says the city can regulate the site between demolition and construction periods to prevent the lot from remaining empty in case Yale does not have the funding for construction.
Although University President Richard Levin said last month that Yale still has not raised all the money it needs for construction, he and SOM Dean Sharon Oster also said at the time that they are confident they will raise enough funds to break ground on the project this summer.
Despite the additional amendments, Cruickshank said Thursday that the committee’s decision was a “good step” toward the University’s goal to open the campus by fall 2013.
Oster, who argued at the meeting that the school needs a new campus to educate its students properly, told the News after the meeting that she thinks the new building design is beautiful and that it would allow the school to increase its student body to 300 per class.
“I feel good,” Lemar added. “It’s a long exhaustive process ,but in the end we have the right use on the right site.”
The new SOM designs, which were heralded by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in his State of the City address Feb. 1, will be formally presented to the full board this coming Tuesday.