Commission recommends approval of colleges

Yale’s two new residential colleges took an important step closer to city approval Wednesday night.

The New Haven Board of Aldermen’s City Plan Commission met Wednesday night to discuss plans for the colleges, which are scheduled to be constructed by fall 2015 in the triangular area bordered by Prospect Street and the Grove Street Cemetery.

University Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 and University Planner Laura Cruickshank made a joint presentation on the designs of the colleges and their expected impact on the adjacent neighborhoods.

Despite the objections of one member, the commission voted to recommend approval of a Planned Development District (PDD) around the proposed site to the Board of Aldermen. A Planned Development District is a parcel of designated land that may be developed in ways not otherwise permitted by zoning regulations.

“We are delighted by the City Plan Commission’s strong and enthusiastic approval of the PDD plans for the new residential colleges,” Morand said in an e-mail after the vote. “We look forward to the opportunity to present the PDD plans to the Board of Aldermen in the coming weeks as we move forward diligently with the zoning process for this important project to benefit campus and community.”

But the vote was not unanimous.

Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said that approving the proposal was premature due to the fact that a proposed theater, to be located at the corner of Prospect and Sachem streets, is still not designed.

The University has not yet hired an architect to design the theater, Cruickshank said.

While the University’s presentation provided figures about its capacity and dimensions, Elicker said he felt that an explicit design for the theater should have been included in the package submitted to the City Plan Commission.

“If this weren’t Yale, if this were any other applicant, I suspect we would say ‘You need to come back with more information,’” Elicker said. “It’s important to treat Yale just like every other entity.”

Commission chair Edward Mattison LAW ’68 responded that the University had understandable financial reasons for not having designs of the theater to present.

It is a “chicken-and-egg” situation, he said, adding that it makes more financial sense to hire an architect once the city grants the overall project zoning approval.

The commission found a compromise in amending the report that will be sent to the Board of Alderman to include a provision for a public hearing on the design of the theater.

Over Elicker’s “no” vote, the rest of the commission voted to recommend approval of the proposal, 6 to 1.

Morand spoke at length about the benefits he foresees for the city resulting from the college’s construction, emphasizing the economic impact of around 800 new undergraduates in the city and the creation of many new jobs for residents both in construction and in more permanent areas such as dining.

Morand also said that the construction of the new colleges would allow the University to extend the experience of attending Yale to applicants that are denied admission despite being qualified.

“What this project is about is the first expansion of our undergraduate college in over 50 years,” Morand said. “This is an experience that should be enjoyed by more people.”

In September 2006, the University entered into a development agreement with the city in which the University received development rights for the area of the proposed site of the colleges.

In exchange, the University agreed to contribute $10 million towards improving roadway infrastructure in the adjacent area, completing another portion of the Farmington Canal greenway and expanding Scantlebury Park in the Dixwell neighborhood.

Morand said this agreement was the first step in the process of approving and building the two new colleges, and that now the proposal requires zoning approval for the PDD to move forward.

Stern, whose firm Robert A. M. Stern Architects, LLP was commissioned to design the colleges, presented updated graphic renderings to commission members.

He said the towers, whose locations will create imaginary axes along York and High streets, will give the colleges a “strong identity on the skyline.”

The walkway between the colleges, to be called Prospect Walk, will provide pedestrians in the city convenient access between Prospect Street and the Dixwell neighborhood, Stern said.

Cruickshank, who spoke before Stern about the interior and exterior planning of the colleges, said they were designed to integrate with the architecture of the existing colleges and fit well in the context of both Yale and New Haven.

“Yale is an urban campus – the city and Yale can’t be separated,” Cruickshank said.

Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones ’11, who was also in attendance, said he is excited to hear more about the proposal when it is sent to the Legislation Committee of the Board of Aldermen, of which he is vice chair.

“I want to make sure it’s not only in keeping with Yale’s traditions, but also creates an inviting space for the whole community, given that it’s such a large footprint,” Jones said.

Jones said the Legislation Committee will likely take the proposal up at their meeting Nov. 8, and that the full Board of Aldermen, which must pass the PDD, may not take a final vote until December.

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