New Haven sells Yale portions of High and Wall

Amid vehement protest in the aldermanic chambers of City Hall Monday night, city lawmakers handed over portions of two downtown streets to Yale for $3 million.

In a 21–8 vote, the New Haven Board of Aldermen moved to put the issue of the continued closures of High and Wall streets to bed by permanently selling the two city streets to the University. The streets, which were closed to vehicular traffic in 1990, have since become central pedestrian corridors on campus. The 23-year-old agreement between Yale and New Haven governing the street closures was up for review in 2011, when aldermen decided to table the issue due to the difficulty of deciphering the language of the arcane document.

Almost two years later, University and city officials drew up a plan that supersedes the 1990 agreement entirely by doing away with the ambiguous lease-type arrangement and instead shifting ownership to Yale for perpetuity. A majority of aldermen, led by Board of Aldermen President and Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, voted in favor of the deal, with many saying the sale will redound to the city’s good in promising vast financial rewards that will help to alleviate the current deficit. The eight dissenters — joined by protestors who flocked to City Hall to try to convince aldermen to vote no on the sale — assailed the deal as a shortsighted solution to budget woes and warned that Yale now has the power to shut off public access to the streets: not just to vehicles but to the city as a whole.

That outcome is unlikely, although not expressly forbidden, according to Lauren Zucker, Yale’s director of New Haven affairs associate vice president.

“The University currently has no plans to change access,” she told the News in a Tuesday email. “The longstanding practice and reality, which continues, is that Yale has a very accessible campus. … Tens of thousands of New Haven neighbors enjoy campus every year, as do tens of thousands of others from farther away.”

That’s the same message Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison — whose ward, comprising portions of Dixwell and four of the 12 residential colleges, includes the two streets — said was communicated to the Board. The assurance that Yale would not close off access to the streets, combined with the city’s monetary reward, moved her to vote in favor of the deal. She said she was influenced by a petition sent to her by Yale students in her ward asking that the streets remain closed to traffic.

But Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 said the streets could have remained closed without selling them to the University for good.

“The Board didn’t have to do anything here. We were not voting on keeping the streets closed or not,” he said. “The agreement currently in place keeps out vehicular traffic but maintains the city’s jurisdiction over the streets, guaranteeing they’ll be open to the public for perpetuity. But last night, for $3 million, the city decided to sell off the right of way, effectively making it private property.”

Hausladen attributed the Board’s readiness to sell off access to the streets to the city’s dire financial straits, evident in a property tax hike of 4.9 percent mandated by the 2013-’13 fiscal year budget deal.

“We have this need and here comes the University with a check in hand,” he said.

Mayoral candidate and Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 echoed Hausladen’s criticisms, describing the sale as “another example of the city making a bad deal to fix the budget in the short term” in a Tuesday campaign press release. Elicker and Hausladen both aired those views publicly before Monday’s vote, addressing a crowd of activists outside City Hall who gathered to protest the sale.

The protest was organized by My Brother’s Keeper, Seminarians For A Democratic Society and Unidad Latina en Accion, according to the New Haven Independent. Gregory Williams DIV ’15, founder of Seminarians, helped lead the demonstration, which spilled into the aldermanic chambers and, after forcing the Board to recess, led to the protestors’ forced removal by six police officers.

Despite the acrimonious scene at City Hall, Yale spokesmen Tom Conroy and Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said the vote was indicative of Yale’s strong relationship with its home city. Morand described the sale as the “logical next step after more than 20 years of successful closure of those blocks to general vehicular traffic.”

“This straightforward move underscores the strength of the relationship that the city and the University have built together over recent decades, one that will continue strong and surely grow in the years ahead,” Morand added. “The alders, mayor and University know that mutual respect and cooperation yield good results for all.”

Conroy said Monday’s decision is in the best interests of both Yale and the city.

Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12, who is running for re-election this fall, described the sale as a “win-win: The streets remain part of the fabric of our campus and the city gets some much needed revenue.” She said she saw the vote as part of an “ongoing process of strengthening the relationship between Yale and New Haven.”

Along with portions of High and Wall streets, 182 square feet of Broadway Ave. were sold to Yale for $8,190 Monday night at City Hall.

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