Downtown development sparks debate

After three hours of heated public debate over the development of the Route 34 West Project, the Community Development Committee of the Board of Alders delayed a vote on the decision until a future date.

Over 50 residents of the greater New Haven area attended a Wednesday evening CDC hearing about a new mixed-use development project in the New Haven Route 34 corridor, which is intended to reconnect the city’s downtown and Hill neighborhoods. The 30,000 square foot proposed development is a partnership between Continuum of Care — a nonprofit organization that provides support for those with psychiatric and developmental disabilities — and Centerplan Development, a Connecticut real estate and contracting company.

The project has recently sparked controversy, as some residents believe it will help revitalize the city, while others have argued that the construction — contrary to its aims — will further divide the city.

“This is the signature effort to revitalize Route 34, which has become a priority in the city for many years,” Deputy Director of Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli told the assembled crowd.

Vice President of Centerplan Companies Yves-George Joseph said that his team has been working on the 5.39 acre project with Continuum for nearly two years. The land, which currently serves as a parking lot, sits across the street from Career High School.

Joseph said the project will first construct a 30,000 square foot headquarters for Continuum before beginning on the two later phases of construction, which will include retail space, an office medical building, and potentially an 850-spot parking garage.

Patti Walker, the CEO for Continuum, said that the new office is necessary to consolidate its four existing offices — which serve over 1,500 clients — and expand its care according to rising need.

“We are in crunch time,” Walker said. “We need this new office desperately.”

Given approval by the CDC, the anticipated date of breaking ground will be late summer or early fall of 2014, and the grand opening would take place in 2015 or 2016, Joseph said.

However, the likelihood of an affirmative endorsement by the Board of Alders remains uncertain given the deep division surrounding the project.

Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colon said she was concerned that, due to Continuum’s status as a nonprofit organization, the project would not provide sufficient tax revenue to the Elm City.

Attorney for Centerplan Rolan Smith said the contract includes a provision that would prohibit Centerplan from leasing to an additional nonprofit. Since Continuum only occupies 10 percent of the project, the remaining 90 percent would remain taxable, she added.

Colon also expressed concern that the construction workforce was not sufficiently representative of New Haven’s population.

“The construction comes in, [my constituents] see people who don’t look like them … then they get their check and go back to the suburbs,” Colon said.

Centerplan Companies Robert Landino said that the construction jobs will match the workforce hiring goals of 25 percent New Haven residents, 25 percent minority and 6.9 percent women.

Ohan Karagozian, the vice chair of Hill North Community Management, voiced opposition to the project saying that the space would be better used as a residential space and expressed concern over the pollution from the car garage.

“We cannot allow our city to be prostituted at the altar of development,” Karagozian said.

However, Centerplan contracted an environmental assessment firm, which concluded that even during peak hours, the impact of the garage would have negligible environmental impact.

President of the West River Neighborhood Services Corporation Stacy Spell cautioned the Board of Alders against delaying the project any longer than the 20 years the site has remained unused.

“This is a springboard for development,” Spell said. “If we put a stick in the stokes of this wheel, how many more administrations will it be before we get a project?”

Angel Hill, a New Haven Continuum patient, said he believes the project would help keep people off the streets and help the organization reach more people.

Michael Harris ’15, Mayor Harp’s liaison to the Board of Alders, defended the project’s continued integration of community interests and said there has been an improvement in support from the crowd.

“There have been a lot of good questions tonight,” Ward 2 Alderman Frank Douglass said. “The committee needs some time to digest it all.”

The CDC voted to adjourn and planned to call another meeting in “short order.”

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