The New Haven Board of Aldermen unanimously passed two amendments to the city’s zoning ordinances last night, effectively clearing the way for furniture retailer IKEA to build a store in New Haven.
Originally proposed by the Swedish company in August, a building bearing the signature yellow letters set against a textured blue background are scheduled to open to the public on Sargent Drive — at the intersection of Interstate 95 and State Route 34 — in the spring of 2004.
Some aldermen raised concerns about the proposed demolition of a base wing of the Armstrong Tire-Pirelli Building to make way for the IKEA complex and the possibility of a massive parking lot to accommodate the throng of shoppers consuming valuable waterview property. But most said they agreed the store would be an economic boon to the city.
Ward 6 Alderman Hazelann D. Woodell, who represents the ward where the store will be built, lauded the plan.
“I am 100 percent in support of this effort,” she said. “IKEA will provide 400 jobs, full time and part time, and these jobs will come with a full benefit package, including healthcare.”
In addition to inflating the city job market, IKEA has also agreed to pay for all traffic and environmental improvements itself, while paying $1 million dollars in taxes to the city.
“It’s going to produce taxes; it’s going to produce jobs,” said Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield, vice-chairman of the board’s Legislative Committee, which reviewed the matter before sending it to the full board for a vote. “I think this is an incredible project for the city.”
Ward 9 Alderman John Halle, a Yale music professor, led the small squadron of agitators who objected to the proposal.
Alluding to the failure of past efforts to infuse the city with commerce, Halle urged his peers not to “go headlong into economic activity that will be detrimental to our city.”
He called the 1300-car parking lot “a plan that would blacktop a crucial area of land right by the water” and said IKEA would “dwarf” surrounding structures, including the Pirelli Building.
Called “an international modernist landmark but with dubious popularity among locals” by ArchitectureWeek, the striking structure is the work of Marcel Breuer, a Hungarian-born architect who built the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
The building, visible to passing motorists on I-95, is also on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places, a designation that only commands limited authority in terms of preservation.
“It is a piece of architectural history and the current plan gets rid of what makes it a neat piece of architecture,” said Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01.
Ward 20 Alderman Charles A. Blango recognized the significance of the building but was decidedly pragmatic in his analysis of the situation.
“If we leave everything historic, [the city] would go bankrupt,” Blango said.
Woodell acknowledged the age of the building but deemed it insufficient reason to prevent the construction of what she said she perceives as a marvelous project.
“I like to preserve old stuff but it doesn’t look older than me,” she said. “I’m a beautiful woman and I love beautiful things.”
Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf I. Shah’s commentary seemed to summarize the belief espoused by aldermen and citizens alike.
“Change is good,” he said. “We’re looking at new opportunities for the people of the city of New Haven.”
IKEA will now submit a construction plan for the site to the City Plan Commission for final approval.