Reacting to a recent Connecticut Appellate Court ruling that invalidated part of New Haven’s zoning law, city leaders are preparing to either formulate new legislation or appeal the court’s decision.
On Wednesday, the court ruled in Campion v. Board of Aldermen that planned development districts, special zones used for large building projects, are illegal. The city’s leaders must now decide whether to modify New Haven’s zoning legislation or appeal the ruling to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The result may affect Yale directly, particularly since the University is seeking to zone the planned parking structure for Ingalls Rink as a planned development unit, which is similar to a PDD.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said his administration’s initial reaction is not to appeal the ruling, though the possibility is still being considered. DeStefano also said he does not think the ruling will have a significant impact on what projects are actually constructed in the city.
“The court ruling doesn’t apply to the merits of the project itself,” DeStefano said. “It applies to the process by which we zone them. That distinction is important.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who is chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Legislation Committee — the committee that will have to approve any proposed changes to the city’s zoning regulations — said he believes the administration and the board should cooperate quickly to formulate new legislation.
“I would recommend we get together and write the new law rather than use up valuable time and money in what I think will be probably a losing case,” Healey said. “The main thing that makes me nervous is trying to figure out what happens in the interim, either while the court case is being appealed or while the new law is being written. I think if we don’t have a law we’re operating in a vacuum.”
This uncertainty about ongoing and upcoming projects may affect Yale’s parking garage project, though the structure actually may not require special zoning.
“The claim has been made that [the parking structure] didn’t actually require a PDU, in which case even if the current PDU plan falls apart under the court ruling, there’s an opportunity to move it under regular rules of the zoning code,” Healey said.
PDDs and PDUs are used to provide some flexibility with zoning regulations for construction developments with special requirements.
In the decision, the court offered a potential solution by affirming the legality of floating zones, an alternative to PDDs that imposes more stringent limitations on builders. In floating zones, only specific, legislatively preapproved uses are permitted.
Rob Smuts ’01, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, said he thought the court’s suggestion of floating zones demonstrated an understanding of the need for some flexibility in city planning.
“If the decision stands, I think that the use of floating zones would give us the flexibility that is needed,” Smuts said.
Healey said he thinks there are some advantages to implementing a floating zone policy.
“The main complaint about the PDD is that there’s a vagueness about where and how it could be applied,” Healey said. “A floating zone would provide some more standardized guidelines.”