A public hearing on the Gateway Redevelopment Project Wednesday night exposed lingering tensions between community members and city officials on issues surrounding the $230 million project to move Gateway Community College and Long Wharf Theater downtown.
Although no major developments in the Gateway project were announced at the meeting, which over 30 community members attended, controversy over parking issues, the design of the project and community involvement surfaced when New Haven officials allowed community members to comment at the end of the presentation.
At the meeting, officials from the Office of Economic Development handed out preliminary design plans prepared by Herbert S. Newman and Partners, the chief architecture firm for the overall project. The design plans are a work in progress and city officials are actively seeking the input of community members in the design process, New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said. Input will be discussed by the development board and integrated into the master project guidelines, upon which the final project will be based, he said.
“We want to do this right,” Office of Economic Development representative John Esposito said. “You can never have too many opportunities for people to participate, so we’re doing the best we can to make sure before this thing really gets off the ground … [that we] hear as many voices as possible.”
But some community members said they felt marginalized by the decision-making process. President of the New Haven Urban Design League Anstress Farwell said the outreach started too late and has been ineffective.
“At this point, it’s a little late in the game to open up the public dialogue,” she said. “We’re not really being brought to the table where we’re getting a major voice in the decisions.”
Esposito said that it was not always possible to represent the interests of all members of a community, especially on an emotionally-charged issue. He said, however, that public opinion has already been represented through the Board of Aldermen.
Community member Henry Dynia said officials, especially those involved with the demolition of the Coliseum, did not take the concerns of all citizens into account.
“The Coliseum would have been demolished before the scheduled public hearing had the funding come through,” he said. “I don’t understand how that’s considered public involvement.”
Other community members questioned the inclusion of a central plaza in the design plans for the Gateway Project. Executive Director of New Haven Town Green Special Services District Scott Healy ’96 said New Haven’s downtown draws its strengths from bustling streets. Most development projects that have included central plazas waste valuable space and segregate developments from important city streets, he said.
“I think that it has the potential to be a void of energy in that part of downtown,” Healy said. “What animates the Ninth Square is the juxtaposition of people and buildings … and the amount of activity on the street.”
Some community members at the meeting raised also expressed concern over parking. Increased traffic resulting from the Gateway Project will necessitate the addition of over 3000 parking spaces in the city, and the placement of new lots has been a contentious issue. Local architect Keith Krolak said he was afraid new parking structures would take prime retail space away from other potential developers and close off the project to the street.
The second phase of the demolition of the Coliseum, which involves dismantling everything except for the superstructure of the building, will start Monday afternoon. Another public hearing on the Project will be held in six months.