Though construction is not slated to begin until at least next year, plans to renovate downtown New Haven have sparked controversy.
Details of the Downtown Crossing project, a redevelopment plan to create a medical building at 100 College St. and replace Route 34 with new roads, have yet to be finalized. Still, since the developer, Winstanley Enterprises, and the city’s Economic Development Administration presented their plans to the Board of Aldermen two weeks ago, they have been forced to field myriad concerns from both aldermen and the public about potentially missed opportunities for pedestrian and cyclist safety, job creation, and urban community development.
“I think the land is so valuable in this location, close to the hospital and the medical area, and we’re underselling it in every possible way,” said Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, president of the New Haven Urban Design League.
According to Michael Piscitelli, deputy economic development administrator, the project is still in the preliminary stages of design. Construction will begin when the agreement passes the Board of Aldermen and the federal Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration approve roadway designs.
But before the proposal passes, there may still be changes to the development plan. Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, along with other officials and community groups, submitted a proposal to improve plans for pedestrian and cyclist safety.
David Streever of Elm City Cyclists, a local pro-bicycle advocacy group, said he was “absolutely not satisfied with the current plan,” because of plans for a major roadway through the newly developed urban district.
“They’ve offered to put in bike lanes and infrastructure that we’re very happy with, but they’re planning on building three-, four- or five-lane roads where crossing will be an absolute nightmare for walkers, especially for the elderly and less mobile,” he said.
Additionally, Streever said that the proposed inconsistency in bicycle paths will cause confusion: some paths will be on roads, some will be on sidewalks, and still others will be off-road paths.
The plans for 100 College St. also include an 800-space parking garage, according to Farwell, who wants development to focus instead on a public transit system. Farwell said there are already 12,000 parking spots in the medical area and 25,000 in the downtown area.
Ward 2 Alderman Gregory Smith also said he wants to prioritize community. The area needs more residential buildings, he said, rather than parking spaces and office buildings that would only affect the area during the 9-to-5 workday.
Smith also wants jobs created by the construction and medical office building to be accessible to New Haven residents. Specifically, he said he wants contractors to focus on hiring local residents. Along with Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca, Smith said he is concerned that the medical and biotechnology jobs generated from 100 College St. are inconsistent with the skills local New Haven residents possess.
But according to Piscitelli, the development agreement will allot funding for the Board of Education and Gateway Community College to train students to take specialized jobs, in addition to contracting construction work to local companies.
Farwell also expressed concerns about the impact of potential pollution from the project.
“This is a very polluted zone and we’re just adding more traffic,” she said. “It’s adjacent to communities with a high percentage of low-income minority groups, and they’re bearing the brunt of all this.”
Piscitelli, however, said the removal of the highway will actually decrease traffic and allow cars to spread out over multiple streets.
With $16 million in funding from a federal TIGER II grant, the project is under pressure to finish planning and begin construction to receive continued funding, according to Elicker.
The project plans to open roadway improvements to the public in 2016.