A proposal to build a new Marriott Residence Inn on Elm and Howe Streets has led to increased tension between developers and Dwight residents.
A scheduled meeting in early October between residents and hotel developers went south when the developer did not show up. At the meeting, planned for Oct. 2, developers from Newport Hotel Group were supposed to present their revised construction plan to the Dwight Central Management Team, a group of residents and businesses within the district that helps provide residents with a voice in community affairs.
“It was yet another form of disrespect towards the community,” said Ward 23 Alder Tyisha Walker, who attended the failed meeting. “It was disheartening considering all the people that were there.”
President of the Newport Hotel Group Douglas Cohen first presented a model for the new hotel at a New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals this past July. The six-story, 115-room Residence Inn is to be constructed behind the Courtyard Marriott on Whalley Ave.
The Newport Hotel Group — a real estate development and management group that served as the developer for the Courtyard Marriott in New Haven — has been working to resolve zoning issues that have so far impeded their plan’s approval. Matthew Nemerson, the economic development administrator for the city, explained that these zoning issues — including the required number of parking spaces and access to the site from the sidewalk — are relatively minor.
Nemerson added that albeit minor, these issues have generated complaints from Dwight neighborhood residents, as they would be the ones most directly affected by poor zoning decisions.
Residents have also complained that developers have not fully presented their plan to the neighborhood community as of yet.
Nemerson added that developers had updated the Dwight Central Management Team on the project when they first proposed it earlier this year, but had not been back for a full presentation.
Executive Director of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District Sheila Masterson said that at the very least, the Dwight Central Management Team should have been contacted earlier and allowed to see design plans.
“That’s just common courtesy if you consider the citizens will be the ones most affected,” Masterson said.
There may be a simple explanation for the current bleak relation between Dwight residents and hotel developers: misunderstanding.
Cohen said in an emailed statement to the News that “regrettably, the company did not identify the Dwight Central Management Team as one of the groups they should have met with in advance of filing plans.”
In order to correct their error, the Newport Hotel Group scheduled the Oct. 2 meeting with the Dwight Central Management Team.
However, when time for the meeting came, the company felt it best to postpone the meeting because their architect and civil engineer were still working to complete the most recent plan revision, Cohen said.
Although the Newport Hotel Group sent an email to Head of the Dwight Central Management Team Lorita Gillespie on the morning of Oct. 2, news travelled slowly, and over forty people showed up to the nighttime meeting.
The Newport Hotel Group is trying hard to make amends. Cohen said he apologized for missing the meeting, and suggested they could schedule a special meeting before the next Dwight Central Management Team meeting on Nov. 4.
Nemerson added that listening to the neighborhood management teams has been a focus of Mayor Toni Harp. As she was endorsed by over 20 Alders, “neighborhood empowerment” has become very significant in New Haven under her leadership, Nemerson said.
Cooperation between the developers and the neighborhood management team could allay any issues with the hotel — Walker said she sees no issue with the construction of the hotel as long as residents have a chance to actively participate.
“We’re a development friendly place. People want to see development come to town, but they want to be respected at the same time,” Walker said. “It has to be a partnership where people will be happy to help the developers.”
In addition to the Courtyard Marriott on Whalley Ave., the Newport Hotel Group also owns the New Haven Hotel.