In early December, a negative vote from the Board of Alders put an ambitious set of plans to transform The Hill on ice. But on Monday night, a group of alders and community leaders met in City Hall to see if the plans might have life after all.
Chaired by former Hill Alder Jorge Perez, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, the meeting of the Hill-to-Downtown steering committee began to set the groundwork for New Haven’s approach to development in The Hill. The group — composed of alders, city development officials and representatives from The Hill’s two community management teams — presented concerns about community involvement and access to affordable housing while emphasizing the need to restart The Hill’s aborted development plans.
“Like any other family or any other committee, we might not always agree, but we should always keep an open mind and start from the place that everyone on the committee has: the interests of the city and the interests of residents,” West River Alder and Board President Tyisha Walker, a member of the committee, said at Monday’s meeting.
The steering committee presents a second attempt at getting Hill development approved by local government. Developer Randy Salvatore, who hopes to build 140 apartments and 120,000 square feet of research space in the northern Hill, presented his proposal to the alders’ Community Development and Legislation committees last month. But the committees voted down his proposal, claiming he did not sufficiently consult with community members and the steering committee.
Perez said the steering committee will meet with Salvatore at some point in the future, acting as an intermediary between the developer and the community. But first, he said, the committee needs to determine what they plan on discussing with him. Topics like affordable housing and community benefits are likely to be on the docket.
Ensuring the availability of affordable housing — a newly salient issue given the high-end apartment complexes that have sprung up around downtown in recent months — is particularly important for Dawn Bliesener, a Hill resident who recently moved into the neighborhood from the Naugatuck Valley, a desire she voiced at the meeting.
“It’s very, very important to me that we establish realistic affordable housing — not $2,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment,” she said at the meeting. “And it’s very important that this be for working-class people, not run by a nonprofit and not Section 8.”
Perez said the committee will, in its future meetings, discuss “workforce housing,” developments aimed at those making roughly $35,000 a year. He added that the committee will look into the possibility of making large units — not just one-bedrooms and studios — available in any of these new apartment complexes.
Perez, who left the Board of Alders last March to become the state banking commissioner, said the city may be able to receive state subsidies for private affordable housing developments.
Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, executive director of the Livable City Initiative, said plans for affordable housing in The Hill have been put forward and will be considered by the committee.
“Hopefully every proposal that comes before this committee will have some component that helps people who can’t afford to pay $3,000 a month in rent — or even more in some parts of the city,” she said Monday.
Hill Alder Dolores Colon ’91 asked meeting attendees if sidewalks in a potential new development would be safe and accessible for all residents, including those with disabilities. Karyn Gilvarg, executive director of the New Haven City Plan Department, said the width of sidewalks — which is regulated by a series of local, state and federal statutes — will likely be an issue the committee will discuss at a future meeting.
Walker said the ultimate role of the committee is to act as a conduit between the three parties involved in any potential development in The Hill: residents, developers and city officials. Perez said development should be a “win-win” for all parties, adding that the committee should help to facilitate a positive solution.
“Developers like to know what the rules are when they go into a deal,” he said. “Same as us; we’re all human. We should come up with basic principles and when we need to, we can clarify it.”
The steering committee’s next meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday. Perez said he expects the committee will meet regularly throughout the next month.