The Haven — an upscale $200 million West Haven shopping outlet housing 100 shops, six restaurants, a waterfront promenade and a 200-seat amphitheater — moved one step closer to construction Wednesday night.
The West Haven City Council voted on Wednesday evening to allow the city’s attorneys to negotiate agreements with the owners of eight private properties still located on The Haven’s future location — the West River Crossing Site less than four miles from Old Campus. As of Wednesday night, Gordon Group Holdings — the private development firm building the 24-acre complex — reached a formal agreement with the owners of 32 of the 40 private properties on the West River Crossing Site. Per Gordon’s 2013 contract with the city to develop the waterfront area, the city’s attorneys will help secure the eight properties that Gordon has not obtained after private negotiations, said attorney Gary O’Connor, whose firm represents West Haven.
“Once the developers provided us with the evidence of what they did, then we would have the opportunity to negotiate in good faith with those property owners,” O’Connor said. “We can’t do that until the City Council makes that determination tonight. It would have been illegal.”
A point of contention for City Council members on Wednesday night was the city’s possible use of eminent domain to seize two private properties — one a residence and the other a gas station — whose owners have publicly objected to selling their property.
In two hours of public testimony Wednesday night, concerned West Haven residents approached the podium to condemn what they saw as the undemocratic character of eminent domain. Public testimonies addressed a panel of the mayor and City Council members to urge the city to avoid eminent domain in its negotiations with the private property owners.
“I just want to ask a question without an answer,” concerned city resident John Pascale said during his testimony. “If each one of you and each one of your own people were in the same situation, would you give up your house?”
West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien assured attendees that the city would invoke eminent domain only as a last resort. O’Connor added that state law mandates that Gordon and the city help relocate their businesses and homes, as they have done for the 32 private properties already acquired.
Several West Haven residents also urged the City Council to vote in support of The Haven’s completion. The project’s official estimates say that The Haven will create 800 full-time and 1,000 part-time jobs and generate over $3 million in annual tax revenue, West Haven Public Relations Information Coordinator Mike Walsh said.
“The only way to lower the taxes is to get some economic development,” said a West Haven resident. “You’ve got to start someplace with economic development and this is a major point. This could be West Haven’s anchor.”
The city of West Haven has unsuccessfully attempted to build on the West River Crossing Site — a four-acre stretch of waterfront that had been occupied by the Connecticut Refining Company — for over the past two decades. The state government showed its faith in the project in 2014 by approving Gov. Dannel Malloy’s request for up to $30 million in funding.
As soon as Gordon acquires the necessary property, construction will begin on the West River Crossing. In his presentation to the City Council Wednesday night, Gordon Executive Vice President Matt Armstrong contrasted photos of the area’s empty streets and overgrown lots with artistic renderings of the shopping complex.
“It’s going to be a very coastal and beautiful use of that waterfront which has been dilapidated for so long,” Armstrong said.
Gordon’s projects have included the Beverly Center in Los Angeles and the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.