As the decadeslong planning of a new biology building to replace the J.W. Gibbs Laboratory on Science Hill nears completion, the city may be looking into whether the new building warrants the creation of additional nearby parking spaces.
At an aldermanic meeting Monday night, city leaders took steps to determine whether the building project warrants an aldermanic parking review. While Yale looks to finish the proposed building, which has undergone two redesigns and one postponement, New Haven has its own concerns about dwindling parking spots for residents. The question of available parking hinges on whether the new science facility will increase the number of faculty and staff working there. According to science professors, this number will not change.
“The size of the molecular, cellular and developmental biology faculty or staff will not change much,” said MCDB professor Thomas Pollard, who formerly chaired the MCDB Building Committee. “We are simply moving from our current quarters to the new building, which will replace Gibbs.”
On Monday, city officials asked an outside legal counsel for a recommendation on whether the proposed building plans require an aldermanic review.
The new building will fill the footprint currently occupied by Gibbs Laboratory, which houses physics labs and the Astronomy Department. The 291 parking spaces currently nearby will see no increase or decrease as part of the construction. Currently, staff and students use a parking lot adjacent to Science Hill. But the proposed construction would temporarily close the lot for construction crew operations for a short period of time during the building process, which is scheduled to last around two years.
Yale has said it will reassign parking during the construction period — which is expected to be completed in 2019 — to Lots 16 and 22V and the Pierson–Sage Garage, which are all located further up Whitney Avenue on the same block.
While the building’s occupancy is not expected to increase considerably, Executive Director of the City Plan Department Karyn Gilvarg pointed out in a recent letter to the alders that the “new building and the below-grade service spaces [are] somewhat greater than the existing Gibbs Laboratory building.”
The proposed building is 280,300 square feet and six stories tall, and will include a rooftop penthouse with a small greenhouse. The design uses the slope of Science Hill to bury the first two floors underground. A network of belowground tunnels will connect the new biology building with Kline Biology Tower. The new lab will be accessible from all of its sides and through hallways under the Kline Biology Tower Plaza.
But it still remains unclear whether the slight increase in the building’s size will influence either the occupancy of the building or the amount of parking needed nearby. According to the 1998 town-gown agreement “Overall Parking Plan,” Yale is allowed to determine where and how many parking spaces are built on University property. Gilvarg said Yale meets frequently throughout the year with the City Plan Department. For every Yale building project proposal, Gilvarg said, the University provides the city with relevant information including occupancy changes.
The next monthly City Plan Commission review is on April 20.
According to Gilvarg, Yale officials have said anecdotally in meetings with the city that the new biology building will bring no significant change in faculty or staff. Although the square footage of the site is growing, this may not increase the number of faculty and staff who work there, Gilvarg said. Students are not required to have nearby parking, she said, so faculty and staff numbers are more relevant when considering parking availability.
Parking near Science Hill has also been reduced temporarily by the construction of the new residential colleges, Pollard said. When the construction workers at the residential college site using parking spaces leave the site, more parking will become available, he added.
Yale officials have previously said in public testimonies that Yale encourages employees to take shuttles and public transportation, but also provides off-street parking to all employees, for a price. But previous aldermanic proposals have addressed worries that Yale workers often take street parking from nearby residents. Gibbs Laboratory is bordered by residential communities on Whitney Avenue and Humphrey and Bishop streets.
Parking is an especially vital issue for New Haven’s alders, who have repeatedly sought to relieve city residents of parking woes. City leaders have expressed concerns that the increasing demand for parking, coupled with a growing number of building projects, reduces available parking or does not create any new spaces.
For example, Yale’s plans to construct a new graduate student dormitory on Elm Street on the current site of a parking lot garnered opposition from Deputy Director of Zoning Tom Talbot in February 2015.
“There is an incredible demand for a vanishing supply of land,” City Plan Commission Chairman Edward Mattison LAW ’68 said at a November 2015 City Hall meeting.
A new biology building has been planned for the Gibbs Laboratory site since the 1990s, but construction was postponed in early 2009 due to the 2008 financial crisis that tightened Yale’s wallet.
The J.W. Gibbs Laboratory was built in 1955.