The New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals green-lighted Yale’s request for zoning variances to execute its proposal to renovate the Schwarzman Center during a public hearing last week, leaving the University one step closer to transforming the Schwarzman Center into a hub for student life.

The Board of Zoning Appeals granted the University a variance for a 5,400-square-foot functional addition to Commons along Grove Street, University spokesman Tom Conroy said. The proposed plan will absorb an existing moat between Commons and the pedestrian sidewalk and construct two stories above ground level and one story below.

“The primary use of the space will be [an] additional back-of-house service area for the dining hall with approximately eight student meeting and study rooms added in a second above-grade story facing Grove Street,” Conroy wrote in an email to the News.

According to Benjamin Trachten, chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals, the University sought variances to have a front yard of 1 foot and 6 inches — the distance between the building and its property line — even though current regulations mandate 5 feet. 

Compliant with the process for zoning appeals, Yale submitted an application in August detailing its requests as well as scaled plans of its proposed renovation. In order to be relieved from any zoning requirements, property owners must articulate “difficulty and unreasonable hardship” in complying with existing regulations for reasons other than “economics, whim and aesthetics,” Executive Director of the City Plan Department Karyn Gilvarg added.

Since much of the proposed 5,400-square-foot functional addition will be used for food services, Yale claimed that complying with a 5-foot front yard would take up space within the existing area in Commons and thus compromise the architectural integrity and grandeur of a historic building.

The University will now submit an application to the City Plan Commission for site plan review. This document will outline provisions regarding practical considerations such as storm water and reflective surface controls. Gilvarg said she is confident that Yale’s proposal to renovate the Schwarzman Center will be approved by the site plan review and subsequent procedures.

“[Board of Zoning Appeals variance] was the most discretionary thing. There is no guarantee what the Board of Zoning Appeals will do, because each zoning appeals case is site-specific and driven by the facts of that case,” Gilvarg said. “Once you get past zoning, you are pretty much going to build it.”

Constructed in 1901, the existing structure that will become the Schwarzman Center predates New Haven city zoning regulations.