After community activists pushed for months to save a Yale New Haven Hospital-owned building from demolition, city officials are working to acquire the vacated property.
City Hall’s Livable City Initiative — a city agency that ensures affordable housing for New Haven residents — is currently negotiating with YNHH to purchase the complex for $1. The 130-year-old house at 596–598 George St., which was used for over 40 years as an obstetrician’s office, has been vacant for nearly two decades and would be redeveloped into two three-family brownstone houses, pending city acquisition.
The move represents a victory for the Friends of Dwight Street Historic District and other preservationists throughout the area who valued the historic merit of 596–598 George St.
“I am so happy about this. The city is doing a great service to the neighborhood and a great service to the hospital,” FDSHD founding member Olivia Martson said. “The building will be saved; they’re going to restore it.”
Though residents are already celebrating, deliberations between the city and YNHH have not yet concluded. According to the Elm City’s tax assessor’s office, 596–598 George St. was still under YNHH ownership as of April 7.
YNHH spokesman Mark D’Antonio, LCI Executive Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo and LCI Deputy Director of Neighborhood and Property Service Frank D’Amore did not respond to requests for comment. City spokesman Laurence Grotheer noted that during ongoing discussions, public comment by involved parties could undermine bargaining power.
The City Plan Commission, which advises the city on development-related issues, recommended to the city on Feb. 15 to pursue the move. In a March 16 letter to New Haven Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker, Neal-Sanjurjo sought authorization from the city’s legislative body for LCI to submit a 2017 Homeownership Development Project grant concerning the George Street property to Connecticut’s department of housing.
According to Martson, Walker, who represents the ward that contains 596–598 George St., told her that the Board of Alders would likely grant the authorization.
YNHH’s initial plans to demolish the property were halted by the city in July 2015 after residents in the area submitted proposals for its reuse. Afterwards, the hospital proposed a compromise in which the new living spaces could only be occupied by those who purchased them. As a result, residents grew frustrated with the proposal since homeownership seemed infeasible for a property of the size and price of 596–598 George St.
The city’s current plan would provide a link between the hospital’s and residents’ wants. According to LCI’s executive summary of the property, the city aims to gut the complex’s interior and renovate the property into a pair of three-family homes, which would then include an owner-occupied unit.
If the project is completed as planned, it will be a success for the neighborhood, said John Herzan, preservation services officer at the New Haven Preservation Trust.
“Those types of buildings aren’t built anymore. Once gone, they’re lost forever,” Herzan said. “[Martson] deserves a lot of credit. This shows that a community’s concern can still cause action.”
YNHH has owned 596–598 George St. since September 2012.