Jon Greenberg

The New Haven City Plan Commission unanimously recommended a proposal that would allow for the construction of up to 500 residential units on Long Wharf. Despite opposition from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Officials about the development’s potential risks to public safety, the proposal now heads to the Board of Alders to approve a zoning change. 

Plans for the development — located on 4.3 acres of waterfront property at 501 through 585 Long Wharf Drive — include approximately two 10-story residential apartment buildings, a public market, a food hall and a two-acre public park. The buildings will be made of steel, not wood, the usual material of developments in New Haven. The project, led by the Long Wharf-based Fusco Corporation, would require amendments to the zoning ordinance for Planned Development District 53, which is currently commercially zoned. The Board of Alders must approve the zoning change from commercial to residential. If passed, Fusco will submit a site plan review detailing project specifics.

“This is probably the most significant project that our city plan commission will hear this year as far as size and impact,” Carlos Eyzaguirre, New Haven’s deputy economic development administrator, told the News.

Hours before the City Plan Commission’s Oct. 20 meeting, DEEP Land and Water Resources Director Brian Thompson sent an eight-page letter urging the commission and the Board of Alders to oppose the construction proposal. Thompson argued that the development goes against the Connecticut Coastal Management Act, which states that municipalities should “manage coastal hazard areas so as to ensure that development proceeds in such a manner that hazards to life and property are minimized.” 

Thompson said that DEEP is primarily concerned with the project’s potential impacts on public safety from tides, storm surges and rising sea levels due to climate change.  

“Constructing a significant number of residential units in an area that is currently zoned as commercial is increasing risk to life,” he said. 

At the commission meeting, Matthew Ranelli, Fusco’s attorney, said that the corporation has considered future climate change in its development plans for the waterfront property. The elevation of the first floor of each residential building will be at 15 feet to reduce the risk of flood and storm damage. 

“New Haven has decided for itself after a years-long review that New Haven has enough industrial uses on the waterfront and in some ways is overburdened by them at the expense of residents,” he said. 

Ranelli said that Fusco is reserving further comments about the project for the Board of Alders. 

Should the Board of Alders approve the zoning change and construction project, Fusco would need to provide a comprehensive site plan review process on the project. Considerations in this review process would include stormwater management, coastal durability, public green spaces and more.

Eyzaguirre said that Fusco’s project fits into the Long Wharf Responsible Growth Plan, which was published in 2019. This plan envisions the creation of five walkable neighborhoods in Long Wharf, with the goals of connecting the waterfront to downtown New Haven, generating jobs, developing coastal resiliency and densifying housing.

Leslie Radcliffe, the chair of the City Plan Commission, was satisfied with Fusco’s safety precautions in the case of flooding, extreme weather or sea level rise. She explained that, to her, the benefit of more housing to New Haven communities outweighs the risks of building on waterfront property.

“The residents of New Haven have needs right now,” she told the News. “I am swayed to the side of building the project, but taking into consideration all precautions to make sure that there is no negative impact.”

Eyzaguirre added that building more rentals would drive down prices in New Haven. He also emphasized the city’s willingness to work with DEEP to mediate public safety and environmental concerns.

But Thompson and other DEEP officials maintain that changing the waterfront’s zoning ordinance can lead to the endangerment of lives and property. 

“We absolutely see and agree with the need for affordable housing in New Haven,” Thompson said. “There are more appropriate places to site that kind of housing than in areas where they’re putting people’s lives and health at risk, potentially.”

The Board of Alders will consider the proposed zoning amendment in a committee hearing next month. If approved, the full local legislature will make a final decision on the change. 

Anastasia Hufham reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she is a junior in Saybrook College majoring in Ethics, Politics & Economics.
William Porayouw covered Woodbridge Hall for the News and previously reported on international strategy at Yale. Originally from Redlands, California, he is an economics and global affairs major in Davenport College.