Thursday, February 25, 2010

Legislation Committee recent meetings - Yale SOM PDD

I am a member of the BOA's Legislation Committee.  The first meeting I attended was January 28th and was the first of two public hearings before the committee to hear Yale's application for a designation of a Planned Development District (PDD) and zoning amendment petition to facilitate development of a new School of Management campus at 155-181 Whitney Avenue.  The Board of Aldermen is the zoning authority for the City.  Mike Morand, from Yale's Office of State & City Affairs, presented Yale's petition/application.  Their architect's (Foster & Partners) design, which meets Yale's needs and allows them to consolidate SOM functions and programs, requires a building of a size and sited on their property in such a way that would not conform to the two existing zones that govern their property.  Morand explained correctly that as-of-right they could have built within the existing zoning parameters; but for many reasons which he laid out, Yale has applied to the BOA for a PDD designation which will allow them to build on their property as per their submitted general plans. 

The job of the Legislation Committee was to hear from the petitioner, from the public, and from City departments, so the committee could make a recommendation to their colleagues on the full board regarding this request.  After having read pages of testimony, background and advice, after hearing more than nine hours of testimony from Yale, the public, and with advice from and consultation with City Plan and Corporation Counsel, the committee deliberated and unanimously recommended the PDD application and zoning amendments: "Favorable as amended (by the committee)."  The full board will hear, debate and probably vote on Yale's application/petition at the BOA's next, regular meeting, March 1st.

I and my colleagues heard and read lots of testimony for this application.  There were two evenings of public hearings.  The majority of public testimony was indeed "pro."  There was thoughtful "con" testimony presented too.  Our deliberation was focused on whether the applicant's petition is compliant with PDD objectives in Section 65(a) of the City's zoning Ordinance.  The PDD must be 1) "In accordance with the comprehensive plans of the City," 2) "Composed of such uses, and in such proportions as are most appropriate and necessary for the integrated functioning of the planned development and for the City," 3) So designed in its space allocation, orientation, texture, materials, landscaping and other features as to produce an environment of stable and desirable character, complementing the design and values of the surrounding neighborhood and showing such unusual merit as to reflect credit upon the developer and upon the City..."  There is also State Statute, Section 8-2m to be satisfied.  This included provision that the development is designed for the betterment of the City and the neighborhood, and that the zoning change is not less use-restrictive, nor is there an expansion of a pre-existing nonconforming use.  Agreeing that these applicable objectives are satisfied in the application, I did indeed vote with my colleagues to unanimously recommend approval of Yale's PDD petition with conditions and amendments.  Conditions include: public pedestrian and bicycle access from Pearl St. through to Whitney Ave. and greater set-backs than originally proposed.

This is just a very brief synopsis of what the committee considered and did, of what I heard at two long meetings (the Feb. 11th meeting ended after midnight), and includes references to lots of written testimony, background, and advice made available to me and the other committee members... And, if this all sounds technical and complicated?... it is...  But, if anyone would like to hear even more, see and/or read any or all of the testimony, see the architect's plans and renderings, etc., please call me.  I believe that the committee did its job, and now the "favorable-as-amended" application/petition moves to the full BOA for final action on this zoning application/petition.