Westville Village Zone: A University / Main Street Partnership

Opportunities & Challenges

In 2015-2016, Yale Law School’s Ludwig Center for Community & Economic Development Clinic (CED) worked with the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA) to better understand the needs and desires of the Westville Village community with respect to future economic development and land use planning. The impetus for the study was the loss of Delaney’s, a beloved neighborhood restaurant, to an accidental fire, after which it became apparent that a similar establishment could not be built under the current zoning ordinance. CED participants collected data for this study through a survey sent to the WVRA list-serve and posted on the New Haven Independent website; focus groups with community members; and interviews with key stakeholders in Westville.

Through this process, several key themes emerged as primary issues for Westville: absentee and negligent landlords; traffic issues and lack of pedestrian friendliness; too much existing parking and onerous parking requirements in the zoning ordinance; lack of adequate signage; creating a stronger link between Southern Connecticut State University and Westville; and improving the vitality of the business district in Westville, especially to support local businesses. This feedback suggested a set of community values regarding the future of Westville. Specifically, greater density would be welcomed in Westville, with a mix of housing types and commercial spaces, to create a more walkable neighborhood. However, extremely tall buildings would not be welcome in the Village, as being able to see West Rock from many viewpoints was touted as a Village asset.

Funding

Students and clinical faculty advisor Anika Singh Lamar from the Yale Law School’s Ludwig Center for Community & Economic Development provided their legal services pro-bono to the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance. Without their leadership and expertise this project would never have happened. WVRA allocated resources, including funds received through the State of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

Highlights

Ludwig Center law students and WVRA members worked together with the New Haven City Plan Department to outline a new, BA-2 Zone for Westville Village, to be inserted in Section 41 of the Zoning Code, encouraging the development of neglected or vacant buildings into small-scale commercial, residential, or mixed uses that fit in with the existing community fabric. The amendments accomplish this objective in several ways:

1.  Perhaps most significantly, the amendments relax the parking space requirements for commercial and residential uses, encouraging mixed-use development and making it more economically feasible for small businesses to locate in Westville;

2.  The amendments slightly increase the maximum building height to 50 feet (five feet higher than in the BA-1 District), making development more attractive in Westville, while ensuring that any new structures will fit in with the buildings that already exist. The amendments also seek to ensure that property owners looking to expand existing one-story structures will not need to go through a special permitting or special exception process; and

3.  The amendment made changes to the Use Table to encourage the kinds of development that the community wants to see in Westville Village, while prohibiting drive-through establishments and those uses that would not fit with currently existing uses. Generally speaking, small-scale commercial uses that encourage foot traffic are favored.

Outcome & Impact

The new BA-2 Zone, and the process of drafting and passing the legislation has had several important outcomes.

Photo Credit: David Sepulveda, New Haven Independent

First, Westville Village defined and clarified the kinds of development that WVRA now works to encourage, and this clarity has focused recruitment efforts;

Second, the new regulations have ensured that several types of unwanted development, including one-story drive-thru establishments, are not permitted, and that developments where the neighbors would want input, like those requiring liquor licenses, require a special exception; and finally

The process drew attention from local press and spread the word that Westville was excited about and encouraging development.  There has been a marked increase in developers exploring projects in Westville, and the opening of several exciting businesses including Connecticut’s first cat café, a vinyl record shop and the high-end vintage boutique VintanthroModern, all citing their impression that growth was happening and being encouraged in Westville.