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Friday, February 15, 2008

UNH student housing hits snag

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— A zoning complication has made it unlikely that University of New Haven students will occupy an apartment building in Westville this fall.
City officials and two aldermen from the Westville neighborhood met with representatives of UNH and told them conversion to a dormitory or student housing would require several public hearings and approvals from the Board of Aldermen.
With additional housing needed for at least 300 students, according to UNH President Steven Kaplan, the college was looking to lease one of the five luxury apartment buildings, which would accommodate around 200 students.
“I have sympathy for them,” Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield, D-29, said of UNH.
“They didn’t think there were any impediments,” Gold said of UNH’s negotiations with Metropolitan Development, owners of the 293-unit apartment complex.
A spokeswoman for Metropolitan failed to return several phone calls seeking comment.
Goldfield said he would try to go into an appeal “with an open mind,” given the reality of a developer trying to make his debt payment by filling the apartments. “But, I don’t think there is a lot of support for a dorm over there ... the language in the PDD (planned development district) is evidence of a presumption against that,” Goldfield said.
George Synodi, vice president for finance and treasurer at UNH, said the complications were a surprise to him.
“We are certainly disappointed,” Synodi said. He said he also did not feel the team at Metropolitan he was dealing with was aware of the PDD requirements.
Synodi said he would be more than happy to meet with the neighbors to talk about the UNH plan, which was a 9½-month lease for one year, with the possibility of using it for graduate student housing in the future, if that were acceptable.
Discussions on leasing a second building had not yet taken place and he said they would be happy to limit it to one building.
UNH would place a residential director and residential advisors on each floor of the building to maintain discipline and would run a shuttle service to the West Haven campus three miles away.
Discussions so far have left him with the feeling that “the city has effectively closed the door on this.”
“I naively thought it was a win-win for everyone involved. I guess I learned a valuable lesson,” Synodi said. “The threshold question is whether our occupation of one of those buildings would constitute a conversion to dormitory housing.”
From an economic development standpoint, Synodi said 200 students using the Westville center and filling an empty apartment building seemed like a good thing.
“I imagine (West Haven Mayor) John Picard would love to see something like that in the Allingtown section of West Haven,” Synodi said. Alderman Thomas Lehtonen, D-27, said approval for the UNH situation would set a precedent that Westville residents don’t want.
Mary Faulkner, chair of the Westville-West Hills Management Team, said they are eager for tenants to move into the large complex, but there is a fear of student housing, given experience with students in dilapidated housing close to nearby Southern Connecticut State University.
Nathan Karnes, a Westville resident, said Metropolitan had originally voiced a disdain for students occupying the apartments, but has since advertised in the Southern school newspaper and has a sign up “Students Welcome.”
Faulkner said they have been meeting regularly with Metropolitan and they are still optimistic they can fill the large complex, which started renting last summer.
“These are our neighbors. If they can make it what they want it to be, it will be fabulous for the neighborhood,” Faulkner said of the luxury housing pitch.
Their latest move however, has left her wondering if they over-reached with the size of the housing, which has been a source of controversy in Westville from the start.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com

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