The State of Connecticut’s goal to utilize train stations for “Transit-Oriented Development” has the person most credited with getting a train station in the city worried his community will miss an opportunity.
Michael Mercuriano, who headed a successful petition drive almost two decades ago to get the train station in the city is worried the state Dept. of Transportation is going to force the city into low-cost housing on or near the site, thus depriving West Haven of the economic development promised when the station was envisaged.
Mercuriano has been following the back-and-forth on the issue in Hartford, and takes his cue from a failed attempt by the DOT to claim super-jurisdiction over municipal Planning and Zoning Committees, which failed two years ago, and plans to put large-scale housing in around station property. He believes this is one of the reasons the hoped-for development of the area around the station on Railroad Avenue has been stunted. City officials, meanwhile say Mercuriano is misled and doesn’t have all the information, or continues to believe otherwise after he was given assurances.
“It has been nearly two decades since a petition was presented to the citizens of West Haven, urging them how beneficial a train station in our city could be,” Mercuriano said in a statement. “The purpose of this venture was to stimulate economic development in the surrounding areas of the proposed site, while simultaneously making West Haven a better place to live for our citizens and future prospects. More than 7600 signatures later, along with the hard work of several individuals including myself, The West Haven Train Station was brought to fruition.”
Mercuriano has worried the lack of development around the station site, including along Wagner Place and the former Ezra Stiles School is part of a state-run plan.
“The station has now been up and running for 3½ years and several citizens feel that it is being underutilized and not creating any of the economic development we envisioned when we began this journey. In fact, the only thing that has been presented for the surrounding area (and to much objection I might add) is a housing plan, and as we all know housing is not the way to go. Take the Hilton Drive disaster for instance. It was no benefit to the city nor the taxpayers. Apartments need more city services which result in higher taxes. We are already highly populated per our land use and our taxes are one of the highest, if not the highest in the state,” he stated.
He said the country is on the verge of a new tech boom and West Haven has the space and resources to be part of that boom. Putting housing on the train station site would harm the city in the long run, he believes.
“As we all know, our country is on the verge of a new Industrial Revolution and several industries will be heading back to our shores, with more to follow. Opportunity is knocking on our front door. (I will be more specific in the next few weeks) Let’s not make the same mistakes we have made in the past. Industry is the way to go. The main problem in this state is transportation, and thanks to our efforts as a community, we have that right in our backyard.”
Mayor Edward M. O’Brien, meanwhile, believes Mercuriano misunderstands the administration’s policies as well as the state’s plan for the TODs.
“After reading Mr. Mercuriano’s statement dated Feb. 13, 2017, it is very clear that he has not been paying attention to what is happening in a number of successful communities around the country or even right here in West Haven. I know Mr. Mercuriano ultimately wants what is best for West Haven, but it is important to set the record straight when it comes to the future of our city,” O’Brien said in a written response.
O’Brien said his plan has been reviewed by his peers from all over the nation, and has been acclaimed as a good one.
“Instead of watching this city going around in circles for another 20, I have sought out advice from industry experts and individuals who have turned around stagnant cities. I was invited to present to the Mayor’s Institute on City Design this past year and give an overview of our city to the leading city architects and planners in the nation. In addition to receiving their advice for our plans going forward, I was happy to hear that all of them believe West Haven is on the right track and that is something all West Haven residents should be proud of,” he responded.
He continued on the tack that the city is going forward and that any criticism concerning the possibility of housing development may be unfounded.
“In regards to the train station area specifically, West Haven has worked with a consultant and sought advice from a variety of experts and other successful communities and they have all told us the same thing: we need to provide a residential component to projects around the train station if we are going to attract real corporate development. Businesses want to move to areas with a market ready to patronize them, and this is what transit-oriented development and mixed-use projects guarantee. These projects attract commuters that want to live in a vibrant, walk-able community with easy access to mass transit. West Haven is ripe for this type of development and constant negativity in the press regarding any projects that include a residential component does nothing but make this process more difficult,” he stated.
He said no one is going to allow an overrun of housing in any plan to moves forward.
“There are no city officials, including myself, that want to see the TOD area flooded with housing and nothing else. But the reality is mixed-use development is currently the successful model around the nation and what the majority of developers are looking for in these areas,” he stated.
O’Brien said finally he has discussed the matter with Mercuriano and tried to assure him of the administration’s intention and the unfounded nature of his fears.