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Hamden mayor surprised QU halted York housing plans again
The university scrapped its plan to build more housing on York Hill because Hamden was unable to approve its proposal fast enough, according to Quinnipiac officials.
The news came as a surprise to Hamden Mayor Curt Leng, who met with President John Lahey last week. In their first meeting since Leng became mayor in May, the two did not discuss that the university would not follow through on the promise it made in the spring to build 300 beds on York Hill by the fall of 2016.
“[Quinnipiac] had publicly announced just this spring that they were going to be building another 300 plus beds, so I’m not really sure what that was about,” Leng said. “And I hope that it will change and go back to what was discussed very publically on different occasions.”
Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell said in a statement that the university halted the housing plan because it would have to go through the town’s approval process again, even though Quinnipiac received permission in 2007 to build 2,048 beds on York Hill.
The university only built 1,435 beds when the York Hill housing was constructed, so Bushnell said officials thought the new 300-bed proposal should be considered part of the already-approved 2007 permit.
“Considering that the town encouraged the university to add more beds on the York Hill campus as quickly as possible, the university hoped to get its 300-bed proposal approved quickly so it could have the new beds completed by the fall of 2016,” Bushnell said in a statement.
But to pay for this project, which was supposed to cost an estimated $30 million, the university needed to take out a bond. Lahey told the New Haven Register the bonding deadline was in August, so the university needed the town to approve its proposal within 90 days so Quinnipiac could know if it should take out this money.
“Unfortunately, the town required the university to go through the entire land-use approval process again,” Bushnell said in a statement. “Agreeing with the university that such a process would take several months and would not begin any earlier than September, the town, by its decision, left the university with no other option but to abandon its plans to add 300 more beds.”
Leng said the university requested that the town internally approve its proposal, but this is not allowed since Quinnipiac wanted to build on a wetland and increase the number of buildings it would construct. Legally, the proposal would have to go through several commissions before it could be approved.
“[Ninety days is] a pretty aggressive timetable to get a project approved that has multiple commissions that it has to go before, according to state law,” Leng said. “These governmental processes are well known. They’re not unique to Hamden in anyway and the university is quite familiar with them because they’ve come through the town to get approvals on projects over the years.”
The university never ended up officially submitting a proposal to the town anyway, Leng said.
This is not the first time more York housing has been put off. Sal Filardi, vice president for facilities and capital planning, said in November 2013 that the university hoped to add 600 beds on the campus by this academic year. These plans were later delayed.
Town officials have been asking Quinnipiac to build more housing on campus for years to decrease the number of students living off campus in residential areas.
Then, the Hamden Zoning Board of Appeals ruled in May that Quinnipiac is violating a condition that required it to have housing for every undergraduate student. This meant the university was facing fines of $150 a day until it gave the town a proposal for more housing. So the university announced the next day that it would soon submit housing plans to Hamden.
Sophomore Joseph Lord is from Hamden. He lives on campus this year, but plans to move off campus in a non-university owned house next year. He said he understands the town believes QU is required to have housing for every undergraduate student. But since there is more than enough housing for the students who want to live on campus, he said Quinnipiac should not have to construct more residence halls.
“There’s obviously a conflict between the students and the residents of Hamden,” he said. “But there are empty beds up on York, so I don’t think they should be building more housing even though the town thinks they should.”
This would be a waste of money, Lord said.
But freshman Liz Mattera said the university needs to do something about the housing shortage on the Mount Carmel campus, since first-year students are living in converted study rooms.
“There’s definitely not enough housing on campus, especially for the freshman class this year, seeing as they have us living in commons rooms,” she said. “I’m not [living there] but I have some friends who are and they are not happy about that.”
Mattera said Quinnipiac should still try to get approval for the York housing.
“But at the same time it’s so not the school’s fault because I feel like the whole thing was kind of on the town,” she said. “The town’s complaining to the university saying we don’t want the kids in the residential areas, so we’re basically saying okay we’ll move them out. And [now Hamden is] saying oh wait you can’t. It’s so not on the school.”
Expansion into North Haven
Lahey, in a recent interview with the New Haven Register, chronicled a rocky relationship with some Hamden officials, including members of the planning board. The Register reported Lahey called Town Planner Leslie Creane and Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops “anti-QU” and said town officials were “plotting” to prevent the university from expanding.
But, according to Leng, the Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission has not rejected an application from Quinnipiac since the mid-1990s.
“The town of Hamden doesn’t want us to grow,” Lahey told the Register.
So now the university will focus on expanding into North Haven instead. Quinnipiac and North Haven officials are working to have private developers create apartments for students to live in, according to the Register.
In the Register article, Lahey praised the relationship he has with North Haven officials, such as North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda.
“We have spent more time in meetings with Freda in the past six months than we have with Hamden officials in the past 20 years,” Lahey told The Register.
Leng said he was surprised at how negatively Lahey seemed to portray the relationship between Hamden and Quinnipiac officials in the Register article. The two had what Leng called a productive meeting the day before Lahey met with the Register, where they discussed not just off-campus housing issues, but potential partnerships between the town and university.
Members of the Hamden Police Department and Public Safety are supposed to meet within the next few weeks, and Leng and Lahey planned to sit down again two weeks from their first meeting, according to Leng.
Leng called Lahey on Monday and left a message on his answering machine.
“[I] said that I hope the [New Haven Register] article was more negatively toned than his actual comments were just because we had had a very good, frank discussion and I think a positive discussion the day before. And we can’t control what is printed, so hopefully it wasn’t nearly as negative as it came across and that we’ll be able to get together again to work on a few of the items that we met on.”
And Leng said the university’s expansion into North Haven does not change how interconnected Hamden and Quinnipiac are.
“The university is very invested in the town and the town isn’t going anywhere and the university isn’t going anywhere,” he said.