Oct. 27—NEW HAVEN — Tweed New Haven Regional Airport won unanimous approval for a 203-space parking expansion following a four-hour public hearing, convincing the City Plan Commission of the need for more on-site parking despite the testimony of 17 neighbors opposed to the plan.
Tweed currently has 927 spaces among its three on-site parking lots. With this week's approval, it will have 1,130 spaces.
What originally was an application for 507 additional spaces was reduced first to 237 spaces because of wetlands issues. That proposed number was reduced further this week to 203 spaces.
The bulk of the new spaces, 178 of them, will be in an extended area with "permeable," or porous, pavement, adjacent to what is now the most remote and least expensive of Tweed's three parking lots, according to the latest plans. It's located behind the terminal and the tarmac where Avelo Airlines parks its airplanes.
Another 25 spaces will be in the closest and more expensive of Tweed's two front lots, directly outside the terminal's front door.
An additional 34 spaces in the farther of the two front lots were removed from the application for expediency, because of the need to move a security fence in order to add them to the existing lot, a member of Tweed's development team, Raymond Paier, vice president of engineering for Westcott & Mapes, told the commission.
The team still must apply to move the security fence, he said.
Eleven proposed new spaces that would have required paving what currently are grassy areas also were removed from the closer-in front lot.
Approval by City Plan Commission members Ernest Pagan, Joshua Van Hoesen, Alder Adam Marchand, D-25, and Chairwoman Leslie Radcliffe came after a presentation by Tweed's development team and more than three hours of testimony from neighbors, seven of whom were allowed to testify for a second time.
At Marchand's suggestion, the site plan approval included a condition that the applicant provide documentation on a quarterly basis of its adherence to a regular schedule of maintenance of the permeable asphalt material used to pave the lot, which allows water to drain through it.
"I heard and I appreciate" the testimony, Radcliffe said before the vote. But much of the testimony was unrelated to the actual parking expansion and comments were more about the airport itself, and "they are not within our purview," Radcliffe said.
Several speakers asked the commission to table the application until after a currently underway environmental assessment is complete. The EA is for a broader airport expansion plan that includes lengthening the runway from 5,600 feet to 6,635 feet and building a new, 74,000-square-foot terminal with 4 to 6 gates on the East Haven side of the airport.
Van Hoesen said that part of his perspective was that if Tweed "didn't have this parking," people would park on the streets in adjacent neighbors, and neighbors would continue to be "annoyed."
Radcliffe said she found herself weighing the need for more parking "with the desire to find alternatives to parking and encourage use of public transportation elsewhere in the city."
She said she recalled other cases, and one in particular, in which restaurants in the city wanted to increase their parking in order to increase their business, but were denied.
Marchand said the airport is not like other residences or business in the city.
"It's a business that generates a lot of trips. It's a different entity ... even than a big residential tower," he said.
One thing the city can do, however, is "to keep the press on Avports," Tweed's contract operator, "and push them to deepen those partnerships" with other transportation companies that can bring people to the airport, including ridesharing service such as Uber and Lyft.
Currently, only Lyft, taxicab companies and CT Transit and an occasional shuttle that Tweed runs from the Union Station garage can serve Tweed. The airport has been unable to agree to a contract that would allow Uber to serve the airport and the leading rideshare service cannot bring people directly to the airport.
CT Transit has a bus that can drop off passengers at Tweed if they ask. But it doesn't pick up passengers there unless they call in advance, Avports spokesman Andrew King told the commission.
Other members of the development team included attorney Joseph Williams of Shipman & Goodwin and Donald Tone, a traffic and parking expert from Sam Schwartz, a New York engineering, planning and consulting firm.
Williams said the team has tried "to be sensitive to the fact that Avports is managing an existing airport that is abutting a residential neighborhood" and also has tried "to be sensitive to that neighborhood." While the existing parking is not always full, "we expect demand to increase during the holiday season" and "it's very important that we get this into place before the holiday season," he said.
Nevertheless, "We view this as a temporary solution ... while we get ready to move the terminal and the parking over to" the East Haven side of the airport, Williams said.
Tone said part of the parking problem is that leisure travelers are parking at the airport for longer than originally anticipated.
King and Tone said that adding more onsite parking actually results in less traffic through adjacent neighborhoods compared to passengers being dropped off — two trips versus four for passengers being dropped off by friends, relatives or ride-share services, he said.
"Even though there are some people in the community who will always want to shut down the airport ... we have to act as stewards," said King. "Part of our responsibility is to reduce neighborhood traffic if at all possible."
In addition, "As an airport, we're not allowed to prohibit an airline from expanding," King said. "Airport customers are showing up by the hundreds and thousands ... and regardless of how much parking we have, they're going to keep showing up."
Neighbors weren't buying it, however.
"I must strenuously object to the characterization put forward by the representatives of Avports that this process ... has in any way been sensitive to the needs ... of the people who live in the neighborhood," said Gretl Gallicchio of Hyde Street in New Haven.
"The needs of that commercial airline must be weighed against the needs of that neighborhood," she said, pointing out that East Haven, in which roughly half of the airport is located, is an Environmental Justice Community.
"I would suggest that they should start by actually talking to the residents of the neighborhood. ... Talk to us before you draw up a plan and submit it," Galliccio said.
Galliccio and Susan Bryson of Branford's Short Beach section were among several speakers who asked the commission to table the application until the environmental assessment for broader airport expansion is complete and more information is available.
Bryson pointed out that the airport is located within a FEMA-designated flood zone and "it's an extremely sensitive ecological area." She suggested "that we can drop this extremely bad idea and create trains to Bradley, the airport with which this is now competing, which is owned by the state and paid for by the taxpayers."
Patrick Rowland of Minor Road in East Haven, about 3,800 feet south of the runway, agreed, as did Lorena Venegas of East Haven, co-founder of the anti-airport expansion environmental and community group 10,000 Hawks.
"I implore you to do nothing until you've asked for an environmental impact study," Rowland said.
"I believe that the premise of the airport expansion is wrong all the way around," Rowland said, suggesting that "a non-comforming use should never be expanded."
Lighthouse Road resident Gloria Bellacicco also asked the commission to table it, saying any parking expansion "affects the wetlands, adds to more traffic and noise ... Tweed needs to revisit their original plan, which was to provide a shuttle," she said.
Morris Cove resident Gabriela Campos said the airport's "lack of planning" shouldn't inconvenience the city. She also asked the commission to table the matter and "wait for the federal process."
Townsend Avenue resident Lynne Bonnett said that "in terms of reducing traffic, the best way is shuttle. That's more preferable to everybody driving their car to the airport," she said.
Nelson Street resident Lisa Bassani said, "this is a neighborhood hugely impacted by flooding. The whole area is just a bowl ... that collects water. ... You have huge flooding issues in this community that are not ... going to stand up to the changes that we know are coming up."
Townsend Avenue resident Margaret Wheeler said, "I really feel that this is an environmental issue, putting parking in next to a the tidal wetlands.
"How often is (the permeable pavement) going to be cleaned?" she asked. "It needs to be vacuumed and power washed on a regular basis."
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