New Haven Planners Delay Tweed New Haven Airport Parking Vote Amid Storm Runoff Concerns

Jan. 27, 2023
Hours of public testimony on the airport's application to add 34 parking spaces yielded no immediate decision, but City Plan Commission members were moved enough by neighbors' concerns about runoff to want to study it further.

Jan. 26—NEW HAVEN — Nearly five hours of public testimony on Tweed New Haven Regional Airport's application to add 34 parking spaces in the more distant of its two front parking lots yielded no immediate decision, but City Plan Commission members were moved enough by neighbors' concerns about runoff to want to study it further.

The commission opted late Wednesday to leave the public hearing open and resume at a special meeting Feb. 25.

The proposed additional spaces were removed from a previous application for 203 spaces approved in October because the 34 spaces involved moving a fence within a regulated inland wetlands and coastal management area. Parking has been an issue at Tweed as Avelo Airlines continues to grow. During holiday peak periods, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, existing parking came close to filling up some days.

A petition to add Tweed neighbor and expansion opponent Gabriela Campos Matteson, who wanted to bring in her own environmental scientist, as an intervenor in the application failed by a 2-2 vote. Chairwoman Leslie Radcliffe and member Joy Gary voted in favor. Joshua Van Hoesen and alternate Carl Goldfield voted against it.

Three votes were needed for it to pass.

But after hearing several of the more than 15 members of the public who addressed the commission express concerns about potential runoff — from a project that a lawyer for airport operator Avports said amounted to "moving a fence" within an already-paved area — Radcliffe wanted to know more.

She initially raised the possibility of the commission hiring its own environmental consultant. Van Hoesen suggested asking the city's Environmental Advisory Council to do research and weigh in.

But after Avports representative Andrew King asked whether installing a runoff treatment system might "be an appropriate measure" and City Plan Department Executive Director Laura Brown offered to act as a liaison, members agreed to let them discuss ways to address concerns between now and the next meeting.

"I'm not comfortable with closing the public hearing at this point. There's just a lot out there that I want to know," said Radcliffe.

Radcliffe pointed out that if contaminants "are going back into the waterways," as some suggested, "I don't think a fence is going to stop that."

Joe Williams, attorney for Avports, said "the only regulated activity that we've applied for is moving the fence within the paved area," and a sedimentation and erosion control plan is part of the application.

The application was complicated by two cease-and-desist orders city Building Official Jim Turcio issued in November and December after a contractor installed a fence that had not yet been approved.

"We were in the middle of a transition between adding new management personnel" and a contract "started the work and it was noticed," King said. "... They notified the city and the work stopped."

Williams said the parking is intended to be temporary and would be in use until a proposed new terminal and new parking lots can be built on the East Haven side of the airport.

King said that even if the current application isn't approved, the area covered by the current application "will be used for 'airport ops' ... Whatever the airport needs at the time, whether it's parking or staging or overnight parking for planes."

Goldfield told his colleagues, "If we don't approve this, they're going to use that for materials storage. ... They're going to continue to use it the way that they're using it, because they have every right to."

Ray Paier, an environmental engineer with Westcott & Mapes, said an existing fence that was installed without approval "is going to be removed. That's part of this application." The proposed new fence would be driven into the pavement about 50 yards west of the current fence, he said.

During public testimony, resident Margaret Wheeler said, "We're not here just to complain. We're here to bring facts," and "the main idea here is to protect the wetlands." She said Tweed's parking lots "are within 50 feet of the wetlands area."

East Haven shorefront resident Lianne Audette said that when there's runoff from the parking lot, "all sorts of things will be in that water, and water will move. This bothers me a lot, because there's a lot of crap in that water and it will move into the wetlands."

Laura Cahn of Cleveland Road, who chairs the Environmental Advisory Council , said that "even an inch of soil moved disrupts the wetlands" and this application would move considerably more than that. "I would like to hear a soil scientist" discuss the effects, she said.


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