Editor’s note: This story by Darren Marcy first appeared in the Valley News on July 24.
HARTFORD — The Upper Valley Haven plans to ask the town’s Planning Commission to reconsider its demand for a connector road between two parking lots that jeopardizes the nonprofit’s plan to build a low-barrier shelter.
The commission voted to require the connector road over the objections of Haven officials, who were seeking approval for an updated master plan for its campus when the road requirement was imposed.
“If you put in the building, there’s not room for the connector road, and if you put in the connector road, there’s not room for the building,” Nate Stearns, the Haven’s legal counsel, told the commission at a meeting on July 11.
The board voted, 4-2, to require the road, which would connect the Haven’s parking lot with the lot of neighboring St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which has agreed to allow the Haven to use its parking lot when services aren’t being held.
“If they’re starting to share lots and be a connected campus, there needs to be a connection for vehicular circulation,” Commissioner Toby Dayman, who suggested the road, said at the meeting.
Once the commission voted to require the road as part of the master plan, the Haven was forced to withdraw its application for the shelter, which was supposed to be the next agenda item that night.
“Out of nowhere, this requirement of a two-way road was presented,” Michael Redmond, executive director of the Haven, said in an interview last week. “I was perplexed by the idea that a two-way roadway was needed between these two parking lots. It didn’t make any sense, and it still doesn’t make any sense.”
Redmond said no evidence of the need for the road has been offered by commissioners, and the vote effectively killed the Haven’s application for site plan approval for the shelter.
“It had the impact of taking away the chance to present our project,” he said. “We never even got a chance to present it.”
The project the Haven had planned to present was a 20-bed low-barrier shelter, which would be open to adults even if they did not pass a criminal background check or were under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The proposal has drawn vocal opposition from neighbors, who have expressed concerns about problems such as littering and the behavior of people who have used Haven in the past. The low-barrier shelter would be in addition to a 46-bed family shelter and a 20-bed adult shelter on the property off Route 5, where the Haven also operates a food shelf and provides a variety of social services.
The Haven’s shelter proposal comes at the same time that Twin Pines Housing Trust has three of the four town approvals needed to build an 18-unit apartment complex on land currently owned by St. Paul’s. The units will provide permanent, supported housing for residents who were previously homeless.
Twin Pines Executive Director Andrew Winter said in an interview the apartment project has all its financing, and its site plan was approved without the requirement for a connecting road.
“These are projects that are interrelated but not interdependent,” Winter said. “(The Twin Pines) project will benefit from its proximity to the Haven. We work really well together.”
St. Paul’s is selling some of its property to accommodate the apartments and has offered parking agreements to help both projects come to fruition. The Rev. Scott Neal, the church’s pastor, has spoken publicly in support, saying church membership voted to sell some of its property to help people get off the streets.
The connector road was proposed during a public hearing about several items on the Haven’s master plan, which is two decades old and needed to be updated. Part of the conversation centered on parking, and Erica Wygonik of Wall Consulting Group presented a parking analysis to the commission that showed there would be enough parking for the Haven, the apartments and St. Paul’s.
According to the study, dated June 8, there currently are 77 spaces available and the maximum number of cars parked during a three-week time frame this spring was 54 vehicles, Wygonik said. The required number of parking spaces is 42.
The study predicts that future parking demands would be higher, but a planned redesign of the parking lots for St. Paul’s, the Haven and Twin Pines would create a total of 102 parking spaces, with a peak demand of 99 vehicles.
The parking strategy works, the study stated, because the demand for parking at St. Paul’s and the Haven come at different times. During the week, St. Paul’s needs very few parking spaces, and on Sunday when services are held, the Haven doesn’t need as many spaces.
Dayman said that he was fine with the parking arrangement, but he wanted the two lots connected.
“I still, as part of this, would favor a two-way access between the … parking lots,” Dayman said following Wygonik’s presentation.
“I think it should be added given this application as I see it,” Dayman said. “If they’re starting to share lots and be a connected campus, there needs to be a connection for vehicular circulation.”
Dayman was unmoved by the Haven’s concerns about what the connector road would mean for its shelter project.
“I think it would have some impact on the remaining land that would be intended for the future application,” Dayman said. “but I think it’s an important item to add and this would be the time to add it to make the parking work well.”
In objecting, Stearns noted those seeking services at the Haven park in its lot and volunteers park in the church lot, so there was no need for the connector.
“I think we’re trying to solve a problem that has not been demonstrated to exist,” Redmond said to the commission.
Ultimately, Dayman, Robin Adair Logan, John Heath and John Reid voted to approve the Haven’s master plan with the connector road requirement. Bruce Riddle and Colin Butler voted against the road.
Afterward, the Haven’s application for site plan approval was continued to the Planning Commission’s Sept. 12 meeting, at which time Haven officials intend to ask the commissioners to reconsider their decision.
“We’d like to take this up again,” Redmond said.