Mount Carmel campus rezoning for South Quad project faces repeated delays, public criticism

Cat Murphy, Staff Writer

The Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission moved to continue Quinnipiac University’s application to rezone the Mount Carmel campus for a third time on Oct. 25, amid public criticism from some local residents.

University officials are aiming to alter the campus’ existing residential-two zone prior to beginning construction on the three buildings identified as part of Quinnipiac’s $244 million South Quad project.

An R-2 zone is meant “to encourage development of low-density residential uses,” according to Hamden zoning regulations.

“For years, we’ve always had to go get variances and things because the underlying zoning of the university is an R-2 district,” said Sal Filardi, vice president for facilities and capital planning at Quinnipiac, in an interview Oct. 21. “It has a lot of limitations, as if you’re building all single family homes.”

Quinnipiac officials are hoping to change the entirety of the campus’ underlying zone to a planning and development district.

A planned development district zone is “intended to encourage and accommodate unique and desirable development that is not able to be accommodated by conventional zoning,” according to a zoning update issued by the commission Oct. 13.

“The Mount Carmel campus currently is a residential-two, so some of those standards are probably not the most appropriate for university type development,” Hamden Town Planner Eugene Livshits told the Chronicle on Sept. 13. “So, what the planning developing district does is allow them some flexibility within their development as they’re proposing to do an academic building, the residence hall and the business school on the site.”

The Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission adopted the PDD zoning regulations in July 2022. Although PDD zoning is typically only available in transit zones, Hamden town zoning regulations carve out an exception for properties owned and operated by universities.

“We actually helped them craft the language to put it forward,” Filardi said. “It keeps us out of trying to get variances through the Zoning Board of Appeals process.”

The multi-step PDD approval process requires the commission to approve an applicant’s initial concept development plan before the applicant can submit a final site development plan.

The commission planned to hear the university’s initial PDD application at a bimonthly meeting on Sept. 13. However, Joe McDonagh, one of the five commissioners present, revealed his involvement in “some public issues with the university” and recused himself from voting.

As a result, there were not enough commissioners to form a quorum, and the hearing was continued to the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 27, according to the meeting minutes.

Bernard Pellegrino, an attorney at Pellegrino Law Firm in New Haven, Connecticut, presented the university’s zoning application at the meeting on Sept. 27.

Pellegrino, who said the Mount Carmel campus’ current R-2 zone does not “effectively recognize” the purpose of the property, stated in his presentation that a PDD would “more appropriately regulate” the property.

Attorney Bernard Pellegrino presented the university’s case to rezone Mount Carmel campus in order to build the South Quad to the Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission Sept. 27. (Cat Murphy)

Several Quinnipiac administrators, including Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett, Provost Debra Liebowitz and Vice President for Equity, Inclusion, and Leadership Development Don Sawyer, also spoke in favor of the application during the meeting.

The length of the university’s three-hour-long presentation prompted the commission to again continue the public hearing to Nov. 15.

The commission opened the hearing to public comments for the first time at the meeting on Oct. 25.

Fifteen members of the public, including multiple faculty members, local officials and Hamden residents, spoke in favor of the university’s application.

More than a dozen members of the public, the majority of whom were Hamden residents, voiced their opposition to the PDD application. Several individuals supported Quinnipiac’s South Quad project but questioned the scope of the university’s rezoning, saying that it would lead to unwanted development and be environmentally detrimental.

The commission limited public comments to three minutes due to the number of speakers. Bethany Zemba, vice president for strategy and community relations, interrupted John Parese, an attorney representing an individual whose property borders the Mount Carmel campus, to inform the commission that he had been speaking for 17 minutes.

Although the chair of the commission allowed Parese to continue and later asked for his notes, the incident prompted criticism from several individuals in attendance.

“When one of our people goes a little long, somebody from Quinnipiac wants to yell he’s been talking,” one member of the public said. “The optics here are it’s a conflict of interest, and that’s a strong optic with a lot of taxpayers in this town.”

The commission continued the public hearing on the university’s application for a third time after public comments ran past 10:30 p.m. Pellegrino said he will present the university’s “rebuttal” to the public’s concerns at the meeting Nov. 15.

John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations, declined on Oct. 27, to comment on the matter, stating that “the university is not commenting on any aspect of the South Quad building project while the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing on our PDD application is going on.”