A conceptual rendering showing a hypothetical residential development next to New Haven's Amtrak and Metro-North Union Station. Image courtesy of Svigals+Partners and Patriquin Architects

New Haven city leaders want to allow housing next to the city’s Metro-North depot – but only after it passes special scrutiny.

While debating new zoning for a row of parking lots next to the city’s Union Station, members of the city’s Board of Alders advanced a proposal to make a large range of commercial uses, from retail and life science labs to offices and general contractors, allowed by right. But they also voted to make multifamily units in what’s intended to be a transit-oriented development district allowed only by special permit.

The parking lots are owned by the New Haven Parking Authority, a separate entity from the city that’s long sought to redevelop them and last year floated concepts for a residential or hotel tower on one of the lots. The sites are currently zoned for industrial wholesalers.

According to the New Haven Independent, Board of Alders members were concerned about the potential for flooding caused by climate change, and wanted to be sure that the city’s equivalent of a planning board, the City Plan Commission, is able to exercise strong control over the housing that’s built there.

With multifamily housing permissible as of right in most other districts in the city center, the proposal likely means developers will be encouraged to avoid housing construction on either side of Union Station due to the significantly higher costs involved in permitting a building through a special permit process.

However, substantial amounts of housing are still likely to be built near the train station. The nonprofit housing developer affiliated with its public housing authority, Elm City Communities, bought at 13-acre site across the street from the station last year with the goal of building around 1,000 new units on the site, which was once a 301-unit private, subsidized housing complex.

And the lots being considered for the new zoning are only a third of a mile from the city’s newest biotech tower and the Yale School of Medicine, making them potentially attractive locations for more life science towers in the future.