The Tweed Airport lot. Nora Grace Flood | NHI

Tweed New Haven Airport is adding 34 more parking spaces to better accommodate the flood of cars consistently competing for spots on site — as environmentalists and neighbors continue to fight expansion of the regional airport located along a wetlands-filled Morris Cove property.

Tweed received unanimous approval during the latest meeting of the City Plan Commission Wednesday night to convert a preexisting slice of pavement currently used for storage space at its 155 Burr St. location into spaces for at least 30 additional cars. The commission voted 5–0 on three different matters pertaining to that request: a coastal area review, an inland wetlands review and a general site plan review.

One of many lawn signs on a Morris Cove home protesting Tweed expansion.

Across two separate City Plan Commission meetings, airport representatives argued that using the existing lot — which otherwise remains used for storage of larger equipment like forklifts and aircraft parts — for parking would mean a net benefit to the area, such as the new implementation of erosion control measures to improve water quality in the area. 

A host of residents and environmental advocates, on the other hand, Zoomed in to the online meetings — including Wednesday’s — to express concerns about the pavement’s proximity to vulnerable wetlands, citing Tweed’s history of violating zoning regulations as reason to reject measures that would allow for their expansion and potential abuse of the natural environment.

All of this comes as Tweed continues to eye a much larger expansion plan that would see the airport construct a new four- to six-gate terminal on the East Haven side of the property and lengthen the airport’s runway from 5,600 feet to 6,635 to try to attract new passenger air service. East Haven town government, environmentalists and some area elected officials and Morris Cove and East Haven neighbors have pushed back on those expansion plans as exacerbating air, water and noise pollution as well as heavy car traffic.

The vote also came as commercial air service out of Tweed has increased dramatically since November 2021, after the new budget airline Avelo made New Haven its ​“East Coast” hub and is currently running nonstop flights to 14 different communities, including Orlando, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Savannah, Charleston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Raleigh.

The commission also voted twice, Wednesday and earlier in February, to reject an intervening petition from environmental advocate Gabriela Campos, which would have allowed her to bring in professional researchers and scientists to testify how added parking could pose direct and disproportionate harm to the wetlands and natural ecosystems around the airport. The commissioners said that her petition relied on speculation rather than factual claims about the site plan and opted to make their decision based on standard public input.

Commissioners themselves, meanwhile, tried to refocus the debate not around Tweed’s reputation or past wrongdoings — such as two cease-and-desist orders issued this past year by the building department to disallow unpermitted parking taking place on both grass and pavement across the site — and limit the scope of their decision to whether the 30 additional parking spaces as designed would pose general problems for both the surrounding ecosystem and neighborhood.

“It’s regrettable those mistakes were made because they did harm to an already challenging relationship with the neighbors who live in the area,” Westville Alder and City Plan Commissioner Adam Marchand said Wednesday of Tweed’s numerous violations. ​“We really do care about performance, and I would like to put on the record that we have high expectations for how our partners behave.”

“Mistakes happen,” but how one learns from them matters too, he said.

The new 34 parking spots will be located to the far back of one of Tweed’s parking lots that’s accessible to the immediate left of the airport’s Burr Street entrance. A Thursday morning visit to the airport saw the area roped off and used only for storage of two forklifts while the remaining lots around the terminal were packed full.

The project itself would involve installing porous pavement as an anticipated improvement to the present asphalt, re-striping the lot and implementing a chain link fence and lighting system around the far end of the parking spaces. The fence, Tweed representatives pressed, along with temporary erosion control measures, are the only elements that would take the developers within 50 feet of the inland wetlands (50 feet is the number which triggers a review of existing and proposed conditions in relation to such wetlands.) 

Tweed last won permission back in October to build 203 new ​“temporary” parking spaces in anticipation of heightened travel demand at the New Haven terminal after negotiating down with the city from 507 spots. At the time, they said they would return to ask for an additional 34 but only after the Federal Aviation Administration had completed an environmental assessment of the area. The New Haven Register reported a draft of that report should be completed by late February and available to the public by April.

Tweed representatives said the additional parking would be temporary, as the Federal Aviation Administration owns the lot itself and has limited its use for parking to three years. Avports spokesperson Andrew King also noted that the ultimate plan is to relocate and expand the airport terminal in East Haven along with an additional 4,000 parking spaces. That pitch, however, has hit turbulence, with the mayor of East Haven expressing opposition to such a project and citing the development as potentially hazardous to the environment and a traffic burden to neighbors.

Members of the public said on Wednesday that the City Plan Commission should think holistically about the situation at Tweed Airport, pushing for Tweed to adopt alternative means of transporting members of the public to the terminal itself without expanding parking further and that Tweed’s past wrongdoings should have exempted the airport from increasing its New Haven footprint. 

“The really big environmental issue is flying itself”

“This is more like a want to have than a need to have,” East Haven resident Alana Haroskewicz said. She, like many others Wednesday night, suggested that Tweed funnel more resources into alternative modes of transportation, such as upping the hours the airport’s shuttle runs between the terminal and parking garages, in order to minimize the number of cars parked around the flood zone.

New Haven resident Gabriela Campos said the parking was ​“unsafe” for the environment and therefore for people at large. ​“It’s a fence,” she said of Tweed’s proposed plan, ​“but it’s not just a fence.”

Tweed keeps ​“pushing, pushing, pushing,” she said, to reverse previous limitations on parking in the area and driving more cars near important and increasingly rare wetlands. 

“You’re gonna put parking within 20 feet of endangered species?” another advocate, Lorena Venegas said. ​“We can’t allow more parking closer to wetlands and tidal marsh,” she said, citing concerns about the effect on various species of turtles, birds and plants taking refuge in the brush and waters.

The only member of the public to speak in support of the parking project, Joe Giordano, who lives ​“a mile or so from the airport,” accused the environmentalists of ​“grasping at straws, nit-picking … creating problems that do not exist, embellishing.”

“It’s merely a request to move a fence and add some additional needed parking,” he said.

Nora Grace Flood photo. Nora Grace-Flood | NHI

Between Wednesday night and the first six-hour hearing on the topic earlier this month, which saw commissioners left ambivalent about the right move forward, City Plan Director Laura Brown turned to an independent environmental consultant to find answers for basic questions about the simple conversion of pavement into parking. 

Read a synopsis of her back and forth with a consultant from CDM Smith here. Asked about the impact of new parking near the wetlands on storm water, saturation of soils, and the adjacent Tuttle Brook, CDM Smith said, ​“the proposed stormwater improvements provide more than sufficient water quality treatment and potentially treat stormwater runoff from some existing untreated pavement … the proposed installation of porous pageant and infiltration of the water quality volume provides an improvement with respect to water quality treatment.” 

Attorney Joe Williams, who has represented Tweed through its various zoning applications, pointed commissioners’ attention to the consultant-produced report. CDM’s statement suggested that Tweed’s site plan would ​“be an improvement over the existing situation,” he reiterated. He said that many of the individuals weighing in from the public were speculating and that instituting water quality treatment and increasing porous pavement in the area would be an improvement.

Andrew King added that parking is severely needed at the airport. The shuttle operates during weekends and certain peak hours, he said. But, he said, one of the primary hardships is getting people to make decisions that aren’t necessarily the most convenient for them.

On a recent weekend, he said, 170 cars that arrived at the airport had to be redirected to parking garages due to the site’s crowded lots. Once at the garages, the individuals were then shuttled back to the airport.

“We make every effort to expand our alternatives to customers,” King said. But a ​“great example” of how drivers’ minds work could be seen in a personal anecdote of when he ​“went to a game in Boston and he knew parking would be very limited and yet he still showed up to try to find parking and had to drive around forever.”

“People try to do the thing that would be the most convenient for them, and that creates a challenge for us,” King said.

“And it has an impact on the neighborhood,” Commissioner Adam Marchand pitched in.

Commission Chair Leslie Radcliffe, along with four other commissioners present Wednesday, ultimately voted in favor of the project. ​“It is not before us today to decide whether or not we think the expansion of Tweed is a good idea,” she said. ​“I believe the placement of the fence … is going to keep any more harmful materials from entering the waterway.”

“Do I agree with the idea of expanding Tweed and having the need to expand more parking? Not necessarily. Do I think that Tweed should make every effort to provide or to assist in the provision of alternative methods of transportation to Tweed by utilizing the shuttle, making arrangements with connected transit? Yes.” She said that the city would need to closely monitor Tweed’s actions and fine them when they do not comply with local regulations.

Commissioner Carl Goldfield also spoke up to reconcile the bigger picture with 34 parking spaces.

“While I appreciate the concern for the environmental impact of moving the fence and adding to this parking, the really big environmental issue is flying itself,” he said.

“There is a movement to think carefully about whether you need to fly because the industry innately is a huge consumer of energy and a huge producer of all sorts of bad environmental effects.”

Then he voted ​“yes” to more parking.

This story was originally published Feb. 24, 2023, by the New Haven Independent.