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New Haven sues Milford in latest Long Wharf mall battle

By Sangeetha Ramaswamy

Over the summer, the City of New Haven added fuel to the fire over the fate of the New Haven Galleria at Long Wharf.

After Westfield America, owner of the nearby Connecticut Post Mall, filed over 15 lawsuits against development of the proposed shopping center, the City of New Haven finally fought back. On Thurs., Aug. 3, they issued litigation against the mall's opponents.
COURTESY NEW HAVEN CITY PLAN DEPARTMENT
An architect's rendering of the proposed New Haven Galleria at Long Wharf, to be constructed near the already traffic-ridden intersection of Interstates 95 and 91.

This latest legal wrangling over Long Wharf is unique for two reasons. Not only is it the first time the mall's proponents have sued Westfield, but it potentially pits Milford and New Haven—two adjacent cities with historically good relations—against each another, since the suit lists the city of Milford as one of the defendants.

"It's really unfortunate," Karyn Gilvarg, Executive Director of New Haven City Planning, said. "We don't want to be suing a neighboring city—we have similar interests in this whole thing."

Milford Mayor Frederick L. Lisman, though, alleged, however, that New Haven filed its Aug. 3 lawsuit in response to his city's appeal of a court verdict in New Haven's favor. According to Lisman, Milford had previously filed a suit asking for New Haven to make public documents that had not been disclosed when the mall was initially planned. "They are suing us because we're appealing," he said.

Still, New Haven officials have cast an entirely different version of the story. "We filed the suit against [Milford and Westfield] for the exact reasons listed in the suit," Susan Coes, spokesperson for Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. said. "The Mayor of Milford is being paid by Westfield to say what he says. It's a matter of public record."

Indeed, according to an August 4 New York Times article, Westfield is paying for Milford's lawsuit against Long Wharf. "I am an agent of New Haven," Coes said. "He is an agent of Westfield."

Yet Lisman maintains that Milford was not involved with Westfield and disagreed with New Haven's reasoning for the suit. He also pointed out that New Haven has, in the past, objected to the expansion of Westfield-owned malls—including Connecticut Post—though he could not recall lawsuits being filed.

When asked about the impact of the Long Wharf issue on relations between the two cities, Lisman nevertheless said, "We have no hard feelings against New Haven. Everyone wants New Haven to do well."

However, he also emphasized that the Long Wharf mall would have a harmful impact on New Haven and on the surrounding towns, especially because it would drain state-allocated funds on what he considered to be a futile project.

Lisman added that the proposed shopping center—with such high-powered tenants as Nordstrom, Macy's, Lord and Taylor, and Filene's—might seriously detract from activity in downtown New Haven, especially considering the fact that city officials have worked hard to revitalize that area in recent years.

"People who shop at malls don't peruse the surrounding area," Lisman said. "A mall is simply a destination and a leaving point. Malls do not solve the problem of the intermediate or adjunct community."

Lisman also said that the shopping center could create substantial delays on Interstate 95, which is near the site of the mall.

New Haven, on the other hand, has always maintained that, since the stretch of highway adjacent to Long Wharf is set to undergo major expansion over the next 10 years, backups would eventually be held to a minimum.

The State of Connecticut has always held the same position, adding that the new mall would add 3,000 jobs to the New Haven area and would bring in $7 million in annual property taxes.

In spite of this support, spokesmen for the state and Yale have for the most part withheld comment on New Haven's recent lawsuit and on its implications for the city's relations with Milford.

Dean Pagani, who works for Governor John Rowland's office, said, "Obviously, this lawsuit and all others filed by the mall's opponents will delay development of the mall, but New Haven has a right to go to court."

Unlike Lisman, Pagani did not expect the delay in the proposed mall's construction to impact other important local businesses in New Haven. "I don't think there will be any fallout with regard to manufacturers, computer companies, or even small-time retailers," he said.

As for New Haven-Milford relations, city officials aren't so positive about the future. "I don't really know what's going to happen," Gilvarg said. "You have to remember, though, that [the city of Milford] sued us first. Don't forget that."

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