July 6, 2018

Q & A with Lizzy Donius, director, Westville Village Renaissance Alliance

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Lizzy Donius.

New Haven Biz speaks with Lizzy Donius, executive director of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance. Established in 1996, the WVRA is a non-profit that works to promote economic development and historic preservation at the foot of West Rock. Through initiatives like zoning changes, beautification efforts and cultural event marketing, the organization is building a strong New Haven community.

Q. What are some of your latest accomplishments with zoning and development in Westville?

A. As of May, Westville Village has a new zone: the BA-2 [village center mixed use]. The goal of the zoning change was to address some of the underlying issues that can be barriers to development and growth, and to incentivize mixed-use development, increased density and walkability. Beyond zoning, we also have two exciting projects in the heart of the Village: a restaurant from the owners of Shell & Bones and Geronimo [Tequila Bar] at the old First Niagara [Bank] building, and a new mixed-use development on the site of the former Delaney's restaurant. Both have been approved by the city and will break ground in the coming months. Now we are focused on several large properties on the perimeter that, if developed properly, would broaden the footprint of the Village and showcase the West River, West Rock Park and Edgewood Park.

Q. With the added development, what has stayed the same, or true, to the community?

A. Westville is an incredible community full of true diversity of every kind. It has a vibrant spirit anchored in artistic expression and a dedication to community engagement. Much of Westville's recent growth stems from this spirit. As we grow, we keep this guiding spirit at the center of our efforts. For example, our already strong community of working artists has exploded, anchored by the efforts of photographers and entrepreneurs Luke and Misti Hanscom. In 2015, they started three ventures under one roof: West River Arts, home to a dozen individual artist studios; the Range, a co-working space for creative; and their own Lotta Studio. They are providing a home to dozens of established and emerging artists who were eager to be a part of a community.

Q. When is change good, and when is it not so good?

A. Going back to the zoning code, we worked to make some development easier, but also to protect against the kind of development we would not like to see: for example, a one-story drive-through on the old Delaney's lot, or a building in the center of the Village that is eight stories tall. We have a thriving community that values its creativity, its engagement, its social and economic diversity, its accessibility and walkability, and I think we will recognize advantageous developments, because they will reflect and build on these values.

Reach Wendy Pierman Mitzel at news@newhavenbiz.com

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