The Haven high-end outlet mall advances, winning site plan approval from West Haven PZC

West Haven Planning and Zoning Commissioner members talk about The Haven project on Tueday, July 10, , with a map from the project's site plan projected on a screen behind them.

West Haven Planning and Zoning Commissioner members talk about The Haven project on Tueday, July 10, , with a map from the project's site plan projected on a screen behind them.

The Haven high-end outlet mall has taken a major step forward: the Planning and Zoning Commission late Tuesday, July 10, unanimously approved the site plan application for the 265,000 square feet of retail and restaurant development.

A representative of the developer said the current target date is for The Haven to open in June of 2020.

“I’m very excited about The Haven” and “I’m very pleased about last night’s meeting,” Mayor Nancy Rossi said Wednesday. “I think it’s a game-changer and I think it’s great news for the city of West Haven.

“We’re going to do everything we can to facilitate everything ... because I would like to see this project done sooner rather than later,” Rossi said.

“I think this is a night that a lot of us have been waiting for,” PZC Chairwoman Kathy Hendricks told about 110 people who attended a meeting Tuesday night that was moved from City Hall to the larger confines of the Carrigan Intermediate School auditorium.

The project, along New Haven Harbor at the mouth of the West River between Elm and Main streets, began back when John Picard was mayor and was first announced just over four years ago by Mayor Ed O’Brien.

It now appears as if it will go forward under Rossi, pending approval from the state Department of Transportation.

DOT approval of a traffic plan, including improvements the developers must make to Elm Street, is necessary before developer The Haven Group can obtain a building permit, said Project Manager Jim Fuda, vice president of Alfred Benesch & Co. engineers of Glastonbury.

Fuda told the PZC, in response to widespread rumors that have circulated in West Haven, that there is no housing included in the plan and it is all retail and restaurants.

Rossi said she will work with the city’s legislators in Hartford to try to speed up the DOT decision process as much as possible.

The PZC also unanimously approved two related applications following public hearings — a zone change to add four additional residential properties along the east end of Main Street to the waterfront design district and a special permit application for approval of filling and grading plans related to the development.

“We’re delighted with the outcome and we’re looking forward to getting this underway,” said The Haven Group Executive Vice President Matt Armstrong, who attended the meeting.

He earlier told the PZC, “Our vision has been to really create a magnificent public promenade along the water here; something that everyone can have access to and use and enjoy ... It’ll be a project that I think the city of West Haven will be very proud of, and I know certainly will enhance the beauty of the waterfront here in town.”

No speakers opposed the project but several residents, as well as some PZC members, expressed concerns about possible traffic, dust and noise — and wanted to ensure that adjoining neighborhoods are protected.

Of particular concern to several residents of Bayview Place and Prospect Place was a proposal by the developer to make those streets just to the south of the project area — both currently one-way heading toward it — two-way streets.

Hendricks said it will be up to the Police Department, not the developers or the PZC, what happens with those streets.

The developer was represented by about a dozen people in its presentation to the PZC for the application for site plan approval, including Armstrong, John Dionis of Simon Properties, attorneys Chris McKeon and Ray Bershstein, Fuda and two of his colleagues, architect Jay Valgora of Studio V Architecture and landscape architect Martin Harwood of SCAPE Landscape Architecture.

Valgora said that as its entry, the design features “a great boulevard or avenue where Water Street is today.” The entry will include a raised canopy structure that will include a “green roof,” he said.

Harwood said designers have worked to preserve and enhance the site’s connection to Long Island Sound. “One of the first things that we were taken by when we first saw the site was the views of the Sound,” Harwood said. “That’s what we’ve aimed to preserve.

The project has been altered to go around the existing Citgo station and convenience store at Elm Street and First Avenue, which now will remain, Fuda said. The S & S Mini Mart Citgo was the one property within that project area that developers were not able to work out a deal with, and the owners were among several who took the developers to court.

Armstrong said after the meeting that both sides signed a non-disclosure agreement and he is unable to talk about the settlement.

The developers submitted the application for site plan approval to the city in May, nearly four years after first announcing plans to build it.

Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group has joined The Haven Group as a partner in the project. The change was announced several months after the death of The Haven partner Sheldon Gordon in late September.

Simon, owner of the Clinton Crossing outlets in Clinton and the Crystal Mall in Waterford, is one of the largest shopping center developers in the world.

The plans include 80 stores and five full-service restaurants.

The Haven Group, originally a partnership led by Ty Miller, the Dallas-based president of the Haven Group, LLC, and Gordon, is affiliated with the family that owns Highland Park Village in Dallas.

The Haven had been in the property acquisition stage for the past four years as the developers negotiated with 57 property owners.

It missed several of its own previous stated completion target dates, leaving many in West Haven questioning whether it would ever move forward and upset about all the boarded-up properties within the project area.

There are a total of 57 properties within the 24-acre project area, which is bounded by Main Street, First Avenue and Elm Street. The project includes what is now Water Street, which will be closed and eliminated as The Haven is built.

Armstrong has called The Haven “America’s first upscale waterfront outlet mall.” In addition to 80 stores and five restaurants, it would offer a public waterfront promenade with a 200-seat amphitheater.

Armstrong said last fall that at that time the developer had spent more than $30 million on the privately financed development, which he has compared to the top 20 percent of the retail stores that constitute Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley, New York.

The Haven would be the only direct-waterfront, luxury retail center in the country, Armstrong has said. It would pay $2 million in annual property tax and create more than $15 million in incremental sales tax for the state, he has said.

The Haven would provide 800 full-time and 400 part-time jobs, plus 800 construction jobs using all Connecticut-based contractors, he has said.