After a developer turned a Fair Haven Heights property into a barren moonscape, Sal DeCola decided to try to prevent other builders from toppling too many trees without a plan in place.
DeCola (pictured), an alder who represents Morris Cove, this week submitted an order calling for a public hearing on the feasibility of “requiring developers who plan to strip their property of trees” to seek city permission first.
DeCola said he was moved to action after seeing the fate of 203 Russell St., near his mother’s house in the Heights.
Developer Mario Massimino last year began construction of two new houses there and the renovation of an existing home. After he chopped down trees and pulled out stumps, the city ordered him to cease and desist.
Massimino said he “misinterpreted” the city’s zoning regulations regarding clearing land and ran afoul of the law. He said he’s planning to meet with city planning officials this week to straighten matters out.
Meanwhile, neighbors are complaining about the state of the site, said Alder Rosa Santana, who represents the area. She said problems include erosion, dust, and possibly mosquito-friendly puddles.
“It’s been a long and exhausting problem,” said Santana. “The neighbors hate it.”
Massimino said he plans to address all of those complaints, just as soon as he can get the cease-and-desist order lifted.
DeCola said his call for a hearing is not intended to stop development, only to ensure that people have plans in place before it begins.
“It’s not that they can’t do it, but they need to have a game plan,” he said.
DeCola said he grew up near the property. “It was beautiful land, with trees.”
Now, he said, the land is a pitted mess, with no controls for water runoff or soil erosion. When it rains, holes can fill with water that “can be there for weeks and breed mosquitoes,” DeCola said.
“We’ve got to have a game plan right from the beginning,” he said. “Once it’s done it’s too late.”
DeCola said his hearing will be a first step toward making sure that future developers don’t get to “too late.”
A visit to the site this week found a large area of barren, rocky, and uneven land. A huge mound of wood chips sat near a bulldozer (pictured).
A partially renovated house sits on the lot, with sheets of drywall stacked inside.
“The runoff is the big issue,” said Frank D’Amore, deputy director of New Haven government’s Livable City Initiative. Once trees are pulled out, nothing holds back the soil, he said. “It just makes a big mess.”
D’Amore said he got involved with enforcement at the site at the request of Alder Santana. The city sent two cease and desist letters; the second one went out last month.
Massimino said he never received the first letter. He stopped activity at the site as soon as he saw the follow-up.
“After we received the second one we’ve been proactive,” he said.
“We more or less misinterpreted the zoning” regulations, Massimino said. He said the confusion came from the fact that the land is divided up in to two parcels, although the city considers it a single property.
Massimino acknowledged that the site is “a little overgrown and disheveled right now.” He said he’ll address all the neighborhood complaints through a “site plan review” with the City Plan department.
“We’ll be reinforcing more erosion control,” he said. “Any kind of runoff won’t hit the street. ... We’re trying to keep our site as clean as possible.”
Massimino said he hopes to finish renovating the existing house and building two new ones in the next four or five months.