On Grand, Fixers Find Litter

Allan Appel PhotoConsultant Kent Burnes noticed litter all over the sidewalk on his first stroll down Grand Avenue.

Norma Francheschi, a longtime Fair Haven community leader, has noticed that litter for years. She said paying for consultants to look at it isn’t the best way to pick it up.

That interchange took place Monday afternoon at a community meeting in Fair Haven.

It followed a walking tour for two new consultants in town, Burnes and John Simone of the Connecticut Main Street Center.

Burnes and Simone were making their first of four walking tours through New Haven commercial corridors. They are taking the tours this week to help put together a $10,000 plan for boosting neighborhood commerce. (Click here for a story about that; the Harp administration brought the consultants here with the $10,000 from the quasi-public Economic Development Corporation.) The merchants set up a Grand Avenue Special Services District in 2008 in part to pay a crew to take care of that.

After the tour, the consultants participated in a community meeting with 25 people at the Fair Haven School library—where they heard their own role questioned.

First they speculated on small steps that can start boosting the district, such as dealing with the litter and the many boarded-up window. Then local business owner and community leader Norma Francheschi gave them an earful of local pride, passion, and frustration.

First she told them, in case they wanted to know: The district has 52 businesses from bridge to bridge. And contrary to the suggestion along the tour 80 percent of the nearby neighbors are car-less and do shop in the neighborhood.

“I feel very offended. I started GAVA [Grand Avenue Village Association] in 1979. There was no connection [then] between the city and Grand Avenue. We power-washed the avenue every spring with our own money. I feel very offended when you say we don’t do work on the avenue,” Francheschi said.

Francheschi and other merchants set up a Grand Avenue Special Services District in 2008 in part to pay a crew to take care of the litter.

“I’m not saying there’s no change” since then, replied Burnes. “The question is: Is there a will and desire to have more comprehensive management?

Francheschi (pictured) replied that, in the big-change department, you simply can’t put some of the unsightly utility cables underground, because of the basements. As to the small stuff, the entire budget of the special services district is about $22,000, she said. It nearly all goes for the two-person clean-up crew.

“You can’t do much with $20,000,” said Burnes.

“On Friday we’ll help you think not about the past, but where you want to go,” he added.

Francheschi said the problem is the city does not support the district or help it with its website, for example. The city has paid for many studies, many reports, she said.

“We used to have the facade [repair] program. We fixed five. Then they ran out of money,” she added.

Cruz-ing Grand

On the walking tour before the community meeting Monday, the consultants noticed the litter not being picked up; facades of stores in varying degrees of tastefulness and compatibility; food trucks competing with restaurants; and lots of restaurants but not a lot of outlets for women, for example, to buy handbags.

They also noticed lots of non-profits and churches taking up prime real estate on the well-trafficked avenue, said Lee Cruz, an area activist and founder of the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association.

Lee Cruz, an activist and founder of the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association in Fair Haven, led the tour. Every time Cruz pointed out an elderly residence, for example, Burnes commented on a density that could support more commerce.

Rule of thumb, Burnes said: 3,500 people support $20 million in grocery purchases.

Burnes suggested neighbors may be leaving the neighborhood to shop.

Politicians, city officials, and neighbors followed Cruz and the consultants made their way from the Boathouse Cafe on Front Street (where the party of 15 gave an economic boost to the little riverine eatery) down Grand Avenue to about James Street.

Cruz, a walking encyclopedia of Fair Haven, showed off the area’s history, including the site of an underground railroad stop at the “Cheney Building,” southwest corner of Grand and Front.

He called attention to “1,400 linear feet of waterfront” on both sides of the Quinnipiac River near to the Grand Avenue Bridge: on the west property owned by developer Fereshteh Bekhrad; on the east, by the empty site once co-owned by Joel Schiavone that is now simply being held by out-of-town landlords.

“They know nothing about development. They want to sell it. This has got to be great potential,” said Cruz.

After stops at the 1913 Strong School building, a local pawn shop, Grand Apizza, Columbus Family Academy, the entourage entered   the colorful El Buen Gusto restaurant at Maltby Place.

There owner Juan Almonte told them he needs help to expand the business and to redo his facade. That’s what he told then mayoral candidate Toni Harp when she visited last year. (Read about that here.) Harp promised on the trail to pursue economic development not just downtown but along neighborhood commercial districts. This week’s fact-finding tour is her first step toward doing that.

The consultants heard that Almonte is Dominican, that the previous owners were Puerto Rican, and the shift illustrates the area’s continuing history of immigrant waves going back to Italians and Poles.

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posted by: Shaggybob on March 11, 2014  12:32pm

Rule of thumb, Burnes said: 3,500 people support $20 million in grocery purchases.

Burnes suggested neighbors may be leaving the neighborhood to shop.

Ya Think ?  This is why hiring consultants who do not live here without asking the people who do live here first what they “think” they need to prosper is throwing bad money at more bad money. How many parking studies, business studies, traffic studies, etc, do we need to see what’s already right in front of us.
Just think what all that consultant money could do for the neighborhoods. 10k is half the operating budget for the “Special District”. Is the light on yet?

posted by: jancie on March 11, 2014  1:14pm

I will be interested in their ideas as they have already made two comments about the abundance of non profits in New Haven.

It seems to me that there are two ways to own a business that includes real estate in New Haven; either be very wealthy or incorporate as a non profit entity and not pay property taxes.

Should programs like Continuum of Care or Turning Point which have lavish headquarters and many properties be funded by city taxpayers who can no longer afford their own property taxes? At what point do non profits, regardless of their good works, no longer need/deserve these donations?

I would love the NHI (and last time I checked you are also a non profit) to lead such a discussion. For instance as an entity would you feel comfortable/justified buying a headquarters in New Haven and not have to pay property taxes?

posted by: Paul Wessel on March 11, 2014  4:33pm

I think Norma Francheschi, in her inimitable fashion, points out the consultant-fatigue that neighborhoods often feel.  $10,000 is not a huge consulting contract, but it’s not chump change on the street, either.  There’s a lot of recent history of both consultants and planning on Grand Ave - see two documents for example - that can be built upon.  Let’s see what ideas the Connecticut Main Street folks have and City Hall’s interest in implementing.

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 11, 2014  4:51pm

You can do some pretty awesome community programming with 10k.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 11, 2014  5:18pm

Like I said This is the start of Land grabbing Gentrification.Bewere what you ask for.

Gentrification animated.


posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 11, 2014  5:32pm

My bad I forgot.For you latinos.Your leaders will sell you out,like the latino leaders in east harlem are doing.Time for you to fight back or this will be you next.

New York’s East Harlem: Neighborhood Fighting To Keep Its Culture In The Face Of Gentrification


East Harlem Filmmaker Turns Lens on Gentrification.


posted by: 14yearsinNHandgone on March 11, 2014  7:55pm

Why does New Haven even HAVE an Economic Development Corporation if it can’t figure these things out without hiring an outside firm? If the city staff whose FULL-TIME JOB this is are incapable of handling economic development…why do they have these jobs?  What do they actually do?  Can the NHI ask these questions?

posted by: 14yearsinNHandgone on March 11, 2014  8:13pm

Who not put in a grocery store that people will actually shop at?

What does New Haven have now? Stop & Shop which is expensive, and Elm City Market, which is a little boutique Whole Foods for Yalies that runs the occasional sale and sells some staple foods for cheap so they can boast that they are inclusive.

Both are downtown.

Put in something like a Trader Joe’s in one of these other neighborhoods, which middle and upper-middle-class people will FLOCK to shop.  Put in something like a Shop Rite or an Aldi’s in one of the other ones, something affordable, where middle class and lower-middle-class people will flock to shop.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 12, 2014  12:37am


There are CTown grocery stores on Grand Avenue and Kimberly Square. There was also one on Dixwell for a little while but it couldn’t compete with Shaws.

posted by: Scot on March 12, 2014  11:18am

@Threefifths, I appreciate your insight and wonder what your opinion is on this, since you brought up gentrification:  how do you fix up your neighborhood and make it better without causing gentrification?  what improvements promote gentrification and what improvements should not be labeled gentrification?  if neighbors get together to clean up litter, plant flowers, form a block watch, tidy up their store fronts, etc, and as a result more people are attracted to the area and property values increase, is that considered gentrification? 

My feeling is that gentrification is bad when wealthier outside people target an area (perhaps due to it’s proximity to resources) and collectively move in, forcing up property values and forcing out poorer residents.  But if the property values are forced up due to the actions of people who have long been living in the neighborhood, because they collectively decide they want a nicer, safer neighborhood (as seems to be the case here) that’s a good thing. 

You are warning about gentrification, what do you propose people do about if they are concerned about it?  When you say, “Time for you to fight back” what are you suggesting? (again I’m not contesting what you’re saying I’m simply interested in your -or other’s - opinions).

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 12, 2014  5:16pm

posted by: Scot on March 12, 2014 11:18am

You are warning about gentrification, what do you propose people do about if they are concerned about it?  When you say, “Time for you to fight back” what are you suggesting?

1. Push fine grained development instead of large, mega-block developments. When large developers are the primary landowners and the only players in the development game, gentrification happens more quickly as profit trumps community concerns.

2. Encourage self-investment. When people begin to invest in their own homes instead of government targeting a specific location for investment, this acts as revitalization without the ill-effects of intense investment in a neighborhood

3. Implement blanket city policies for revitalization, rather than piecemeal reactive policies intended to halt displacement. Blanket city policy puts in place the effect of “a rising tide lifts all boats” whereas targeted geographically-based policies can result in pockets of gentrification

4. Don’t try to make over existing urban neighborhoods into the posh suburban look and feel you may be used to. Respect and maintain the eclectic, diverse and colorful vibe that attracted you to the urban neighborhood in the first place

posted by: Scot on March 12, 2014  7:20pm

3/5 I agree with all four of your points re. residential neighborhoods.