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Rockview Homes Ready; Fence Fight Resumes

by Allan Appel | Dec 18, 2013 5:35 pm

(20) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Housing, West Rock

Allan Appel Photo Officials cut a ribbon but failed to cut through a fence in order to complete the city’s latest affordable housing initiative in West Rock.

Those two facts were on display Wednesday at 6bShirley Way in the new Rockview public-housing development as the foot of West Rock. City and Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) leaders conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony there attended by two dozen people, including builders and former and future residents, like Shirley Banks (pictured with the Mayor John DeStefano).

They were celebrating the completion of the $33 million Rockview Phase I development of 77 affordable homes. They includes 37 two-bedroom, 36 three-bedroom and four four-bedroom homes.

This new community replaces the crime and neglect-plagued Rockview that the housing authority torn down in 2003. It’s a follow-up to the new community built on the site of the demolished old Brookside homes nearby. The first ten families will move into Rockview within a few weeks, to the shining new units with a range five building designs that looks similar to the now fully occupied Brookside.

The construction is the next step in the $200 million West Rock Revitalization Project, which aims to replace Rockview and Brookside with less dense, mixed-income developments.

Both developments still face challenges that plagued their demolished predecesors: isolation in a far corner of New Haven with few stores and a long fence, sometimes called a “Berlin Wall,” that separates both developments from access to Hamden’s streets and businesses.

That was the elephant in the new development Wednesday.

Officials would have also liked to say that, like the red ribbon, the high green fence will soon cut down to make way for connecting roads as well as driveways from the future homes onto Hamden’s Woodin Street in the next Rockview phase. That next face the building of eight home ownership units on property (pictured) facing the avenue through the fence.

But officials never managed to convince Hamden to remove the fences. The moral indignation that flared in August last year at a raucous community meeting about the fence, seems to be simmering again.

That meeting produced a committee representing the two towns. It met monthly for a year to evolve shared community events, a shared police plan.

The didn’t do the trick. When HANH applied for driveway permits for the first eight home ownership units, for driveways “through” the fence onto Woodin Street, they were denied, reported HANH Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton.

“We have done a lot of research and consider the fence is on our property. We consider it illegal construction. We’ve written to the town of Hamden [two months ago]. We requested, ‘Please remove it,’” she said before the ceremonies began.

“[There was] no response. We weren’t allowed to get driveway permits. We designed it [the homes facing Woodin Street] for the comfort of Hamden residents in mind. We’re thinking our next step is legal, to file a law suit.”

Mayor DeStefano, who backed off pushing Hamden to take the fence down a year ago for the committee-study option, also opined about the results.  The meetings “didn’t change people’s attitude in a meaningful way,” he said.

“The fence is illegal. It’s on our property and Hamden has to remove it. Where else in Hamden do you have property where you can’t put in a driveway? Unheard of. That’s ridiculous. There’s no legal basis. It’s unfortunate it’s come to this,” he added.

Reached by phone after the ceremony, Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson said he has attended (and been invited) to every Brookside or Rockview ribbon-cutting event. A senior citizen event prevented him from being at the Rockview ribbon-cutting.

As to the dispute:  “I’ve put it [the fence] in the hands of our capable attorney on this. We have engaged the firm of Howd and Ludorf. I’ll talk about process. The fence is an asset. The disposition of a publicly owned property has to go through a process. I have no interest in fighting Karen, Mayor DeStefano, or the city of New Haven, but there are processes. I can guarantee access to process. I will not guarantee outcome.”

In the meantime, land was being cleared for construction near the new the Rockview homes.

The first eight to ten families will move in in staggered fashion over the next weeks. All remaining 67 or future residents have been identified and are in the process of being processed, said HANH Project Director Shenai Draughn.

The $33 million is being paid through 9 percent low-income housing tax credits from the state; a $2.3 million loan from the state; a $5.9 million grant from HANH; and $15.9 million in equity from TD Bank

 

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Comments

posted by: anonymous on December 18, 2013  6:23pm

Where are the national civil rights leaders? The New York Times? Sue and remove it now.

posted by: Bradley on December 18, 2013  8:35pm

I’m a Ph.D., not a lawyer, but it strikes that the issue of the fence comes down to a simple matter of fact. If the fence is located in Hamden, or on land that Hamden owns, the city can cajole but not order Hamden to remove it. If the fence is on property the city owns, the city can remove the fence. (For my lawyer friends, I don’t think adverse possession applies in this case, but would be interested in other opinions.)

posted by: Walt on December 19, 2013  3:30am

Surprised the fence has lasted so long

Not truly a civil rights issue,  but would probably succeed in removal if sued on that basis,  but it is not truly the impetus for fence existence.

Brookside never appeared to be the main problem,  Mostly good folks there,it seemed but Rockview   was more a home to many ,many   troublemakers and hoodlums in addition to peaceable people .

The Hamden,  Woodin St.  neighborhood ,  a very racially mixed community, was terrorized by Rockview criminals and New Haven   never did enough to get rid of the criminals who preyed on   others on both side of the fence,  both Black and White

The area has been rebuilt.  but nevertheless Hamdenside folk,  fear the return of a Rockview-like mix of troublemakers

It will take a long time,  if New Haven really controls its tenant-mix , before Woodin Street area   homeowners will support fence removal.

Apparently an odd situation,
.

  It is amazing that the fence   has lasted so long,  but just and reasonable in the minds of those who suffered because of the Rockview   mess, on both sides of the famous fence,  will feel safe and support fence removal.

posted by: Wooster Squared on December 19, 2013  9:53am

The previous development on that site was a crime ridden nightmare and the residents of Hamden have every right to do what is necessary to ensure the safety of their neighborhood. This isn’t about civil rights, it’s about the City of New Haven failing to maintain a reasonable level of public safety and Hamden being forced to take matters into its own hands.

If the fence is to come down, the City of New Haven will need to show that the new development will not be another version of something out of The Wire.

In the meantime, you can’t go telling another town that they need to jeopardize their own safety by taking down a fence that was only put up after crime became a real problem. Sorry academics, this ins’t some sociology debate, it’s real life.

posted by: DrDuBoisWalton on December 19, 2013  11:09am

The fence meanders along the Hamden-New Haven city/town border but in all cases exists on land that is owned by the Housing Authority of the City of New Haven.  HANH owns land in both the City of NH and the Town of Hamden.  The fence is on HANH land and HANH wants it removed.  Self-help is an option and so is litigation.

posted by: darnell on December 19, 2013  12:24pm

WOW!!! Over two years ago I called this fence “illegal”. I was called all kinds of names, and was not supported whatsoever by the HANH or the City Administration. NOW they are talking about lawsuits and self-help, AFTER they build the houses. BRILLIANT! Racism and/or classicism does not have a place in today’s society, yet for political expediency we allow it to direct our public policy. We should have filed a lawsuit two years ago.

And to all you haters who raked me over the coals on this and other issues I have been correct about (i.e. the Yale purchase of the Broadway parking lot; the Yale purchase of city streets), a simple apology would do…LOL…

posted by: darnell on December 19, 2013  12:56pm

@Bradley & Wooster Squared - this isn’t just about whether the fence is on the New Haven or Hamden side. No public entity has the right to block free access to public streets based on activities that occurred 30 years ago. Those streets are not owned by the Wooden Ave residents, or the Hamden administration. They are owned by the taxpaying citizens of CT who contribute to Hamden’s budget each and every year. As a New Haven resident, I may not like or want to pay into Hamden’s budget through my state taxes, but I do. Therefore, I should have free access to any street in Hamden at any time. This is a constitutional issue that Hamden should not want to fight in court, it could be very embarrassing nationally (remember East Haven), and in the end they will spend a boatload of money to appease a few NIMBY voters and lose. Sad. If those folks don’t want to live next to their new neighbors, they are free to sell their homes and move. They are not free to discriminate (whether it is based on race, class, or city of residence).

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 19, 2013  1:21pm

“If the fence is to come down, the City of New Haven will need to show that the new development will not be another version of something out of The Wire.”

They have. Look at Monterey Homes, Quinnipiac Terrace, and Eastview Circle. Right now, the fence is preventing HANH from constructing owner-occupied houses on Woodin Street. These homeownership units are an integral part of making the redevelopment of this public housing project successful and viable - without them, the project is more likely to fail, resulting in a self-fulfilling and self-imposed prophecy by and for Hamden.
_____

Even if the fence were on Town of Hamden property, which it isn’t, the fence is likely unconstitutional because it unduly restricts freedom of movement of citizens on public streets. It’s true that West Rock residents can go the long way around and get to Hamden but is that reasonable?

If New Haven is so awful, why not extend the fence the entire length of New Haven and Hamden’s border? Would the 25% of Hamden residents that earn a living in New Haven object to that? They could still commute to New Haven by going through North Haven, so what’s the big deal? Well, that’s how current West Rock residents feel and how future residents will feel when they want to access the closest jobs, shops and services, which are located in Hamden. Removal of the fence would reduce the time it takes to get from West Rock to the Hamden Shopping Plaza and back by up to 2/3rds from 3 hours to just 1 hour round trip by bus. That translates to significant cost savings for childcare and greater on-call flexibility with your employer.

posted by: Bradley on December 19, 2013  11:19pm

@Darnell
I was getting at the threshold legal issue. I actually agree with your arguments, but you can resolve the question without reaching that level.

posted by: darnell on December 20, 2013  8:29am

@Bradley,

The mayor of Hamden has made it clear that he does no intend to upset the voters of that area by removing the fence; not gonna happen. He is practically begging us to sue him. He fights us, loses the legal battle but becomes a hometown hero, and gets reelected. Everybody wins; except the short-run the NIMBYs in Hamden. In ten years, even they will be talking about how they made a mistake, their new neighbors are “good” people. But, it doesn’t get done without legal action, like most positive changes in this country have occurred.

posted by: Wooster Squared on December 20, 2013  2:17pm

I love all the tough talk about lawsuits in this comments section. Good luck with that. It’s not as if Hamden is blocking access to their town, they just have a small fence up in one location. Haven’t we blown enough money on dumb lawsuits in the past ten years?

Here’s a thought, how about the City of New Haven, the project proponents, and the ultimate residents of this proposed development show over time that this neighborhood is not going to be the same crime-filled mess that we saw with the last development?

The last project on this site was an absolute disaster by anyone’s standards and the Hamden residents are right to have concerns. Threatening to sue the town isn’t going to allay those concerns. Besides, this is the kind of thing that can get dragged out in court for years costing both Hamden and New Haven a lot of money that neither community can spare right now.

The sensible thing to do would be for New Haven to get this project right, and several years after this project is successful, I’m sure Hamden would be happy to remove the fence.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 20, 2013  4:09pm

WS,

Brookside and Rockview were successful developments for many years after their 1951 construction because low-skill jobs in New Haven were plentiful and paid enough to support a family. As the economy changed, it became more difficult to support a family with a low-skill job, if you could even find one. At the same time, Brookside, which was originally State-funded, and Westville Manor, which was a private development, both came under the possession of HANH. This was overwhelming for an organization that was cutting budgets, mismanaging its properties and becoming increasingly corrupt throughout the 80s and 90s. Conditions were awful in New Haven’s housing projects at this time. The majority of tenants and nearby residents lived in constant fear from a handful of criminals that flooded each project with crime and drugs.

1) In the late 1990s, HANH was completely overhauled in response to a Federal audit.
2) A lawsuit was brought against HANH by residents of Elm Haven’s high rises, which lead to requirement that HANH provide scattered site public housing in non-impacted neighborhoods for hundreds of tenants.
3) Hope VI, a federal program that provided funding for Housing Authorities to use in the redevelopment of failed housing projects became available.

HANH has followed through with on their part, now its time for Hamden to do its part by allowing access to Woodin Street immediately. The new Brookside and Rockview will have a mix of renters and homeowners, elderly and families, on-site management, and retail and services. The only part that remains to make this a successful development is a means of economic opportunity for residents. In the case of West Rock, this means access to Dixwell Avenue and the Hamden Shopping Plaza, a major regional employment center and shopping destination. If we don’t allow immediate access to these opportunities, we definitely risk the possibility of this development failing. To deny this opportunity is unconscionable to me.

posted by: darnell on December 20, 2013  4:34pm

Wooster Squared:

More than a few years have already gone by, and why should low income tenants wait another minute for someone to “give them” what is already their legal rights. Seems like the folks who are downtrodden are always told to “be patient”. Slaves were told to not rebel, one day when the “time is right” you would have “proven” that you deserve to be free. New Haven residents are being told to “prove” that you deserve that new home and driveway. Who are you to set parameters for these new homeowners to meet? Hamden is NEVER going to unilaterally remove that fence as long as those NIMBYs live on that street.

Reminds me of those “good” cops in East Haven who thought it was their duty to harrass law abiding Latino citizens for years, all with the support of MANY East Haven residents and their mayor. Change didn’t come until they were actually arrested.

I wonder, did you support their illegal activities also? Were you waiting for the Latinos to “prove” that they were not engaging in illegal activities before they could drive through that town?

TEAR THE FENCE DOWN NOW!

posted by: Wooster Squared on December 20, 2013  5:38pm

@Darnell & JH

It’s sounds to me like you’re suggesting that Hamden residents don’t have the right to take reasonable actions to protect themselves from crime. Remember, this fence went up AFTER there were serious crime problems not before. To say that a neighborhood should have to endure high crime so that folks can shave some time off their shopping trips is baloney. It seems like we’re so used to high crime in New Haven that we forget that it’s not normal everywhere else.

Sure, it would be nice if Hamden took down the fence, but they certainly don’t owe it to anyone. What we’re talking about here is a matter of convenience. You can still get to Hamden from that location, the town isn’t preventing anyone from doing anything. They’ve just decided that having an access point at that particular location is not in the best interest of their residents, and they’re right.

If folks feel like it’s really that much of an inconvenience, maybe the proponents of this project should have figured this issue out before plowing ahead with the development. This fence was there when the project was being planned. Shame on New Haven for pushing forward without resolving the issue first.

posted by: darnell on December 20, 2013  7:30pm

Wooster Squared:

Are you really suggesting that the government of Hamden can lawfully restrict the movement of law abiding citizens because “someone might” commit a crime?

Isn’t that is what the East haven cops did? Didn’t it get them in a whole heap of trouble?

Reminds me of the movie “Minority Report”, where the government in the future arrests killers before they commit the crimes courtesy of some future viewing technology. Do you, and/or the government of Hamden have such technology?

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 21, 2013  7:02pm

WS,

HANH is spending $200 Million on addressing the issues that caused the fence to go up in the first place. Owner-occupied houses are being built near Woodin Street and a mix of elderly and family rental units are being built around green spaces, a community center, near management offices, schools, and retail and services. What remains to be done is for the residents to have a means of economic opportunity and access to jobs. Given that the nearest employment opportunities to this development are in Hamden, it makes sense to open up access to Woodin Street.

Yes, residents can still take the bus downtown and transfer to the D-bus to get to the shopping plaza, but that unnecessarily adds 2 hours roundtrip, which adds up to significant money over the course of a week in terms of childcare and on-call job flexibility.

posted by: Bradley on December 21, 2013  9:34pm

@ wooster squared

If you park your car on my driveway and refuse to move it, I can have it towed. This is true even if you are a good guy and I am a jerk. Without getting to the larger issues raised in Darnell’s posts, if Dr. DuBoisWalton is right on the facts, the city can simply remove the fence on its own.

posted by: PH on December 23, 2013  6:10pm

If the fence is on HANH property then they can just rip it down.  Just like if you built a fence on my residential property (even if you thought you were building it on your property), I could rip it down.  Technically, considering that workers probably trampled all over HANH property while building the fence on HANH land there would be trespassing unless HANH gave explicit permission for the fence to be built on their land.  Even if there was initially permission, without a written agreement stating that HANH would not remove it, HANH could just rip it down now.  Maybe they don’t want to alienate Hamden neighbors, but if those Hamden neighbors can’t be convinced by the obvious that they have new New Haven neighbors, then HANH should just tear that fence down.  It is an outrageous limitation on the ability of West Rock residents to access vital services.

posted by: Walt on December 23, 2013  7:30pm

Seems to me that if HANH really
owned the property on which the famous fence was built, it would have been torn down shortly after the fence had been built,  even by the mess-ups who ran HANH   back in the grossly- inept Rockview days,

If not then.  certainly it would have been done by the current Dubois-Walton group   which has well-  proven its competence   through its great   renewals of other projects in the City

Conclusion:  The folks who claim HANH owns the fence area are just BS   artists with no true knowledge of the issue

Don’t believe the claims unless the HANH   boss is the one claiming ownership is my advice

posted by: Walt on December 23, 2013  11:13pm

—and as I now note Dr Dubois Watson’s comment way above, that HANH does own the property,  obviously my theory is wrong

Now I am really confused   as to why
she(?)  has not   acted yet as I would expect and removed the fence arbitrarily

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