West Rock Rebuilding Switches To Ribicoff Cottage

Allan Appel PhotoThe rebuilding of West Rock’s Rockview public-housing development will go on hold while the housing authority instead rushes to redo the nearby Abraham Ribicoff Cottages instead.

Officials announced that switcheroo at Wednesday night’s City Plan meeting.

Deputy Director for Special Projects Jimmy Miller and other Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) officials presented a plan for a PDD, or planned development district, for a $41 million, 114-unit mixed development for families and the elderly at Ribicoff, which is still home to some 50 remaining elderly and disabled tenants.

Commissioners Wednesday night voted unanimously to approve the PDD. It now goes to the Board of Alders for consideration.

New Haven is in the midst of a years-long effort to create a new neighborhood in West Rock by tearing down old public-housing projects and rebuilding them as mixed-income developments. All that changes now is which part gets built next.

Officials said they’re making the push on razing and rebuilding the Ribicoff cottages because the current tenant are among the authority’s most vulnerable. Systemic problems of mold, drainage and sewer inadequacies and other issues are accelerating rapidly. Also, financing for the project, which is currently in place, requires that the proposed units all be leased up by December 2015.

For that to happen, with relocation of current residents, a three-month abatement period for the site, and 18 months for new construction, a shovel must get in the ground by June, said Miller.

To Connect Or Not To Connect—That Is The Question

Officials had hoped that the Ribicoff plan would include approval from Hamden for connection for the new homes’ driveways to let out on Woodin Street, as well as for the infamous “Berlin wall” of a fence separating Hamden from the burgeoning West Rock’s new community to be torn down.

That would allow roadway connections as well for the developments’ new Jennings Way and Augustine Street. It would improve public transit for residents. It would also remove a symbol—a symbol of property rights for some in Hamden, a symbol of a civil-rights violation for many in New Haven. (Click here for a story about a raucous community meeting in August 2012 where that battle of competing senses of moral indignation flared.)

The areas in question, nearest to Woodin Street, are now planned to be used as off-street parking, with a fence remaining and no outlet onto Woodin, according to Miller.

In discussion before the vote at City Hall Wednesday night, City Plan commissioners said they do not want the approval to not send the wrong message to Hamden officials.

“Why not pursue the connection through to Hamden?” asked Adam Marchand, a Westville alder who sits on the City Plan Commission.

“We don’t have the luxury of dealing with the unknown. We have tax credit deadlines [as part of the Ribicoff financing]. We cannot afford to risk the tax credits” by waiting further on Hamden, Miller replied.

“Would it [the PDD] mean we’ll never be able to connect?” Marchand replied.

“I don’t want to do anything that looks like we’re accepting the status quo regarding Woodin Street,” said City Plan Commission Chairman Ed Mattison. He said it felt like “a major loss” to put a parking area where through driveways and roads should have gone.

The architect of the plan, David Wright of Boston-based ICON architecture, replied that the parking area is “designed so you can connect in the future.”

“The issue for us is that we must proceed” in order to meet the financing deadlines, Miller reiterated.

“We are in no way, shape, or form dropping our effort to connect to Woodin. We’re making progress with Wilmot Road” connecting, he said.

“The staff report should reflect that we feel strongly to make the connection to Hamden and this proposal should reflect that preference,” ordered Mattison.

City development official Mike Piscitelli promised draft such a paragraph to insert into the approved report before it goes to the Board of Alders for its own upcoming consideration of the PDD.

The Numbers

Miller said HANH is proud of the work it has done in creating new communities in West Rock. Since about 2007, he tallied 202 rental apartments coming online in Brookside and 20 occupant-owned homes there. The authority recently opened up a 47-unit senior complex, with stores, at the intersection of Wilmot Road and Brookside. Several of Ribicoff’s elderly residents are temporarily residing there, pending the redo; another 50 or so are awaiting relocation so the work can begin.

The proposed PDD is part of a $200 million 432-unit total West Rock Revitalization Project that aims to end the isolation of the area, bring in more working families, and improve the transit connections to downtown and the surrounding Hamden neighborhoods. If everything falls into place—a big if—the entire project will be completed by 2017, Miller said.

The $33 million Rockview development has 77 units that have already been completed of a planned 160 total. Miller said HANH will return to finish the balance after Ribicoff Cottages are rebuilt and also after renovations at Westville Manor, which also are pressing.

The new Ribicoff envisioned in the PDD will no longer be all-elderly and disabled. It will have 114 total homes. About 106 rental units will be split between families, and seniors and the disabled. The plan also includes eight owner-occupied homes fronting the Hamden border and the fence.

The plan calls for them to built to in context with the rebuilt Brookside development, with clapboard siding, composite railings, bike parking and gardens and tool sheds.

Miller said the $41 million total cost includes $8 million from HANH’s funds as well as $17 million in low-income tax credits. Those credits, awarded to HANH for the project in a competitive process through the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), will be at risk unless all the Ribicoff units are leased up by Dec. 31, 2015.

“That’s a catastrophic event we can’t afford,” he said.

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posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 21, 2014  1:15pm

Why was the plan changed between the first two images in the article?

The first image shows homeownership units facing Woodin Street, the second one, shows the homeownership units facing an interior street, with the backyards of those housing abutting Woodin Street. If I was a Hamden resident, I wouldn’t be happy that I have to look into people’s backyards, nor would I be happy if I was one of the homeowners on the New Haven side with people being able to look into my backyard from the street. Backyards are where people keep trash cans, compost, play equipment, outdoor grills, etc. and in my opinion, that stuff isn’t very attractive, which is why people put them in the backyard.

That seems like one that that should be addressed. Was it done to appease Hamden residents? If so, it seems counterproductive.

posted by: citoyen on February 22, 2014  12:21am

Once again J. Hopkins’s eagle eye picks out a discrepancy between two drawings.

Actually, I too had noticed, in the second drawing (and without having paid much attention to the first), that the eight owner-occupied houses along Woodin Street seem to front on Jennings Way, instead of on Woodin, and that seems unfortunate, if a long-term goal is to get rid of the infamous fence, and establish a much-needed tie for this West Rock neighborhood to Hamden.

Surely, with that goal in mind, it would be prudent to make these new houses attractive to the Hamden side, so that if the fence ever really does come down, they would be welcomed as a positive addition to Woodin Street, rather than resented.

But the current reality is that as these houses get built, there *is* no tie to Hamden, or to Wooden Street, so they will need to gain their access from Jennings Way.

As depicted in the site plan at the moment, these houses are just generic square boxes.  They could be designed, when it comes to specifics, with driveway access from Jennings Way, and a “front” access door—but that does not mean that their “rear” facades would need to be back facades of just haphazard catchall openings.

Indeed, the *smart* thing for the Housing Authority to do would be to design the facades facing Woodin Street as if they are front facades also—let’s call them “garden” fronts.  They could have, say, a prominent doorway, and a portico, or a long shallow farmer’s porch across the width, and well-proportioned large windows, harmoniously arranged.

This seems like an opportunity to construct for the present, but to portray, and argue for, a positive future as well.

(Relatively minor things like trash cans [likely to be near the driveway, in any case], play equipment, and outdoor grills would likely get sorted out when and if that awful fence ever does come down.)

posted by: Walt on February 22, 2014  5:02pm


Ask some of the very racially- mixed residents of the Woodin Street area of Hamden whether they prefer seeing the backyards of their   New Haven neighbors or the return of the   Rockview   criminals   from New Haven who plagued the area not too many years ago

You would not like their answers, but they have good reason to prefer   that the fence stay as it is.

The Ribicoff cottages were no problem I believe and Brookside was not too bad,  but HANA it seemed and the cops too, lost control completely of Rockview folk who were the source of theft, vandalism , threats, and attacks ,  in neighboring   Hamden as well as in the Projects themselves

HANA has done a great job in rebuilding the buildings in many of the projects and doing much better policing of its residents I think, but it will be a long time before Hamden   folk (as said,  heavily mixed - racially)  will have the confidence that New Haven now   really has control   of project tenants and that fence removal would not be disastrous for the Hamdenites again

Not a Black-White fight as fence -enemies try to picture it,  but just a reasonable defense of a neighborhood of hard-working   folks   striving for   a crime- free section in which their families can live in peace.