Neighbors Help City Plan For Vacant Lots

Markeshia Ricks photoThomas Breen photoWhen Lisa McKnight first moved to Rosette Street almost 50 years ago, her family’s and her neighbors’ yards were lush with grapevines, apple trees, pear trees, and rose bushes. Now she may get to see such splendor reappear on the long-vacant, overgrown lawn across the street from her home.

Or it may become a dog park, playground, or public plaza.

The city is getting control of that vacant Rosette Street lot and 15 others from the state Department of Transportation (DOT). And it’s asking neighbors like McKnight to help decide what to put there.

It’s part of a new city initiative to repurpose empty public spaces and let the community decide on how those spaces should be used.

On Wednesday night during the Hill South Community Management Team’s monthly meeting at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School on Kimberly Avenue, New Haven legislative liaison Michael Harris spoke with McKnight and other Hill neighbors about the city’s recent acquisition of the 15 parcels of vacant or “excess” land previously owned by the DOT.

At the end of the most recent legislative session, the state legislature passed a “conveyance” bill that transferred these long vacant plots, most of which dot Route 34 West between Howe Street and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, from state to city control.

Google Maps photo, via nhvcanvass..comOne of those newly acquired parcels sits right in the Kimberly Square neighborhood at 16–18 Rosette St. Currently empty, overgrown, and surrounded by a three-foot-tall chain link fence, the parcel abuts the New Haven Line train tracks, and amounts to around a quarter acre of land when combined with an adjacent triangular-shaped lot that the city already owns at the corner of Rosette and Cedar Streets.

“The state Department of Transportation: they build big highways, and they run the rails. They don’t care as much about the maintenance of individual properties,” Harris said, explaining the state’s relative neglect of these vacant lots and the city’s rationale for taking them over. “That’s not really they’re mission.”

Now that the city owns all this empty space on the block, he said, they are looking to solicit local input regarding how that space should be used.

“I’m here today to start a process where we want to hear from you, the community, about what we should do with this land,” Harris said as he passed around surveys describing potential uses for the lots.

According to the recently passed state law, the city can take ownership of these local, vacant parcels so long as the land is used as undeveloped, publicly accessible “open space.”

As explained on a city website dedicated entirely to this vacant land repurposing project, “open space” can include a variety of different uses.

Residents who take the city’s online survey can choose between the following potential functions for 16–18 Rosette: community garden, dog park, playground, normal park, public plaza, or something else entirely (such as a skate park, bike storage, or splash pad).

The city’s website provides maps of nearby community gardens (with the closest being approximately 0.3 miles away), dog parks (approximately 0.9 miles away), and playgrounds (approximately 0.25 miles away), as well as other potential requirements or costs associated with different uses to help residents understand the requisite public commitment for each usage option.

Survey respondents are also encouraged to suggest a name for the new public space, and to indicate if they live in New Haven, in the Hill Neighborhood, or on Rosette Street.

“I would suggest that the people that actually live on this street need to get involved in this process,” McKnight said to Harris. “Because we’re the ones who are going to have to deal with the aftermath of whatever happens here.”

Harris agreed, and top neighborhood cop Lt. Jason Minardi and Hill Alder David Reyes said that they will knock on doors on Rosette Street soon, informing neighbors about this project and asking for their opinions on how the space should be used.

“Through projects like this and the Neighborhood Public Improvement Program (NPIP), Mayor [Toni] Harp wants to use the community management teams to drive local decision making,” Harris said after his presentation. “These types of projects strengthen the community management teams, and give people additional reasons to get involved at the local level. In the context of public space, this is all about giving that decision back to local folks for what they need.”

Go to to learn more about the parcel of land and vote on how you think the city should use this space.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 26, 2017  10:22am

This is a real opportunity for the neighborhoods to reclaim some public spaces for their use and enjoyment.
The people in the neighborhood should have first choice on selecting the use(s) and the City should state what support it will give to a park, garden space or whatever is decided.
Studies have shown that people in urban areas benefit from green spaces by decreasing depression and improving enjoyment.
With all the non-profit resources in New Haven, together with City resources, the neighborhood should have access to some real talent in realizing its vision.

posted by: Peter99 on June 26, 2017  11:39am

Might be a good idea to sell it to somebody who will build a house on the property and pay city taxes. Caveat in the land sale agreement that if construction of a suitable home is not complete in 12 months, the property reverts back to the city.

posted by: jim1 on June 26, 2017  11:39am

They could put in a pizza shop, but a dog park would be nice.

posted by: westville man on June 26, 2017  11:41am

I agree with Dwightstreeter.  I know the Edgewood Park playgrounds and splash pad are always busy.  This seems larger enough for both.  Think of the children first- do they have accessible playgrounds now?  400 meters seems a distance.  Even the one at Edgewood School is busy.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 26, 2017  12:14pm

As the 1901 fire insurance map shows (linked below), 14-18 Rosette Street has historically be home to housing. Specifically, 14 and 16 Rosette Street were originally developed as two-story wood-framed single family houses with porches, while 18 Rosette Street was built as a two-family house - similar to other nearby houses on surrounding streets.

By the early 1990s, the houses had been demolished and the State DOT purchased two of the parcels in the mid-to-late 1990s. Nearby 24 Rosette Street, a 19th century house, was also torn down in the 1990s, but a new single family house was built on the site in 2006 and sold on the private market.

All that is to say, it seems odd that the lots can’t be used again as housing - what is the rationale for that provision in the law?

I would think that these lots would be perfect for Yale building project houses, or the kind of two-family houses that Laura Pirie has designed for other parts of the Hill neighborhood (

posted by: Nadine H on June 26, 2017  12:51pm

Completely agree with Dwightstreeter and westville man; neighborhood residents should have first choice and support for what they want to do with the property as they will be responsible for it.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 26, 2017  3:24pm

posted by: jim1 on June 26, 2017 11:39am

They could put in a pizza shop, but a dog park would be nice.

HA HA .Sounds like Dog Park Hipster Gentrification.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 26, 2017  10:04pm

Hi Jonathan!

Conveyance bill transfers specify the allowable uses of the land and require that it revert to the state if used for other purposes. Conveyances for public uses, such as open space, are typically at the administrative cost of the transfer.  Conveyances for economic development, including market rate housing, often require a cash payment.