City Follows Up On Fair Haven Sweep

Thomas Breen PhotoEd Rodriguez wanted to turn the garage behind his Exchange Street home into an apartment for his daughter, her husband, and their child.

But he failed to clear his plans by the city first, and a dispute with a neighbor plus a city agency sweep of the neighborhood have put a pause on his hopes to increase the number of residential units on his property. At least, until he gets his permits in place.

On May 18, the city’s Building Department issued a notice of violation and order to abate to Rodriguez for illegally converting the back garage of his home at 174 Exchange St. into a living space.

The notice was issued on the same day that the Building Department, the anti-blight Livable City Initiative (LCI), and a handful of other city departments conducted a two-and-a-half hour coordinated public safety inspection walk throughout Fair Haven.

In addition to the unpermitted residential conversion on Exchange Street, the May 18 inspection has led to the Building Department issuing an illegal conversion notice for a property on Blatchley Avenue, two stop work orders on Blatchley and Dover Street, and an unsafe structure notice on Grand Avenue.

The Fair Haven walk was the second such interdepartmental sweep in recent months, with the first taking place in Newhallville last fall.

“There were not as many violations as you might think,” city Building Official Jim Turcio told the Independent on Monday about what he and his department had found during the May 18 sweep.

He said he had not yet heard back from Rodriguez or from the owner of the Blatchley Avenue property about remedying their illegal conversions. He said he would give those property owners a few more days to reach out to the city before tracking them down himself. He said the owner of the unsafe structure at Grand Avenue has been out of the country, but that that property owner had promised to board up the property by the end of the week.

Rodriguez and his wife purchased the colonial, late-19th century single family home on Exchange Street in 2006. A retired interpreter and registrar at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Rodriguez is also an avid handyman.

When this reporter arrived at his home, he was painting the two handrails that lead to his front door. His backyard is surrounded on all side by a three-foot border of planted vegetables and flowers.

Rodriguez said that he has long planned to convert the freestanding garage in his backyard into a living space for his daughter, her husband, and their child. He said his home is already crowded with him, his wife, his son, his son’s girlfriend, and his daughter.

“They really need a place to live,” he said about his daughter and her family, “because right now they don’t have a place.” He said his daughter and her family were currently staying with her mother-in-law next door. They had hoped to move into their own apartment, he said, but they couldn’t afford any of the places they looked at.

Rodriguez said after his daughter moved in with her in-laws, he decided to take on a tenant to live in the back garage, which he continued to work on. He hired a contractor to build an exterior stairwell leading to the garage’s second story. He pointed out he was in the process of building an annex to the garage in which to relocate the bathroom.

He said he didn’t know he needed to get the city’s approval to convert the garage into a residential unit. He said he has rented the garage to a tenant for the past few months; that tenant is in the process of moving to a new apartment ever since Rodriguez got hit with the violation notice by the Building Department.

Rodriguez said the Building Department learned about his illegally converted garage not necessarily because of the scheduled May 18 sweep, but because a disgruntled neighbor called the city on him.

The tornado from a few weeks ago knocked a large branch from a tree on his neighbor’s yard onto the roof of the garage. The branch then rolled down the roof and onto Rodriguez’s backyard.

“I was angry,” Rodriguez recalled. He said he had warned his neighbor for four years about the precarious tree, which he said was dead and had been hollowed out by squirrels.

Rodriguez said he picked up the branch from his yard and threw it over the fence onto his neighbor’s yard. He said that irked his neighbor enough that she called the city to tip them off to the illegally converted garage.

Rodriguez said that he plans on having a Building Department inspector come back to take a look at his property. He said he still plans to convert the garage into a dwelling unit for his daughter and her family. Now he just needs to get the right permits and pass inspection.

“It’s going to be for the use of my family,” he said.

May 18 also led to a flurry of other Building Department violation notices in Fair Haven, according to city land records.

The department sent a notice of violation and order to abate to landlord Cathy Lanfang Wei for illegally converting the basement of 274 Blatchley Ave. into an apartment without obtaining the required permits, inspections and approvals.

The department issued a stop work order to Anthony Ornato and Luis Ornato, Jr. for the unpermitted installation of a bathroom at 299 Blatckley Ave. The department issued another stop work order to Helmi Ali for unpermitted interior work being done at 220 Dover St.

At 135 Grand Ave., the Building Department issued an unsafe structure notice to Chandra S. Jakka and Fair Haven Plaza LLC for leaving a dilapidated single-story commercial structure at the corner of Atwater Street open to trespass through an exposed hole in the back of the building.

LCI Hits Newhallville

City land records show that LCI has also been active in Newhallville, issuing anti-blight citations to two derelict properties in Newhallville.

On June 4, the department sent a civil citation to Yi Chen Geema Sun and the Everest Realty Group LLC for failing to maintain their three-family property at 445 Huntington St.

The citation lists a variety of anti-blight ordinance violations, including dilapidated and decaying structure, exterior in blighted condition, unauthorized storage or accumulation of junk, and lack of property maintenance.

The citation levies a fine of $100 per day as long as the violations continue.

On May 17, LCI issued a similar citation to property owner Naomi Rabinowitz for a boarded-up, three-family home she owns at 558 Winchester Ave. through the holding company 558 Winchester Avenue, LLC.

The citation lists the same stock violation notices about dilapidated and decaying structure, exterior in blighted condition, lack of property maintenance, et The citation similarly levies a $100 fine for every day the violations continue.

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posted by: NHPLEB on June 11, 2018  4:13pm

After a flurry of showy pinches,  LCI and the Housing Dept will go back to sleep.  Remember that the Jungle (By RR station)  rotted for 40 without the City knowing.  I could only wish that LCI and Housing/Building/ Health Depts would do their jobs every day; not just when they feel like it.

And Mr. Rodriguez:  NO YOU CAN’T JUST ADD DWELLING UNITS IN YOUR YARD. This is 2018;  not 1718.  We have health codes,  building codes,  and occupancy limits.  Thanks!

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 11, 2018  4:39pm

As Jonathan Hopkins has noted, in-law apartments such as this are part of the solution to the city’s affordable housing problem. AMDC is right that such conversions have to comply with building and health codes, but the city should facilitate code-compliant conversions that add housing units.

posted by: wendy1 on June 11, 2018  5:03pm

I side with Mr. Rodriguez, obviously a responsible homeowner with good taste—-what a nice property; I’m jealous.  Best wishes and good luck.

posted by: Dennis Serf on June 11, 2018  7:47pm

I thought when the city first established LCI,  the department was supposed to be cost neutral; that is, the cost of running LCI was supposed to be offset by fines and license fees. But I might be mistaken. In any event, given the deep budget hole facing the City, it would be nice to know the net cost of running LCI.

posted by: duncanidaho645 on June 11, 2018  8:14pm

12 years and the property looks absolutely fantastic.  Good for Mr. Rodriguez, his neighbor sounds like a POS.  Too bad the City had to come in and ruin a good thing.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on June 11, 2018  8:14pm

What Kevin said!

posted by: robn on June 11, 2018  9:26pm

Responsible conversion of barns/garages are the city’s easiest route out of a housing crunch. Property owners with a high level of care should be encouraged. Mr Rodriguez screwed up by not going through channels but his self evident level of quality should hopefully be met with some leniency and expedition by bldg Dept.

posted by: FairHavenResident on June 12, 2018  5:58am

As a Fair Haven Resident, I would love to know what is going on with the eyesore around 105 Chapel Street with the 2 buildings that have been boarded up for over 5 years.  That property is a constant issue for illegal trespassing, trash, blight, etc.  These properties need to be taken care of or the owner should have to sell them to someone who will.  Any update on this property?

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on June 12, 2018  7:51am

That red house looks GREAT! What a cutie! If done well, with the right codes in place - that back unit could also be a winner!

Either way, density is the answer!

posted by: Esbey on June 12, 2018  8:09am

What Kevin and Robn said!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 12, 2018  10:33am

What Ed Rodriguez is doing is what people have done for millennia to build cities. I applaud his entrepreneurial spirit. In my opinion, a major focus of City Planning and Economic Development efforts in the City should be focused on formalizing this kind of informal development behavior so that as many homeowner-occupants as possible feel empowered to invest in and make modification to their properties. I suspect that if the permitting process were streamlined to encourage this behavior, the zoning ordinance allowed it by right (or special exception), and it became more widespread and commonplace, we wouldn’t be so susceptible to outside investors building large rent mining and extraction facilities (market rate apartment complexes) in the City.

posted by: Smitty on June 13, 2018  9:10am

I’m sorry Mr. Rodriguez has to go through that…People are extremely HEARTLESS… Its his property yet he still has to ask for permission…Sick world we live in.

Health codes building codes and occupancy limits ....REALLY!? AMDC?????

If the man wants to move his flesh and blood and her family onto his property he should be able to. SURE he should be aware of any power lines or underground plumbing that may make his project a challenge but…

Look at his yard and his landscaping…Its beautiful.  He obviously knows what he is doing….Hes not polluting the neighborhood he is fixing HIS Property to accommodate FAMILY…
It is nice to have a brain but even your brain tells people to consult their HEART.

Expand on your heart.  The man is doing an honorable thing and the city is picking on people who mean well and empowering MEAN people…He was right….A dying tree is destined to fall in a storm…He warned her for years and NEVER called the CITY on HER….Good people don’t get the love they deserve.

Being the year 2018 should have no bearing on the kindness of ones heart.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 13, 2018  1:08pm

While I think that Mr. Rodriguez should have enormous freedom to invest in his property as he see’s fit, it is also important to go through the proper zoning and permitting process to ensure that neighbors have a say in development in their neighborhood, that the design is appropriate for the zone, and that the construction work is done properly. I think that the zoning ordinance should do a better job of encouraging this kind of project than it currently does, but anarchy isn’t the answer - better regulations are.

Imagine in 20 years this property comes up for sale and an out of state real estate investor buys it up and wants to rent each unit out to a separate household, including the back building - should that investor be allowed to? Might neighbors reasonably object to that? We need to get the regulations correct, but we also need to understand why the existing regulations were put in place.

posted by: Smitty on June 13, 2018  3:26pm

When you buy a house you look for the house YOU like in the neighborhood You choose…One day there is going to be someone or some family who will want to buy the house because they like what he did to it.  His neighbor may not like what he has done with it..  But she has her own home to worry about.  Maybe he will leave his home to his daughter in his Will and Testament….Raining on Mr. Rodriguez’s parade because of some obscure reason far into the future…..Whats the point of buying a house??? That is NOT ownership….

NO I do not think my neighbors should be able to dictate what I do with my property that I paid for….What YOU paid for is YOURS what I spend my money on is Mine. 

Now u tell me people will complain about a house being converted to house several people??? People need places to live….It shouldn’t matter

posted by: NHPLEB on June 13, 2018  3:44pm

Yes,  bleeding hearts.  Why have any codes at all??  Fire Codes,  Health Codes,  Occupancy codes. Let’s toss them all out of the window.  Let me overload an electrical system or jerry-rig my furnace and home make my solar panels.  Are you free? Yeah!  Will my house next door go up in flames when this one blows?? You bet!
The people writing in support of Rodriguez need to buy houses in the woods with 25 acres around them.  Then,  they can only hurt themselves.  They have NO RIGHT to skirt codes to suit themselves.  We are a community with rules,  regulations, and laws.  If you don’t like it; MOVE AWAY

posted by: Smitty on June 14, 2018  9:06am

AMDC…..I copied an pasted a sentence I think you missed

“SURE he should be aware of any power lines or underground plumbing that may make his project a challenge but…”

So yes….making sure those things aren’t going to be affected by his project certainly matters….SAFETY FIRST
For all we know hes an experienced contractor…

However all the extra stuff to delay his project helping his family such as getting permission from his neighbors is nonsense…

And who cares what non existent future home buyer who does Not like the house thinks…THE PERSON WHO LIKES IT WILL BUY IT

Just because YOU don’t like the property does not mean no one will…and again whats the point of owning something if its truly not yours to make decisions about? Sounds more like the city and the neighbors own your property

posted by: robn on June 14, 2018  9:48am

Zoning Regulations and Building codes serve a purpose. They’re to protect the aesthetics of a neighborhood and to preserve life safety. If you don’t like Zoning, move to Houston. If you don’t like building codes, move to a third world nation because that’s the only place that might not have them.

posted by: Smitty on June 14, 2018  10:26am

You don’t RUN from State to State Country to Country because of things/laws/rules you don’t like…Especially not in the US

You confront them and file petitions with your government and gather support of citizens who agree…

The solution is NOT to move from place to place because you don’t like the laws….You take steps to change them…

Change does not happen by running away…

We are citizens that have a voice…NOT slaves