Nature — Or Blight?

Thomas Breen photoCome back next month, Delroy May and Sylvia Stephens promise, and you’ll see organic vegetables starting to grow.

Right now, a city inspector ruled, he sees a blighted mess and a potential safe haven for rodents — and has ordered it cleaned up.

May and Stephens, two native Jamaicans who run the King David House of Essence market on Dixwell Avenue in Newhallville, have lived together in their single-family home at 74 Porter St. in the Hill since the 1980s. They use their front and back yards to grow a variety of vegetables, all organic, including tomatoes, eggplant, okra, collard greens, and lots and lots of corn.

On May 22, the city’s anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), issued a civil citation to Stephens, the official owner of the property, for persistently violating the city’s anti-blight ordinance at her Porter Street property. In the city’s eyes, the homeowners are not simply growing their own food; they’re creating blight and a making a serious, and potentially dangerous, mess, and disturbing neighbors in the process.

The May 22 notice from the city says that LCI inspector Arthur Natalino, Jr. found four unaddressed blight-related violations at the property.

The report says that the property needs immediate landscape maintenance. It identifies a hole in the driveway that needs to be repaired. “The hole is being used for possible fire activity that is a safety concern,” it reads.

It notes that the pile up of trash and debris allows for a “possible harborage” of rodents. And it says that the general conditions of the property cause an “unreasonable impact to the enjoyment of adjacent properties as evidenced by persistent complaints by nearby property owners.”

“The exterior of buildings and structures shall be maintained so that it is not dilapidated or decaying,” the report continues, “not open to the elements, and so its appearance shall not have the tendency to depreciate adjoining property.”

The LCI notice imposes a fine of up to $100 per day for each day the blight violations continue.

A visit to the house this past week found lumber piled on one side of the front yard and a freshly tilled plot of flowers and vegetables on the other side. A wisp of smoke rose from a fire pit in the back of the driveway.

A car in the driveway was packed to the brim with thousands of ears of corn.

Google Street View photo.Although the home farm is not yet in full bloom, a Google Street View image from September 2014 shows 74 Porter St. surrounded on all sides by a five-foot stalks of corn.

During an interview at their Dixwell Avenue store, which specializes in oils, incense, and candles, May and Stephens said the city should let them do what they see fit with their property.

“We don’t play loud music,” Stephens said. “We just plant vegetables.”

“I cannot eat flowers,” May said. “They are beautiful parts of God’s creation. But I cannot eat them.” Instead, he said, he and Stephens and their son Joseph routinely plant and harvest a variety of organic vegetables, especially corn. They use the fire pit in the driveway to create ash, which they then use to fertilize their garden. He said that the corn stored in the car will be reburied in their garden plots and will help give rise to the next crop.

“Tell the city we don’t mean no harm,” May said. He said that he comes from Clarendon, Jamaica, and that he has been a farmer for 60 out of his 68 years on this earth. He said he knows what he is doing, and will not take instructions on how to keep his land from anyone who says otherwise.

“The city is against us,” he said. “We’re teaching other people they can plant their own,” and not have to rely on grocery stores or other markets to buy food.

He said the majority of the mess on their yards will be cleaned up by next week. But, he said, his yards will be completely transformed by early June, with an assortment of fresh vegetables in full view. May and Stephens said they do not sell their produce; they eat it themselves, and they give it away to friends and neighbors.

“The city shouldn’t interfere with people about what they want to do on their properties,” May said.

Demolition Slated For Whalley?

Thomas Breen photoThe Building Department and LCI issued a number of other warnings and citations to properties throughout the city over the past week, including to the owners of a long-vacant Whalley Avenue commercial spot that may be slated for demolition soon.

On May 1, the Building Department sent a notice to landlords John, Albert and Mario Vuoso about the dangerously unstable condition of their property at 345 Whalley Ave., the former home to Newt’s Café.

The notice says that a March 28 inspection by the Building Department found the two-story commercial property in imminent danger of failure or collapse because the roof has collapsed in several locations. The notice orders the Vuoso brothers to repair or demolish the building within 10 days of receipt of the notice.

John Vuoso , the former head of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District (WASSD), has been criticized in the past for not keeping his commercial properties occupied and well maintained — including 345 Whalley, in 2015. City Building Official Jim Turcio said Vuoso reached out to him the day after the notice was issued. He said Vuoso is currently getting prices from three contractors for the prospective work of tearing down the building. (Vuoso could not be reached for comment for this story.)

The Building Department also issued a final notice on May 9 to Fred and Rose M. Erkerd about the dangerous condition of their property at 39 Arch St. in the Hill. The notice says that the home has a collapsed exterior rear wall, an unsafe roof, an unsafe front porch, and a collapsed garage.

The notice orders the Erkerds to demolish the structure within 24 hours from receipt of the notice or notify the department immediately about plans to demolish the home within one week from receipt of the notice.

According to city land records, Fred Erkerd passed away in 2014. Turcio said his department had identified that Fred’s sister, Rose M., lives on Wintrop Avenue. He said the department needs to resend the notice to Rose M., as the initial notice had been sent to the wrong Winthrop Avenue address. Since the boarded-up two-family home is several dozen feet back from the street and a good distance from adjoining properties, Turcio said, it does not pose an immediate danger to the public. Nevertheless, he said, the department will see if they can get an answer from Rose M. about the order to demolish.

On May 18, LCI issued a civil citation to Bellwether Development LLC and its agent Michael Milazzo about a variety of anti-blight ordinance violations at their three-family home at 306 Howard Ave.

The citation notes that the exterior walls, front steps, and windows need immediate repair, and that the piles of bulk trash and debris in the property’s back lot need to be removed.

The citation applies a fine of up to $100 for every day the violations continue.

When reached by telephone, Milazzo told the Independent that he was just the agent for service for the property owners, and that he was not sure what the three principals of Bellwether Development LLC plans to do to address the city’s concerns. He said he assumes the principals will remedy the concerns.

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posted by: Mikelive on May 29, 2018  10:36am

Cherry picking for LCI is all this is. Going after the easy targets when much worse blight is all over the city. I agree it messy but I could find 100 worse properties in less than one hour.

posted by: new havener on May 29, 2018  11:16am

it may be nature in Jamaica, but it’s blight in New Haven…where do they really want to be?

How about some perspective from the neighbors?

Good on LCI for confronting the worst property owners, else we’ll read about sure tragedies in the future.

posted by: ShadowBoxer on May 29, 2018  11:47am

The City should be applauded for enforcing anti-blight ordinances.  These are not just negatively affecting property values - they pose hazards to first responders.  If the city can enforce these codes in a compassionate way we all win.

posted by: wendy1 on May 29, 2018  2:02pm

Suddenly, the city discovers Blight???!!!!!  If the city wants to change any of this they should pay for it not impoverish these citizens any further.  I have seen Jamaica, a country so poor, there are no fat people or fat cattle.  Personally I have to admire this couple who have traded one third world country for another….ours.  There are many in New Haven that just cant afford to rehab or cleanup or stop hoarding.  My new motto is live and let live.  The city now raising our taxes…AGAIN…has deserted us.  Neighbors must help each other or just shut up about “blight”.  I live in a 30 condo assoc. which includes some “outliers”.  I have personally offered $$ and labor to these folks not to mention gardening tools.  Bishop Curry said it all at Meghan’s wedding.

posted by: William Kurtz on May 29, 2018  2:10pm

Wendy1,

I generally admire your take on things.

posted by: AMDC on May 29, 2018  5:55pm

I think the late Fred Erkerd should be fined and prosecuted for this blight. After all; the dead vote in New Haven so why can’t they clean up their property?  Mr. Erkerd may be pushing up daisies but why should the rest of us have to have our biggest investment devalued.  And why?!?!... because he’s not alive?!?!?  ... not good enough!!!!  Seize him!  Knock the property down.  Make green spaces and live in peace!

posted by: Donut king on May 29, 2018  6:06pm

I absolutely applaud LCI and it’s amazing staff for doing such a GREAT job. The properties in this article absolutely are blighted properties. If LCI did not exist the city would go back to it’s original state of trashy conditions. The property with the so called vegetable garden is a absolute mess and eye sore and burning wood is against city ordinance. I am disgusted by people in our city using excuses of why their properties look like they do.

posted by: robn on May 29, 2018  7:36pm

I’ve been on a lot of farms and they typically keep them tidy to avoid pests/vermin. They typically do not make open fire pits just a few feet away from a combustible structures, nor do they store cropseed in motor vehicles which are not only porous to vermin but also riddled with toxins.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 29, 2018  10:03pm

The Headline sucks.

The Blight stuff basically amounts to a ‘property clean-up’...
The ‘Urban Farm’ aspect should be both recognized and supported.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 29, 2018  10:11pm

This should be a story about The City and the Immigrant Farmers working together in a non-adversarial manner.  $100/day!  That’s a lot of Indian Corn!

Wow—it would have been an amazing News Story with some real messaging! 
Once again, New Haven looks like a bunch of chumps.

This also reminds me of a recent incident where the new ‘Vendor Enforcement Officer’ laid into a long standing street artist who was drawing on Chapel Street.  This stuff just shouldn’t happen, and there needs to be a mechanism that recognizes ‘community’.

posted by: JCFremont on May 30, 2018  6:31pm

My white middle aged neighbor never mows his lawn until he receives multiple summons. Is that cultural or does it fall into live and let live? The United States really has to stop taking all the best and brightest out of these poor countries, imagine the utopias they could create instead of abandoning their neighbors.

posted by: wendy1 on May 30, 2018  7:41pm

Dear JC Fremont,  I agree there is a limit to live and let live…..good example getting an 11% increase on your July tax bill.  I will be happy to loan you my bullhorn so you can heckle your alderman or woman.  As for less wealthy New Havenites, now there is even less chance of home improvement.  In fact you should expect a lot more tag and garage sales on front lawns and sidewalks everywhere.

posted by: new havener on May 30, 2018  8:24pm

with the judas-goat tax-hike, New Haven’s surely entering a downward tailspin, and here, I thought Wendy’s $$‘s would stem the tide. It may be an insurmountable mess for property owners, except for the gentrification vampires. see how easy that was?

posted by: southwest on May 30, 2018  8:45pm

Who would want to live next door to a house that looked like that,plus you would have rats and other creatures running around your property..it’s not fair to others who keep up their properties and when they choose to sell they can not because of undesirable home owners next door..why do some people feel that if they own property that they can store and do anything they want to with it without any regards to others…if they feel that way then move to where it’s acceptable at. That how nice neighborhoods become blighted with inconsiderate people who don’t care how they live..they need to find more homeowners with unkempt property…to all the posters who thank it’s ok let them moved next door to you and see how you would like the smell and the sencery..

posted by: wendy1 on May 30, 2018  11:15pm

Dear New Havener—-I gave away all that money and some of it did help.  What is 11% of 30 Billion??? Time for other wealthy like Yale Corp. to spend on the city.  The real vampire is Bruce Alexander with Mike Morand as his Igor.  Blame them.

posted by: JCFremont on May 31, 2018  7:43am

Your Right Wendy, I get the feeling many of these Alders and their supporters think that if you own a home and heaven forbid you do your best to keep it up and tend the lawn and garden that your “rich.” This includes landlords who willl raise rents or will like homeowners “defer” improvements. Of course the new buildings taxes have been abated. With the increase on cars (If that’s included?) that may be the deciding factor weather to buy a new or newer car because of this and of course it will be mean less people will register their vechicals in Connecticut and New Haven. Many New Haven citizens who are direcctly affected just don’t see the return in services that the they get from the city.

posted by: wendy1 on May 31, 2018  7:02pm

A lot of anger, grief, and dismay out there.  I guess there is an advantage to being homeless.  Today I hung out my Bernie Madoff banner at cityhall for 30 min. and spoke with some disenchanted taxpayers of both sexes.  This bill arrives in a month and I am very much gobsmacked.  Today I yelled at Larry G. calling him a TRAITOR but he doesn’t even live here.  I will try to embarrass any pol I find in town to the best of my ability.