New Haven-Hamden “Berlin Wall” Coming Down

Paul Bass PhotosAfter decades of contention, the city is tearing down the fence that divides the public-housing developments in the shadow of West Rock from the town of Hamden.

New Haven’s housing authority plans to meet with a contractor Tuesday morning to finalize details for razing the fence within two weeks. The plan is to reconnect Wilmot Road back to Hamden’s Woodin Street.

No longer will people on the New Haven side have to take an extended detour, including several long bus rides, to get to jobs or stores or friends and familly in Hamden.

Hamden erected the fence five decades ago in response to complaints about crimes committed by people living just over the line in New Haven. Since then it has been a flash point in New Haven and Hamden’s relationship, seen as a “Berlin Wall” to New Haveners, as a needed safety barrier by Hamden homeowners—and a symbol of urban-suburban divisions.

The issue resurfaced in recent years as New Haven knocked down the crime-ridden, decaying public-housing complexes there and began replacing them with $200 million of new urbanist-style, less dense, mixed-income, rental and homeowner Brookside, Rockview and Ribicoff developments. New Haven’s previous mayor in 2012 suspended an effort to tear down the fence after homeowners on the Hamden side exploded in anger over the prospect. A year-long process to try to build trust on both sides ensued—and got nowhere.

“I think it’s better” to have the fence come down, Tyshena Williams (pictured) said Sunday as she prepared to pack up her children and nieces in the car for a roundabout trip to a Hamden clothing store. “People won’t have to drive all the way through New Haven to get to Hamden.” Williams moved into one of the new Rockview homes (which she loves) last December. It’s around the corner from where the fence cuts off Wilmot Road.

Federal Pressure, & A Discovery

The decision now to remove the fence follows months of behind-the-scenes discussions among officials form Hamden, the federal government, and New Haven’s new Harp administration. Mayor Toni Harp said she decided New Haven wasn’t going to wait any longer to remove a “morally reprehensible” barrier that put elderly people’s lives in jeopardy.

Two developments quickened the process: The federal government began a civil-rights investigation that could lead to a lawsuit against the town of Hamden over the fence, and prevent the town from receiving any federal money. And New Haven did a new survey of the property that revealed that the housing authority owns all the land on which the fence stands—and therefore has the legal right to tear it down. The fence winds along the town line, parts of it technically on the New Haven and parts of it technically on the Hamden side. But New Haven’s housing authority owns all the land. In fact, it turns out, the housing authority owns half of Woodin Street itself, since land owners have claim to half of the adjoining street.

Harp gave Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson time to break the news to his constituents.

“I told Scott, ‘We’re going to take the fence down. But I don’t want to create a problem for you,’” Harp said Sunday. He said, ‘It hasn’t been through our process. Just let it go through our process.’ I said, OK.”

Now Jackson plans to explain what happened at a meeting of Hamden’s Town Council Monday night. Outraged Woodin Street neighbors, just learning of the news, spent the weekend distributing flyers to hundreds of people to attend what promises to be a stormy meeting.


Jackson said Sunday that Hamden has no ability to stop New Haven from dismantling the fence.

“Property rights are the determining factor,” Jackson said. “‘Settlement’ [of the dispute] is the wrong word. ‘Agreement’ is the wrong word. What is fair to say is the facts indicate that irrespective of boundaries, the fence is on property not owned by the town of Hamden.”

“The people are going crazy,” reported Hamden Councilman Mike Colaiacovo, who represents the border neighborhood and has been meeting with and hearing from upset constituents all weekend. He said that after word leaked out about the decision, he met with 30 constituents Saturday morning at the Three Brothers Diner. “Thirty people showed up. A lady that owns a printing company went to her office at 10 o’clock, and printed 1,500 flyers. We had 40 people giving out flyers last night to give out to the neighborhood. They want to go the Council meeting [Monday] night to give their opinion.” Click here to read about what the Hamden neighbors had to say at a previous public meeting on the subject.

Hamden’s Jackson is prepared for a harsh reception Monday night—as well as “for the next couple of years. You don’t make friends in this business. Every day you make less.”

Meanwhile, New Haven housing authority officials plan to meet Tuesday morning with Haynes Construction, the company rebuilding the Rockview development. There they will come up with a schedule over the next two weeks to tear down the fence, extend the road, and build six new driveways for privately owned homes under construction as part of the development that face onto the Hamden side of the landscape.

In order to avoid needing any permission from the town of Hamden, the authority will build the Hamden portion of the newly extended road as a private right-of-way rather than technically a public street; it will have a contract with New Haven to plow snow and otherwise maintain it.

The arguments over the fence have proved frustrating over the past two years, not just for Hamden Mayor Jackson, the man caught in the middle, but to New Haven officials as well. They tried holding trust-building events like cook-outs; only families on the New Haven side of the fence turned out. They proposed building a jointly run police substation along the new road. They invited Hamden neighbors to view the new Rockview Homes as they came online. They couldn’t even get permission to build the driveways for the six homeownership units facing Woodin Street.

Hamden public opinion didn’t budge.

Meanwhile, city officials approached the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about the possibility of suing the town of Hamden for violating New Haveners’ civil rights by keeping the fence up, arguing that the decision to erect and maintain the fence was discriminatory. The U.S. Attorney’s Office opened an investigation. Hamden is already arguing with HUD about cutbacks in federal block grants, Jackson said. A civil-rights action threatened to cut off all HUD money flowing to the town.

New Haven Mayor Harp said she made it clear that she intended to have the fence removed.

“Why don’t we just go in and take it down?” she recalled saying in a meeting. “To me it’s morally reprehensible. Last week that little stream flooded. They had no way to go out. If something had happened up there, a storm-related thing, an earthquake, those people would have been trapped. And they were elderly. I felt it was really evident of real moral and ethical issues. I really believed that. So I have always wanted it taken down.”
The housing authority hired a firm to survey the property. Its outside law firm, Bercham Moses, reviewed the findings and reported that New Haven didn’t need Hamden’s OK to take down the fence. For decades it had been assumed that Hamden had legal control over the fence. But not only does the fence wind its way on both sides of the town border; more importantly, it falls 100 percent on housing authority property. The housing authority can do whatever it pleases with the fence.

That was in March. Harp agreed to wait until Tuesday to start moving on the work.

She already started hearing about it this weekend from her hairdresser, who is close to a number of people on the Woodin Street side of the fence.

“I guess,” Harp remarked, “I’ll never be the mayor of Hamden.”

In West Rock, at the new Brookside development, Anaedrea Douglas was happy to hear the news Sunday. She has known the fence all her life. She grew up in the old Rockview Circle, moved with her family to Fair Haven, then to Helen Street in Hamden. She now lives with her two sons back in the new Brookside. They visit Anaedrea’s mom back on Helen Street almost every day—taking a circuitous route rather than driving straight down Wilmot across the board.

“I take offense the people think taking a fence down will bring crime,” Douglas said. “Crime happens in Hamden all the time. I know people that get killed in Hamden.”

A neighbor just past the fence in Hamden, who was clearing leaves on his property Sunday (and who declined to give his name), said he found the way officials put together the fence decision “sneaky.” He just learned about it this weekend when he received a notice in his mailbox. He grew up in the house he still occupies at Wilmot Road and Elliott Drive.

He would rather the fence stay up, he said. He said he worries more about extra traffic than extra crime. That said, he mostly shrugged it off.

“Far greater worse things are going on in the world,” he said, “than this fence.”

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posted by: TheMadcap on May 4, 2014  4:06pm

Finally, good god. That fence was a mix if embarrassment and moral bankruptcy.

If Hamden residents really care about crime that much, how about Mount Carmel build a fence mid-way through Hamden to keep out the poor rift-raft in the lower part of town. How about Woodin St residents build a fence to keep out all the people from the Hamden side of Newhall? No, they never proposed that? Weird.

“I guess,” Harp remarked, “I’ll never be the mayor of Hamden.”

That was pretty funny.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 4, 2014  4:09pm

Comedy option: I’m actually willing to bet the crime rate in lower Hamden is higher than at the new housing complex. New Haven tears down the fence…......then rebuilds it on the premise of making sure Hamden residents don’t bring down the value of the new housing complex.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 4, 2014  4:17pm

One more comment: CT transit should see about altering bus routes once the roads are complete as buses can now cross the town line easier. Looking at the bus map for New Haven, two different lines have to take two very different paths to get to almost the same place.

posted by: FairHavenRes on May 4, 2014  6:56pm

This is some of the best news I’ve read in a while—finally!  Hamden residents should be ashamed of themselves, but I haven’t seen much of that particular emotion over this, unfortunately.  Now if we can only get CT Transit to *quickly* alter their routes to reflect these new changes, it’ll be yet another step in the right direction.  Fantastic!

posted by: mikedevine on May 4, 2014  7:23pm

About time the fence came down. 50 years of utter nonsense.

posted by: citoyen on May 4, 2014  8:17pm

This is terrific news, and a tribute to Mayor Harp’s determination.  Kudos to her.

This will help ensure that the new Rockview and Brookside developments will grow as stable communities and—wonder of wonders—I bet people now on the Hamden side of the fence will discover a) the world will not come to and end, and b) they themselves will have a new way to get to Westville.

posted by: citoyen on May 4, 2014  8:20pm

[confusing response from NHI website; please ignore if the first one went through!]

This is terrific news, and a tribute to Mayor Harp’s determination.  Kudos to her.

This will help ensure that the new Rockview and Brookside developments will grow as stable communities and—wonder of wonders—I bet people now on the Hamden side of the fence will discover a) the world will not come to and end, and b) they themselves will have a new way to get to Westville.

posted by: robn on May 4, 2014  9:48pm

If I was a Woodin St resident I would stock provisions, ammo and cigarettes, fence in my property , board up my windows and wait it out. When the walking dead run out of fresh brains they’ll just wither and disappear. Wait…what is this article about?

posted by: anonymous on May 5, 2014  5:38am

The Hamden side is a lot less safe. New Haven gets the best of both worlds: Access, plus a private right of way so it can keep out Hamden residents.

posted by: anonymous on May 5, 2014  8:14am

“For decades it had been assumed that Hamden had legal control over the fence.”

DeStefano should be held accountable for this, if it is true.  The exclusion of thousands of residents for decades was based on an “assumption”?  Seems fishy.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 5, 2014  8:15am

And of course, it’s not about race, because nothing is ever about race.

(Hattip to Charlie Pierce)

posted by: Carlos R. Galo on May 5, 2014  8:50am

As a child who lived in that area and who personally felt oppressed by that fence; this is a great news. I second the feelings of “it’s about time!” This was NIMBY social oppression of the highest order.

posted by: rainbowdog on May 5, 2014  8:51am

Why should Hamden be ashamed when apparently all HANH had to do was to look at a survey?  What happened to the surveys from about ten years ago when the tenants wanted the fence to remain?  What about the fences around the other HANH owned properties?

posted by: HewNaven on May 5, 2014  9:07am

“I take offense the people think taking a fence down will bring crime,” Douglas said. “Crime happens in Hamden all the time. I know people that get killed in Hamden.”

Why print such a nonsensical comment? It could only add to the confusion surrounding this issue.

posted by: robn on May 5, 2014  9:24am

Maybe the HAHN of 10 years ago also feared a zombie apocalypse…who knows.

posted by: flash_demo on May 5, 2014  9:32am

Ironically, the houses on the Hamden side don’t even look as good as the newly constructed housing on the New Haven side.  I agree with TheMadcap, the New Haven side might want to rebuild it to prevent Hamden residents from bringing down the value of the new housing complex.

posted by: jamesp on May 5, 2014  10:22am

Good Morning,

I am James Pascarella, President of the Hamden Legislative Council.  I would like to correct a matter referenced in the article. Namely “Now Jackson plans to explain what happened at a meeting of Hamden’s Town Council Monday night. Outraged Woodin Street neighbors”.

Mayor Jackson has not made a request to appear before the Council and I can confirm that at no time was the Mayor going to appear before the Council this evening. 

As per an agreement between the residents of the area and members of the Council this past Saturday morning, including myself, we will allow up to 20 minutes of Public Comment regarding the issue this evening.

Thank you for allowing me to correct the record.

James Pascarella

posted by: woodin st momma on May 5, 2014  3:19pm

i take offense to the berlin it very racist.
there are many ethic families that live on woodin st for one!!!!
that increased traffic is a safety issue
play Russian roulette every day with the current mring traffic for wintergreen
and lets many people have had a lady get mugged at knife point on their lawns, see a man die from being chased by the police ..sorry was a drug dealer from up by the nature reserve
found drug paraphernalia on ur lawn
found crack heads in their yard stealing equipment
SORRY i work hard like every one else,,pay taxes. iyt sad that we have no say either.
i could care less about the driving distance, my kids play for new haven athletics and oh well , gotta drive a little longer..i got over that.
more police sub stations , speed bumps..hmmmm..already forcasting problems
my house value decreasing
rent verses mortgage verses property value.
hamden never had a chance

posted by: darnell on May 5, 2014  5:04pm

When I was standing in front of that fence alone talking about how wrong it was, I got savaged by commentators. I was racist, I was a troublemaker, I was legally wrong…and on and on.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 5, 2014  5:09pm

“my house value decreasing
rent verses mortgage verses property value.”

I know, this is why New Haven should rebuild the fence to keep the Hamden degenerates out. I mean have you seen the Woodin St area compared to the new Rockview? Rockview is much nicer.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on May 5, 2014  5:13pm

With the fence down now everyone will clearly see and have a good look at the beautiful homes that were built in New Haven on the other side of that fence. How nice it will be when the Hamden side sees their property values going up because of it.

posted by: woodin st momma on May 5, 2014  5:33pm

oh yeah i am offended by having my property violated by being robbed
now wait with the instillation of police sub bases..who is gonna pay for this… hamden residents as new haven will ask for $$$ to pay for the extra police to protect the woodin street area. DOES the west wood area have this, AH NOT..sorry no need for a fence to protect from chesire and we have 2 correctional facilities there.
my taxes will go to all this and its something i did not ask for but thx mayor jackson for having me pay for things i did not ask for ..wasting my tax money
thx mayor harp..u r right u will never be mayor over here.. cuz u never lived over here so u dont know , have u ever attended any of our meetings and met with us..u have so much to say about nothing u know ..stick with ur area ..take care of ur own back yard..stop trying to bully
know mayor jackson wont stand up for us

posted by: new havener on May 5, 2014  8:10pm

personally, aside from a few vocal/local hamden residents and their friends, i believe taking the fence down is the right thing to do, considering how well other rehabbed housing projects have fared since the mid-‘90’s or so.
as much as people should be skeptical, the housing authority has done a great job controlling the riff-raff and holding tenants accountable. this is not your prior rockview circle. I saw two older rehabs of rockview and brookside, and how little good those did, and this one, along with the new rules, is much different.
i’ll go so far as to say hamden residents will use the new opening as much or more to bypass SCSU and get to westvlle, amity, west haven, etc…
everyone should lighten up and let this play itself out.

posted by: robn on May 6, 2014  6:23am


I just checked in that earlier comment thread and 11 out of the 40 comments (and about half of the actual text) was yours. Are you sure you weren’t savaging yourself?

posted by: woodin st momma on May 6, 2014  7:14am

@ MAD CAP..thank u for using my lines
it would be nice to have a free upgrade on my house..i m sorry ..are u paying for that townhouse to be built..AH was a grant so but i house is need of some work but see my taxes have gone up..i work TWO JOBs..i have had to replace lawn equipment that has rolled out my yard..i have to buy supplies for my child for school becuz hamden cant support it anymore, look for alternative summer activites due to decreased summer camp time frame again more money spent. I have met soem of the resident hat live there and not all are bad..some actually very nice and i wish them well but we all know that there r bad seeds and its them that i worry about.
i wish HAMDEN would give me a free house facelift and reduce my mortgage so i can have a better car, new do and better clothes for me and mine.
so again low rent or ballooned mortgage/taxes
it just like our health care system..the middle class get shafted all the high deductables, etc while our tax dollars go elsewhere. so when u work 60 hours a week just to make ends meet..let me know

posted by: Theodora on May 6, 2014  7:20am

Before reading this, I knew nothing of the issue or the people of Hamden. I feel enlightened. Glad that the wall is coming down. Hamden, you should be horribly ashamed.

posted by: woodin st momma on May 6, 2014  7:22am

oh and one more thing..unlike NEW HAVEN that offers their children free college education..hamden people have to pay ..sorry another bill i have to fund..there goes my new lawn :(

posted by: woodin st momma on May 6, 2014  7:49am

@ theodora..why should we be ashamed.fences amke good neighbors!!!!
mind ur back yard and ill mind mine

posted by: darnell on May 6, 2014  7:56am


No I wasn’t saving myself…lol, and by the way, there were several articles on the fence, one that actually received 98 comments… by the way, you were fortunate enough not be on the receiving end of dozens of not very nice emails and phone calls.

posted by: robn on May 6, 2014  8:28am


I’m just pulling your leg. On this issue we’re both on the same side of the fence. (honk!)

posted by: flash_demo on May 6, 2014  8:34am

woodin st momma. “unlike NEW HAVEN that offers their children free college education.” maybe you need a new mayor.

posted by: new havener on May 6, 2014  4:03pm

for all those that say ‘shame on hamden’, look in the mirror. the fence was illegally placed on new haven property, so for 50 years, new haven had the both the means and the opportunity to take that fence down. shame is on new haven for allowing it.

posted by: hrsn on May 6, 2014  4:37pm

How neighborly was it of the city of New Haven to think it was a good idea to locate a public housing project in a strange little salient the city owns next to the Hamden town dump? It could have been fine, but it ended up not being fine for the affected residents of Hamden who had to suffer from NH’s racist siting decision. Look at a map and wonder why it made sense at any point to locate a project there. While you’re at it, look at the locations of other HANH projects and ask the same question.

posted by: HewNaven on May 6, 2014  5:53pm

Here’s an article about the history:

posted by: teachermama on May 6, 2014  7:22pm

The fencing off of any public area, when not to preserve the environment, (sand dunes have fences) or to promote the public’s safety, (a public pool needs a fence) or security (a jail needs a fence) should be questioned.  Fences are for private property.  Neither Hamden nor New Haven is private property.  Fences are for dangerous animals.

Walking, moving, being able to get somewhere with one’s own energy, strength, and good health, is an essential freedom.  It is all the more necessary for parents with strollers, the poor, the young, and the elderly.  Those who strive to restrict others’ movement must realize that they are cutting off job access, medical access, education access, library access, access to food, etc.  To argue these points is to firmly align oneself with racist, classist beliefs. 

In more concise words:  Do you think YOU need a fence?  If not, don’t try to restrict anyone else’s movements.  Do you not imagine that there are people in this country who are richer than you, with a better job than you, more powerful than you, who live in fancier towns than Hamden… who would fence YOU out?  Don’t you see- there are some who think YOU are the animal, the criminal? 

By fencing others—you are agreeing that you, too, are low enough, base enough, to be fenced.

posted by: Theodora on May 6, 2014  8:33pm

Starting to think that the people of New Haven are better off if they are walled off from Hamden.

posted by: canadachris on May 12, 2014  8:33pm

Agree with Theodora. If I were on the New Haven side of the line I would be concerned about ugly incidents spilling into my new, nice New Haven neighborhood from the people on the Hamden side of the line. The sale of sheets in Hamden stores will probably increase.
Why can’t we all just get along?