Convert a funky parking lot into a local market that remains open at night.
How about another coffee shop?
Pick up the trash in the park more regularly.
Turn a long-vacant but historic school building into a model for inclusionary housing.
And don’t forget to launch that oyster boat business—a a local tourism-oriented vessel that echoes the oystering history of the area that would offer sunset cruises of the river and local historic locales.
Those and other ideas — some practical and specfic, some dream-like — emerged from a brainstorming session on next “action steps” to improve the gateway stretch of Fair Haven running from Quinnipiac Avenue, across the river, and up Grand Avenue to Atwater Street.
Thursday night 40 people gathered at the Atwater Senior Center in the second meeting convened by a grassroots group that for a year and a half has been in the process of “visioning” a better future for this key stretch of Fair Haven.
The effort has grown out of the group’s involvement with city economic officials to find a developer for an adaptive re-use plan for the long-vacant Strong School.
The group’s own plan to convert the Strong School into a kind of non-profit-based arts center with live/work apartments was rejected by the city. Then a Milford-based developer’s proposed 32 “micro apartrments” plan gained no local traction and was rejected.
So the neighbors have returned to envision the future of not just the school but the surrounding “Strong School District,” according to Clinton Street resident Sarah Miller, one of the orgainzers.
At an earlier meeting in the spring, 100 Fair Haveners had gathered under the volunteer leadership of of Michelle Stronz of a consulting group called the Formata to assess the community’s strengths, resources, and challenges, and to develop priorities.
On Thursday night Stronz presented four agreed-upon foci: neighborhood communication, Fair Haven’s relationship to city officials, responsible development with a focus on the Strong School, and area infrastructure and safety.
Divided into four brainstorming groups, and bearing long sheets of paper, magic markers, and square slices of pizza, neighbors set to work to come up with specifics in answer to Stronz’s key question: What would you do on this stretch of Fair Haven if you had the power to take action in the immediate future?
Over at the neighborhood/communication brainstorming group, led by Fair Haven School teacher David Weinreb, Lynn Bibber said she has unfortunately come to know few people during her four years in the neighborhood. There was talk about welcome wagons and how to greet newcomers. Weinreb said one of the big take-aways is to build on the community management team “to push out communications better.”
At the infrastructure/safety committee, Beth Pellegrino bemoaned the trash in Quinnipiac River Park. She called for more bins as well as signs to promote less littering and community pride.
In the break-out discussion pondering Fair Haven’s relationship with City Hall, State Rep. Al Paolillo, Jr. offered a touch of inside baseball.
It is important, he said, for the community to identify a designated official downtown with whom to communicate. “You need to have one person in the city’s economic development who is a point of contact,” he said.
At the responsible development group, chaired by local developer Fereshteh Bekhrad, Helene Sapadin offered that one of her favorite walks in the area is to the coffee shop in the Fair Haven Marina. She’d like to see another place like that.
Another participant in the group bemoaned the loss of the Little Theater on Lincoln Street. She sees an opening for economic development in using one of the area’s building — perhaps a part of the Strong School — to become a theater to show interesting films.
The heart of the discussion here was the future of the Strong School building itself, because time is a factor, said Sarah Miller. Since the $16.7 million proposal for micro-apartments fell apart under community scrutiny and pressure, no other developers have appeared to offer a plan more in keeping with the needs of the community.
“The Strong School is in bad shape,” Miller said. “We’ve seen evidence of people living in there. We’ve got to get the city to get going. There needs to be a resolution.”
Ian Christmann proposed luring the “night market,” a food store to replace one of the parking lots and to sell the goods of local entrepreneurs.
“All this,” he said, “should be happening naturally.” That is, the historic district, the bridge, park, and the beautiful river are such assets, that they should be able to sell themselves, he argued. “Let’s focus on removing the obstacles.
New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell offered that whatever development occurs, “it has to enhance the park.”
And Sierra-Marie Gerfao, returning to the Strong School itself, offered that it “could be a leader in adapting inclusionary housing policy.”
Stronz and the conveners said the evening’s work will be assessed and priority items to begin working on will be presented at the next meeting, date to be determined.
Based on that an action plan will emerge. Sarah Miller said, she expects that to be in hand by the end of the year.