Forget high-rises. Think front porches, gardens, homeownership, and perhaps a swimming pool.
Westville Manor tenants offered that vision of a preserved community as they guided officials beginning the last phase of efforts to transform public housing in West Rock.
Those ideas bubbled up Tuesday night during the first public meeting to weigh in on the future redevelopment of the Westville Manor complex, which backs up against the Hamden town line.
The redevelopment of Westville Manor will be the long-awaited final piece of rebuilding that has already made old housing complexes new again in the West Rock neighborhood at Wilmot Crossing, Brookside, Rockview and Ribicoff Cottages.
About 20 Westville Manor residents gathered at 295 Wilmot Rd. to hear from architects and master planners Ken Boroson of Kenneth Boroson Architects and Murphy Antoine of Torti Gallas + Partners, who have been selected by the Glendower Group to design the project. The Glendower Group is the development arm of Elm City Communities (aka the Housing Authority of New Haven).
The public meeting was the first of a series of “charettes,” or intensive planning meetings, where residents help shape the vision for the future redevelopment. The first phase of construction is scheduled for 2021; the rebuilt development is expected to be fully occupied by the end of 2022.
Residents broke into two groups and got down to the business of casting a vision for several aspects of a new Westville Manor that included safety and security, a community center, community retail, recreation, and something for all ages.
That future for Montreal Johnson looks like a chance to own a home that would accommodate her five children and a nephew for whom she has partial guardianship. The retired Yale-New Haven Hospital nurse, who is in her second stint as a residential community president, currently shares a five-bedroom townhouse at Westville Manor with her children.
She has lived in the community during at least two different intervals of her life for a total of 13 years living in the Manor. She said she loves the neighborhood and knows that an apartment that spacious is hard to come by in New Haven. She’s worried about where the family will go during the move-out and building phases. Johnson said she wants to return to the redeveloped Westville Manor afterwards.
“I love it out here,” she said. “It’s so peaceful.”
But it also can be dark and sometimes a little dangerous, several residents said Tuesday. So people put practical requests on their wish lists: a police substation, more street lights, emergency call boxes, and camera surveillance. Plus speed bumps.
They also suggested added a community center, a computer lab, a safe playground, a space for Solar Youth and other youth programs to operate in the neighborhood all year long. A community-run store would be nice, too, they said.
Ann Taylor, who has lived in Westville Manor, for 15 years, said that her car had once been stolen from in front of her house. Her home has been broken into countless times over the years. But she said that never deterred her from continuing to stay in the community.
“I just figured anything they took the need more than I did,” she said. “People are people anywhere you go.”
She said her big dream for the neighborhood is to see it and everyone who lives there flourish.
Residents said they could do that in homes that keep true to the existing format of townhomes, but along with free-standing homes that they might be able to purchase, as rebuilding has included elsewhere in West Rock. They asked for front porches and room for their gardens so they can sit and enjoy the view. They suggested bigger kitchens and more cabinet space, a bathroom on both floors, and side-by-side washers and dryers. Screendoors and a horseshoe pit would be nice, too, they said.
Pearl “Mz. Pearl” McKee, acting as the representative for one group. reported that people want a place for young people in the community to share their talents as artists and gamers to help transform a complex sometimes dubbed “Lostville Manor.” They spoke of safe trails and other ways to put people in touch with the nature surrounding them.
“I like to take my granddaughter on nature walks but I usually take her outside the hood,” she said, drawing chuckles. “But I would like to do it in the hood.”
McKee said people would like backyards that can hold more than six people but not if it would in any way hold up the project.
“People in the Manor are really proud to be here,” McKee said.
The process of charting a design plan for Westville Manor continues Sept. 24-26 with a three-day planning session at 295 Wilmot.