The final community listening session for the Planning & Zoning Commission will be Tuesday evening at Rawson School. So far, there have been sessions at the Pope Park Rec Center, United Methodist Church, and Metzner Rec Center. Each session has focused on proposed land use for nearby neighborhoods.
The discussion from last Thursday night centered on Frog Hollow, South Green, Behind the Rocks, and Downtown. Implementing traffic calming measures and increasing pedestrian friendliness were common themes. In recent months, the public was able to give input regarding the overall direction of the city, whereas the neighborhood-level plans have come out of recommendations developed by Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZs), Hartford Areas Rallying Together (HART), The Coalition to Strengthen the Sheldon/Charter Oak Neighborhood (CSS/CON), South Hartford Alliance, and the South Meadows Problem Solving Committee. The latter four organizations advised in areas where there were no existing or active NRZs. The thirteen NRZs in the city are: Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association, Parkville NRZ, South Green NRZ, Sheldon/Charter Oak NRZ, Maple Avenue Revitalization Group (MARG), Northeast Revitalization Association, Southend Neighborhood Revitalization Association, Upper Albany Revitalization Group, West End Civic Association, Clay Arsenal Revitalization Association, Blue Hills NRZ, South Downtown NRZ, and Frog Hollow NRZ. Again, while these NRZs are all on the books, they are not all active in the same capacity. The Frog Hollow NRZ, for example, deals with some issues for sections of bordering neighborhoods like South Green; South Downtown NRZ represents a section of downtown, rather than all of the downtown neighborhood (SoDo is not actually an autonomous, distinct neighborhood). This detail creates confusion at meetings where speakers forget that there may be residents in the mix who are not insiders familiar with all of the jargon. Terms thrown around like CSS/CON (pronounced Sis Con) can boggle the mind when they are not explained in the first place. At the meeting in the Pope Park Rec Center, some in attendance were rightfully confused when NRZs and neighborhoods were discussed, as at one point, it sounded as if Frog Hollow had literally annexed parts of Frog Hollow and Barry Square.
On Thursday evening, community members showed concern about quality of life issues, land access, and the birds that commune in certain sections of the city. Someone sitting nearby passed me a note about his proposed bird control plan: “Pilot Bird Population Control Program: Snap-Grackle-Pop! Urban hunting FTW.” I suggested he email the thought to email@example.com where someone will be compiling residents’ thoughts on this whole planning process.
A few residents inquired about the land behind and around the Charter Oak Marketplace; Mayor Perez was present to respond about the nature of this property. The area nearby has been used as an illegal dumping site, problematic on its own, but amplified by the particular location of the dumping — alongside (and in) the Park River.
Some residents suggested a visitor center in Barnard Park and historic markers be added to sites in South Green.
The discussion of “South Downtown” seemed disproportionate, given the size of the area and number of residents. One audience member who works downtown, had a lot to say about the ubiquitous parking lots. There was some discussion over what to do about this; David Panagore, Hartford’s Chief Operating Officer, attempted to explain the section of the iQuilt proposal that would allow for a mixed use parking lot near the Bushnell.
Another resident requested that a movie theater or roller rink be considered for downtown. She threw the suggestions out just as ideas for family-oriented development. The lack of family-downtown-planning was evident, as her ideas or similar ones were not on the official list. This oversight became even more obvious during the discussion of the plan to add 4500 new housing units (over ten years) to downtown. This segment of discussion was filled with head-spinning catchphrases, like “workforce units” to describe what would generally be called “affordable housing” in “Downtown North.” For those who need it spelled out for them, Downtown North is the segment of downtown that is North of the highway. As always, issues of class, in a city with enormous class divisions, get swept aside. When asked, essentially, “What the heck are you thinking? Existing housing downtown is not filled or affordable” nobody wanted to meet the issue head-on. Panagore admitted the the market was “soft” right now, which was a nod, but could have more directly answered that with people leaving, rather than moving, downtown, the market sucks. It’s okay to just say it sometimes. Which goes back to the lack of family-oriented-for-residents-of-downtown. There is Bushnell Park, and though the two places that I know of where families seem more welcome — The Hollander and ArtSpace — are very close, this also requires children to cross either the I-84 on/off ramp or to get across Asylum Street. Having wheeled a child in a stroller through this area in the past, I can affirm that this feels a lot like playing Frogger. And motorists, as a whole, are not nicer to pedestrians with strollers. So, if we are going to talk about housing at all, we need to acknowledge that those filling the units may not all have the same needs. Grocery stores are important, on a weekly or biweekly basis, but other matters, like safely getting one’s young children across the street, are more of a daily concern, and seemed wholly ignored in the talk.
Speaking of grocery stores, this discussion happened, as it constantly does these days. Nobody in the room seemed aware that The Hollander is pursuing this option quite actively, or that there was a recent meeting for that building’s residents on the topic. City planning types need to get themselves Twitter accounts and follow the right people; I have yet to step foot in that building, but I know more about it than I should for someone who does not live in downtown nor has any interest of doing so.
What else are downtown residents complaining about? Apparently the Pearl Street fire station is too noisy. When I hear sirens, I am reminded that someone is potentially in a life-threatening situation and that help is being sent. You will never hear me complain about noise produced by ambulance, firetruck, or police sirens.
Here are highlights from the proposed land use as broken down for each neighborhood. This information came from the POCD website and from the listening session, basically word-for-word. Parts in italics are my own commentary:
•traffic calming to Capitol Avenue, Babcock, Lawrence, Putnam, Putnam Heights, and Mortson. Two of those streets feature elementary schools, as well as speed limits that are not remotely obeyed. It is rare to see a vehicle drive slower than 40mph on those streets. Often, vehicles drive the wrong way down other streets marked one-way.
•though not named in the One City, One Plan draft, the accompanying map for Neighborhood Plan Improvements shows street closure plans in the Russ Street - Park Terrace intersection.
•streetscape and traffic circulation improvements — sidewalk repairs, lighting improvements, addition of trash receptacles, and planting of trees in traffic island.
•promotion of homeownership, publicization & utilization of Housing Preservation Loan Fund & the Facade Improvement Program, utilization of the Anti-Blight Ordinance to gain control of vacant buildings & market them to new owners, demolition of structurally unsound buildings, and encouragement of owners to rehabilitate their buildings.
•creation of a Merchants Association This item received some criticism. One person in the audience posed a rhetorical question — Don’t we already have the Spanish American Merchants Association? The point is somewhat valid; however, not every merchant or potential business owner in Frog Hollow is Hispanic. It was noted that this Merchants Association would be for those along Capitol Avenue.
•establishment of a new Community Center. It was unclear where this planned community center would go.
•deeding of undersized lots to adjacent properties. What this could mean is that vacant lots that are sitting as nuisances could be divided up among the neighboring properties. I could conceivably have a bit more backyard.
•enforcing of the Historic Preservation Ordinance
•rezoning the stretch of Capitol Avenue between Babcock and Lawrence
•street and streetscape improvements in multiple locations including New Park Ave, Park Street, Pope Park Highway, and extending Bartholomew Avenue. Right now Bartholomew deadends at Olive Street, where illegal dumping is bountiful. This area is technically in Behind the Rocks but falls within the Parkville NRZ. The other end of the street, with Barca, The Design Center, apartments, and yoga studio, is quite alive. One day, while out with a friend and our cameras, we witnessed several cars, in broad daylight, drive back from the “intersection” of Bartholomew and Olive. When we stood at the illegal dumping site with our cameras visible, a few cars that came to the end paused for a minute and then decided to turn around. If all it takes to stop the daytime dumping is to have a small presence, then area businesses would do well to support such a measure.
•creation of Bartholomew Business Park and a BID (business improvement district) would address some of the aforementioned concerns. The downtown BID deals with litter, graffiti, and the like, giving the false impression that other areas of the city are innately dirtier than downtown. They aren’t. They just don’t have a reliable cleanup crew.
•improvements at Pope Park West and Day Park.
•creation of an Historic District
•implementation of the Parkville Municipal Development Plan, which was adopted by the City in 2009.
1.expansion of public/private parking
2.support existing businesses
3.acquire specific parcels at Southern end of Bartholomew (near Olive, Rose, and Belmont Streets) which are currently blighted properties
4.and/or encourage private revitalization and rehabilitation of these properties
5.visually unify Bartholomew Ave corridor (no chain link fences, etc.)
6.convey safe & secure environment
7.attract more private investment
8.provide aesthetically appealing and environmentally sustainable infrastructure to support new businesses
•complete the Farmington Avenue streetscape to Prospect. The plan says Prospect Street, but I think they mean Prospect Avenue, since Farmington never intersects with the former.
•improvements to Elizabeth Park and recreation fields; preservation, enhancement, and protection of quality of Elizabeth Park.
•develop more effective use behind Sisson Avenue firehouse and/or relocate the uses. There is an unrecognized park behind the firehouse which has received some attention in the past few months as locals seek to have it established. The entrance to the park is somewhat hidden.
•development of a dog park
•create design guidelines for West End Commercial Districts; establish a new building line on Farmington Ave; establish a new parking strategy in conjunction with a new Farmington Ave design district; develop revised zoning regulations to prohibit the use of large residential structures to institutional use
•encourage conversion of institutional uses on residential streets to private residential uses
•support North Branch of Park River Watershed Management Plan and North Branch of Park River Greenway
•Preserve and protect the historic character of the West End; improve and enforce residential parking, building, and zoning standards; limit upward conversions; allow Accessory Dwelling Units north of Farmington Avenue
•construct new rec center at Tower and Lebanon Streets. Lebanon Street runs parallel to Blue Hills Ave and Coventry Street.
•traffic calming at Rawson and Achievement First, Cornwall and Holcomb, and on Ridgefield Avenue. Can we just plan to calm traffic around all city schools? There are few, if any, that I can recall feeling like the streets were safe enough for children to be crossing, with or without crossing guards. I would like to see more visible crosswalks and school zone markings, as well as speed bumps and other physical traffic calming measures around a number of schools. If we want our children to grow up respecting themselves and others, it could not hurt to send the message early that we give a damn about them.
•improvements to crosswalks on Lyme
•redevelopment of parcels at Cornwall and Granby, and Garfield and Granby
•strategy for dealing with maintenance and traffic issues regarding churches
•creation of a tree ordinance
•redevelopment of Westbrook Village and Bowles Park public housing both of which border railroad tracks
•extension of the Main Street streetscape
•rezoning along Main Street
•renovation of bus depot site at Terry Square along with redevelopment of Terry Square. Terry Square is where Windsor and Main Streets meet
•redevelopment of Barbour Street and the Nelton Court public housing
•resolve issues between entertainment and residential districts. Residents have posed numerous complaints about out of control noise and parking that is created by area nightclubs.
•long-term use of the music center
•adaptive reuse of the police station and landfill
•development of north meadows area
•protection of dikes
•implementation of Town Center Redevelopment Plan at intersection of Albany and Woodland
•construction of Albany Avenue Library; renovation of old North West School (to be used as John E. Rogers African American museum); build new facility for Martin Luther King School and reuse existing facility for housing. The MLK School was recently reported as be slated to close.
•completion of redevelopment planning and implementation for Homestead Avenue and Sigourney-Homestead.
•completion of Route 44 Streetscape project. This subject has come up repeatedly in conversation, as progress with it seems to be happening at indiscernible levels.
•human development. One can only guess from afar what this jargon refers to. After my guess resulted in a brainstorm of thoughts going back to a scary natural birth video shown in health class during high school, I consulted Wikipedia, something I never do, which should demonstrate how fully scarred that video left me. Instead of encouraging growth of fetuses in Clay Arsenal, I imagine human development must be related to the other definition provided. Wikipedia says:
It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accordance with their needs and interests, thus bringing the focus back onto people. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is thus about expanding the choices people have, to lead lives that they value and improving the human condition so that people will get the chance to lead full lives. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which is only a means —if a very important one —of enlarging people’s choices.
Fundamental to enlarging these choices is building human capabilities —the range of things that people can do or be in life. Human development disperses the concentration of the distribution of goods and services that underprivileged people need and center its ideas on human decisions..By investing in people, we enable growth and empower people thus developing human capabilities. The most basic capabilities for human development are to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources and social services, needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community. Without these, many choices are simply not available, and many opportunities in life remain inaccessible.
Preach on! But having a goal like “human development” does not in itself say a whole lot about what kind of legwork this will take. In the actual Clay Arsenal plan of action, I’m certain this is more detailed, but as delivered in the One City, One Plan presentation, the lack of tangible planning does not inspire much confidence that anything will change.
•commercial development through enhancing the appearance and vitality of Main Street and Albany Avenue. This point, while not as concrete as “install new signs and plant tulips,” gives a better sense as to what people plan to do.
•residential area development through increasing homeownership rates and improving the appearance and livability of streets and homes
•historic preservation by preserving salvageable buildings and conforming to neighborhood design guidelines There are a number of butt ugly buildings in Hartford, many of which are not mangled piles of blight. They are just designed horribly. The church on the corner of Sigourney and Albany is one example. The building that houses a church near the UHaul on Capitol Avenue is another. What is heartening is hearing planners and regular nonplanners both insisting that we not continue to repeat the sins of our development ancestors by permitting construction free-for-alls. When considering major purchases like homes, cars, or suits, I think our decisions ought to be informed by selecting style over fashion. Chanel is classic for a reason. When people want to build in Hartford, they should have to prove that their structure’s design will be classic, as opposed to vomit-inducing.
•safe [buzzword alert] multimodal access to downtown
•improved streetscape, mixed uses, and neighborhood-friendly businesses on Farmington Avenue
•expanded housing options
•improvements to West Middle Elementary School
•new New Britain-Hartford Busway station This is proposed for the block between Capitol, Hawthorn, Laurel, and Sigourney.
•expansion of St. Francis Hospital and creation of a new library
•incentives for rehabilitating properties
•evaluation of traffic plans
•addressing quality of life issues
•limitation of restrictive housing
•creation of economic incentives for historic preservation
•rezoning portions of neighborhood to encourage lower-density owner-occupied homes.
•limitation of upward conversion
Downtown [in this section I am including North Downtown, South Downtown, Middle Earth, and any other bizarro version created for the area designated as Downtown]
•protect historic nature of the area
•encourage the conversion of surface parking lots to mixed use development
•increase number of housing units
•foster a sense of community
•facilitate creation of 24/7 activity
•implement Capitol Ave Streetscape between Washington and Main (i.e. continue the Capitol Avenue Streetscape beyond Frog Hollow)
•eliminate most one-way streets
•develop a comprehensive parking strategy
•implement a commuter rail and bus service
•improve the intersection of Jefferson, Main, Retreat, Maple, and Wyllys, which I believe someone in the audience described as having been designed by a person in the throes of DTs.
•improve Barnard Park
•reduce number of homeless shelters in area
Sheldon-Charter Oak [the following is from the CSS/CON strategic plan created in 2007 and adopted in early 2008. As you can see, a number of these goals have already been met]
•restore Colt factory
•construct Sports & Medical Sciences Academy High School
•renovate Kinsella as an arts magnet school
•support more use of Dillon Stadium
•support a National Historic Park This has been shot down, but it seems that people behind this are as diehard as Whalers fans, so I would not expect this issue to go away any time soon.
•support high-density economic development projects in specific locations
•improve entrance to the CT River & Riverfront Recapture Park Right now, to get onto the trail, you have to know someone who knows somebody who’ll give you the treasure map that will lead you to the entrance. I found it on my own because I am known to wander aimlessly; there are no signs indicating the entrance.
•construct Streetscape around Colt complex
•reconnect Stonington to Maseek and Hendricksen
•extend Star Shuttle service This is an excellent idea! Right now, the Star Shuttle loop is so small that it feels shameful to hop on the bus.
•turn rail line into asset
•develop a botanical garden in/near Colt Park
•encourage residential rehabilitation
•support new construction that respects existing historic buildings
•rezone south side of Wawarme Avenue
•implement park vision plan
•assign traffic calming resources to Wawarme Ave
•redevelopment of Dutch Point
•redevelop vacant properties
•renovate Capewell factory into condominiums
•construct a boutique hotel on Capewell
•preserve Charter Oak Place
•resdesign Main Street
•redesign Monument Park
•traffic calming on Wyllys and Charter Oak Avenue
•improve Groton Street sidewalks
Props to CSS/CON for being thorough.
•improve traffic conditions on Airport Road
•conduct study on reuse of Brainard Airport
•eliminate incompatible uses such as adult entertainment, and environmentally sensitive uses This is interesting because nothing was stated about the elimination of adult entertainment in the North Meadows, which is a similar type of area.
South End [The South End, a rather sizeable area, is apparently near-perfect. They only have two items listed in the plan]
•Wethersfield Avenue Streetscape Plan
•Redevelopment of 990 & 1000 Wethersfield Avenue These sites are located deep in the South End, spitting distance from the town of Wethersfield.
•complete the Maple Avenue Streetscape
•foster new small businesses along Maple and New Britain Avenues
•work with City to redevelop Mega Foods site and Maple/Benton/Webster triangle
•preserve the housing stock and encourage reinvestment. This neighborhood is primarily single and two-family homes.
•maintain neighborhood business corridor on New Britain Avenue
Behind the Rocks
•re-use Housing Authority land that is located behind Wal-Mart
•study impact of extension of Bartholomew Avenue. This street currently begins in Parkville; the section that is blighted is in Behind the Rocks. If extended, it would transcend I-84 and run parallel to New Park Avenue.
•develop trails along Park River
•institute traffic calming
•enforce Anti-Blight Ordinance around Zion Street and Noise Ordinance throughout
•encourage better property maintenance
•participate in Safe Routes to School program
So, if you are a Hartford resident and you have ideas about how the next ten years should go, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org . Don’t be another one of those people who take no action and reserve all of their complaining for after the fact.
Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford.
To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.