Livable & Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative: Last Segment
By Kerri Provost
June 29, 2011
Blight extends beyond a few notable buildings in or just outside of Downtown; when such conditions exist unchecked, the problem eventually becomes one that can be corrected by nothing other than demolition.
The Neighborhood Conditions Report divides blighted properties into three categories: those the City has taken action on (fines, foreclosure, demolition), those the City is working with owners to clean up, donate property, renovate, etc., and those that are being monitored.
Under the LSNI, the City has identified targeted blighted properties within demonstration areas. According to the assessor database, nearly all of these blighted properties are owned by those who do not reside on these properties; some live elsewhere in Hartford, others live in the suburbs, and others do not even live in Connecticut.
Very few of these problem properties are occupied by the actual owners. Some fell into disrepair due to devastating events like fire. Others have histories that are unclear to the casual observer.
Some of the targeted blighted properties include: 40-42 Webster St., 387 Capitol Avenue (this building was condemned last year), 142 Park Terrace, 3 Putnam Heights, 45 Bartholomew, 169 Bartholomew, 156-158 Bartholomew (pictured right), 1556 Park St., 9-11 Orange, 439 Hillside, 23 Burnham, 202 Burnham, 50 Durham, 262 Palm, 181 Collins, 207 Garden, and 47 May. Also on the list are 156, 199, 241, and 314 Sargeant. Some blighted properties in the West End include 217 Beacon, 34 Girard, 143-147 Whitney, and 171 South Whitney.
Between this list and those in the Neighborhood Conditions Report, a record exists of properties being considered blighted; with this documentation, it should be possible to act more quickly than the City has done in the past.
Public Response and Audience Interaction
In a half dozen conversations, I asked residents — those who have attended at least one meeting — for their understanding of the initiative. Across the board, the response was either confusion or irritation. Each individual is someone I consider to be informed and intelligent; how might those with lower levels of civic involvement understand what those in the know don’t?
The dozens of civic meetings that occur during the year give residents access to City officials in a way that does not require knowing to whom concerned emails should be addressed; finding phone numbers or time to schedule an individual meeting can block some from voicing ideas or gripes. At public hearings and other meetings, the resident input might stray off topic from the program, or into areas that those present have no direct ability to address.
The comments and questions at the central district meeting stayed relevant, but not all were met with satisfying answers. A few residents asked about the absence of speed bumps in this plan; a few streets in the Lawrence-Ward Demonstration Area were given temporary speed bumps years ago. They were removed. When Putnam Street was recently repaved, no speed bumps were installed. A few residents wondered why the West End gets traffic calming measures, while other areas, which have demonstrated to residents that there is clear need, get passed over for these types of improvements. Roger O’Brien, Director of Planning, said people with such complaints could write a letter or call 311.
Residents have been doing those things: making phone calls, writing letters, calling 311, entering issues into the SeeClickFix site.
Later, a resident said that the City trash cans (not ones issued to homeowners, but the ones on sidewalks) installed on a few streets had been removed due to damage, but were never replaced. Again, same response. Call 311.
Telling the most involved residents — the ones who know enough to come to a meeting that received little advertisement — to call 311 feels dismissive, particularly when the Director of Public Works is sitting in the same room and can be noting the same issues that his department has possibly been made aware of through the 311 service.
During the segment on blight, the audience was informed that a chronical problem property on Capitol Avenue was being targeted as one that needs to be dealt with; after learning that replacing the metal grilles was a priority item, a divide between officials’ and residents’ observations became obvious. It was noted that there was a separate item for the residential part of the building, but this seemed like a slap on the wrist for a property that has shown no signs of improvement. Last year, this building was condemned and residents were forced out. In a matter of days, the residents were back inside. Given the neglect inside of at least one of this property’s storefront spaces, it’s hard to believe that the codes being violated upstairs could have been fixed so rapidly.
During this past winter, this same property owner failed to clear snow (or enlist someone else to do so) in a timely manner, by which I mean, at all. Despite numerous complaints and despite building tenants losing mail delivery service because postal workers would not, understandably, risk falling on the untreated ice and unshoveled snow, nothing was apparently done. The snow was removed when nature melted it. Any business owner on that block of Capitol Avenue, anyone who frequents those restaurants and other businesses, can make observations about how this building changes the character of the street. After all this, the best we can do is seek to change the one functional (albeit, ugly) thing about the building?
Chief Operating Office David Panagore encouraged resident input several times at the central district meeting and attempted to answer questions straight on, but not all of the City employees present showed the same interest. Can residents be blamed for feeling cynical when at a meeting that was largely about being accountable, some appeared to not want that responsibility?
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/.