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At a New Dutch Point, A Fresh Start

By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
October 19, 2005

Mounds of dirt and gravel rest in a muddy parcel intersecting Wyllys and Norwich streets - once the center of one of Hartford's most notorious neighborhoods.

If you were a social worker or police officer and wanted a primer on all that ailed the city, the Dutch Point public housing projects was an ideal classroom. Drug dealing, prostitution and shootouts could be seen or heard on any given day from the brick, concentration camp-style housing where 186 families resided.

What's often forgotten because of the gangbangers, crackheads, hookers and mischief-makers who got all the attention is that decent, law-abiding folks also lived at Dutch Point. Some were actually proud to call it home.

Angela Martinez, 71, attended a groundbreaking ceremony this week for the new $60 million Dutch Point Colony on the leveled property where the old projects stood.

Martinez, who is single and speaks little English, lived alone for 25 years in one of the federally funded units. Through an interpreter, Martinez said she cries now when she drives past the vacant land. "She liked it over here," said Sergio Melendez, 27, who also lived at the old Dutch Point.

"Stores were close, the hospital, everything," he said. "When she lived here, she would [rarely] open the door. And nobody bothered her. When she heard gunshots it would scare her a little bit. One time, the shots went in somebody's unit and killed somebody."

Martinez's home was only a few feet from where local community leaders and dignitaries stuck a shovel in the ground Monday to signify the beginning of construction on 198 new units, 50 of which will be set aside for home ownership. Federal, state, city and private dollars make up the investment.

One of the people Martinez was friendly with is William Fornier, a stooped, 78-year-old man with white hair who has become the de facto historian of Dutch Point. A neighborhood icon, Fornier recently participated in the Hartford Citizens Police Academy. Like Martinez, he also lived in Dutch Point for a quarter of a century and is very protective of his old haunts.

"I think the children went a little bit unchecked," Fornier says - in what is fair to call an understatement.

Melendez, who lived in the projects for 13 years with his mother, sister and three nieces and nephews said he wouldn't let the young ones play outside.

"It was frustrating," he said. "People are getting shot. People are fighting; people selling drugs. I don't want my kids seeing that. There was a lot of crime, a lot of problems. I don't want to see that in my neighborhood."

For a while it looked as if Dutch Point and all its problems would be left unchanged, even though hundreds of millions of dollars were being invested nearby in new development - including a convention center, hotel and a planned 92-unit condominium complex.

Former Hartford Housing Authority Executive Director John Wardlaw wasn't having it. He held off his retirement for years until papers could be signed on the razing of Dutch Point.

Now the challenge is to make sure the troublemakers from the old units don't infiltrate the new housing. A Dutch Point tenants group has helped set criteria for previous tenants who want to occupy the new housing, which should open next year. No recent criminal record is one of the requirements.

More than anyone else, the alums want to make sure that this time, Dutch Point will be a place where kids can play outside and parents won't have to hole themselves up inside.

"The residents have been really instrumental in wanting this to happen" said Kathleen Zura, coordinator of community and supportive services for the Housing Authority. "They've become a stakeholder. They don't want to go back to the same type of environment they were in. And they are being empowered to be able to change that."

An array of social services are being offered - including job training, financial literacy, child care, drug counseling and English classes - to get folks on their feet and productive.

The new Dutch Point is a new start for a city trying to make itself anew with a moniker - "Adriaen's Landing" - that honors a Dutch explorer.

Seems almost fitting.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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