June 22, 2006
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
A group charged with revitalizing the South Green area is fighting plans to build a new headquarters for the Institute for the Hispanic Family, saying the design would harm the neighborhood.
Allan Ambrose, the chairman of the South Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, sent a letter Tuesday to Mayor Eddie A. Perez and the city council asking them to withhold $355,000 in Community Development Block Grant Money that Perez wants to give to the institute to purchase land along Wadsworth and Cedar streets.
The institute wants to put up a $5.5 million, 21,000-square-foot building on the property and consolidate its programs under one roof.
But neighbors say the proposed design is too big, has large parking lots that are too visible from the street and would require the demolition of a historic house. The NRZ's strategic plan calls for more housing, to preserve historic buildings and to hide parking from the street, Ambrose said.
"We think that plunking a large institutional building down there will hurt the neighborhood," Ambrose said.
While he is not opposed to the idea having the institute in the neighborhood, Ambrose said the present design of the building is not acceptable. If his group's concerns are not addressed, Ambrose said, it will continue to fight the proposal.
The Institute for the Hispanic Family, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Catholic Charities, offers social services such as mental health treatment, day care and literacy classes to the city's Latino community. It has been in Hartford for more than 30 years and was awarded $2 million in 2005 from the state's bonding commission to build the new building.
Rose Alma Senatore, CEO of Catholic Charities, said she met with neighbors and agreed to "consider some of their concerns." Still, she said the project will help the neighborhood.
"It is better than not having anything, having empty buildings and empty lots," she said. "The chances of meeting their strategic plan is going to be pretty slim, so why not embrace something that we know is going to be good for the neighborhood?"
Romulo E. Samaniego, executive director of Broad Park Development, which owns the land, said Catholic Charities approached his firm three years ago. At the time, Samaniego said, Broad Park was working with the city to build about 30 townhouses and two family homes on the property.
But when Broad Park lost its funding for the housing project, it agreed to keep the plots for Catholic Charities, he said.
"This is going to have a big beneficial impact on that area," Samaniego said. "We've been holding the property all this time because of that."
The city is also in negotiations with Broad Park and Catholic Charities about forgiving a $117,000 lien on the property, Senatore and city officials said. The lien was placed on the land several years ago after a fire destroyed several buildings on the property and the city paid to clean it up.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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