Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Chair at Redevelopment

Tuesday night marked the first meeting of the Redevelopment Agency under new chairperson Shannon Brown. At the last meeting, Gerry Daley stepped down as chair after many years.

Tonight's meeting offered news of some progress for the North End Home Ownership project, and a split vote on a proposal for the Miller/Bridge Street neighborhood.

The meeting began with an update from Nehemiah Housing's Michael Taylor and Broad Park Development's David Berto. Their project to provide 17 home-ownership units in the Ferry/Green/Rapallo neighborhood has made slow progress over the past few years, but tonight we learned of a new funding source for the project. Michael and David were joined by Andrea Pereira from the Local Initiatives Support Corp. LISC was an early supporter of the project, with a loan to assist with acquisition and development. Now, as members of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) they have helped secure a $425,000 "forgivable loan" for the project. That means that after five years, the loan is forgiven and essentially becomes a grant.

Nehemiah is still on the waiting list for funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank's Affordable Housing Program, but may be eligible for funding as early as next month. The all-important appraisal of what these homes might sell for is expected by the end of March, which has the potential to unlock both a construction loan from Liberty Bank and millions in HOME funds from the state's Department of Economic Development. If all those pieces fall into place, assembling the approximately $7 million necessary for the project, then Nehemiah could begin abatement and demolition of the properties in question as soon as this May. If that timeline holds, the proposed homes would be sold and occupied by Thanksgiving 2010. For more background on the North End Home Ownership Project, the Planning department has all the drawings on its excellent webpage.

In other business, Redevelopment heard a proposal from Planning Director Bill Warner to purchase and demolish a blighted building on Bridge Street. The proposal generated much debate, including that from yours truly who would rather see Middletown work a little harder to find alternate uses for historic houses -- this one was built in 1865. The proposal did pass, with five commissioners in favor, four against, and two abstensions for unknown reasons. Now the proposal moves to the Common Council for their consideration and funding.

The discussion on Miller and Bridge street made it clear that Middletown is no closer to solving the terrible access problem for this neighborhood. The City cannot afford to purchase and demolish all the homes, nor can it afford to connect the neighborhood with a new road to North Main Street. A bill has been proposed to the state by our legislators for $3 million to solve this problem. The much less costly and much quicker option of negotiating the opening of the Portland Street railroad crossing is apparently off the table. And so the residents of Miller and Bridge are not likely to see changes any time soon, except perhaps the removal of one vacant, historic house.


Catherine Johnson said...

The house in question is not blighted. It was renovated 10 years ago and also looks fine on the exterior.

I also find the statement "the city cannot afford to connect the neighborhood" inaccurate. No solid proposal, with engineering drawings and construction estimates, has been looked at seriously to undertake the discussion.

David Bauer said...

Sorry I missed the meeting. You can still fight for saving the Bridge Street home on the Council floor - but Bill Warner is batting about 1000 in getting what he wants from the Council.

It seems like the $425,000 isn't enough to get the project started, but at least Mr. Taylor can afford to pick up the garbage and pay for an appraisal now.

Is anybody offering any commitment to getting this project going this year? Spending over $400,000 for units that should now sell for well below $150,000 each never seemed a great idea but are we sure that even that will work?

I talked to some of the residents on Green Street and they did not know about the verbal commitment from Buckeye/Corvo to build a playground at the bottom of Green & deKoven. Their sentiment was that they would like a playground appropriate for young children, not a basketball court. Kids that are old enough to play basketball can walk to the courts that already exist. This sounds like a smart idea to me.

The old playground was a safe place because of the line of sight from so many apartments and it presented a "family friendly" image of the neighborhood from the highway.