West Haven Mayor Warns Developer of The Haven About Scourge Enforcement, But Some Question Effectiveness

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WEST HAVEN — It’s been years and Maryann Starkes is tired of waiting.

Starkes has a view of First Avenue from her window on Main Street and she’s not happy about it.

“I look out my office window every day at the burn and I’m furious,” she said.

About six years ago, the city initiated eminent domain proceedings to begin progress on an economic development project: an upscale shopping center called The Haven. Since then, there has been little visible progress, as houses boarded up with rotting wood languish behind a chain-link fence.

At the start of the project, The Haven Group, the developers behind The Haven, said they would meet regularly with the city council to provide status updates. The developer has not met with council in years, although representatives have had semi-regular communication with city hall officials.

As of this month, however, city officials said they had not heard from The Haven Development Co. in three months.

Adding to city residents’ frustration, the city temporarily closed Water Street to allow for demolition. The street has been closed for two years now but the buildings are still standing. According to the city, the developer failed to submit plans for what was promised as a $200 million 261,182 square foot waterfront development.

Mayor Nancy Rossi recently announced that the city would consider imposing fines on the developer, offering 15 days to respond.

“We need a timetable. We need to know what’s going on,” Rossi said. “It’s been fenced and closed and it’s not fair to our residents for traffic or the appearance of certain properties.”

Representatives for The Haven Development Co. did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rossi said that in addition to a communication breakdown, the city’s reflection on Water Street is also driven by warmer weather and traffic needs in the city’s shoreline area.

“It’s summer. People are outside and they want it to be pretty,” she said.

Starkes said she’s heard it before, with about four years of missed deadlines and slow progress in the field.

“It’s a long-standing issue, so I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said.

The whole area is “one huge piece of blight,” Starkes said.

Resident Nathan Wrann said in an emailed statement that he thinks the city ‘has set a precedent for not fining the burn’ over the years, so he thinks it might ring hollow now. . Wrann said he doesn’t know how the blight can be defined – whether it’s tall grass and garbage or horrible houses kept behind a fence.

“There are too many questions to answer. Should something be done about this? Absolutely. But it seems to me that a scourge fine after years of nothing might be too little, too late,” Wrann said.

Residents have also questioned in the past why the city hasn’t sought to find developers for the burn in other parts of town, including the vacant storefront across from City Hall that was once Silver’s. Drugshop. The windows are covered in plastic and cardboard and the out-of-state landlord’s promises of a new supermarket tenant have not materialized for months.

“We’re going to be fair across the board” in enforcing the burn ordinance, Rossi said. “You can’t choose a domain.”

However, the city’s anti-burn ordinance defines the burn, but relies on city officials to issue enforcement judgments that could potentially set the city up for court battles with developers.

West Haven Corporation attorney Lee Tiernan declined to comment, saying it would not be “appropriate” for a city attorney to comment on potential legal strategies.

“The burn is going to be applied all over the city,” Rossi said.

However, the mayor was questioned on this assertion. Former Republican City Committee Chairman Paul Frosolone said the former Savin Rock Conference Center, which is being developed as the future location of a bar and beer hall along Rock Street, offered disparate solutions for the degraded parts of its structure.

“The city can’t even maintain its own personal property that we own,” he said.

Rossi told residents at a meeting at City Hall earlier this month that the city collects property tax revenue from developer The Haven to keep homes intact, thus putting pressure on the developer for him to demolish the houses without a plan to move forward would only deprive the city of some revenue.

Former councilman Aaron Charney said that after checking the records he believes the revenue collected is “not that significant” and comes at the expense of neighbors’ enjoyment of the area. Closing Water Street was “the last carrot” the city had, which it gave away, he said.

City Council Speaker Peter Massaro, D-6, said because there has been “no movement” he supports reopening that street.

“This project has been going on for twelve years,” he said. “(When) should we see something there?”

For a time, progress on The Haven was stalled by the state-level legislative process. The developers, hoping to secure a lower borrowing rate, applied for designation as a special tax district. After the General Assembly approved this designation a year ago, State Representative Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, said she would not support the developer asking for anything more from the State without seeing the progress of the project.

“A full year after the mayor and council directed our state delegation to pass the special tax district, there has been no visible action which continues to be a red flag for this project,” a- she said in an emailed statement. “We should no longer hand over to (developer)… more funds. The only thing we should give them is a stack of scourge tickets.

Borer, chair of the House Liaison General Subcommittee, said she thinks the lack of a director of economic development in the city has also been to the detriment of the city. Tiernan led much of the city’s efforts to move The Haven forward, which Borer says is outside the scope of what a city attorney can and should do.

“We need someone who has experience managing economic projects, who has contacts, who knows the tactics and who has a vision of economic stability for our taxpayers,” she said. .

brian.zahn@hearstmediact.com


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