NEW BRITAIN – This month, the city has stepped up its efforts to eliminate blight by tearing down four abandoned buildings with one more on its radar.
“It’s been a long time coming and it’s great for our city,” said Alderman Emmanuel Sanchez who approved of the work being done.
First to go was an old bathhouse at Washington Park. Then, an abandoned bakery on Lawlor Street was razed. Next were two buildings at 25 Gilbert St. and in the coming days, a three story home at 266 Fairview St. is set for demolition. All the properties were foreclosed on by the city except for Fairview, which the city purchased from the bank after negotiating a price. Cherry Hill Construction of North Branford was hired for demolition work.
The demolitions were made possible by federal funds from the Community Development Block Grant where $387,000 was allocated for the jobs. The city has also tightened up its laws recently by penalizing homeowners for blight and housing related violations.
For many New Britain residents, blighted properties are eyesores, bring down property values and pose hazards in their neighborhoods. In December 2017, more than 100 petitions to investigate blight complaints were made by council members, Eva Magnuszewski, Emmanuel Sanchez, and Iris Sanchez. Many of the properties petitioned noted deteriorating structures, unmaintained lawns, accumulation of trash, and vandalism such as broken windows and graffiti.
The buildings on the list of blighted properties were tax foreclosures or were abandoned after investors realized the property they invested in will not turn a profit, according to Kenneth Malinowski, acting director of the city’s Department of Community Development. Malinowski said the city addresses blight when they can afford to do so, adding New Britain doesn’t have an over abundance of dilapidated buildings.
“I think we are in par with other cities this size,” he said. “As long as I’ve been in the office – which has been over 20 years - we have been proactively chasing these buildings.”
Pablo Rodriguez, vice president of the North Oak Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, disagrees.
“So many properties were neglected and nothing was being done,” said Rodriguez, who said he’s worked hard over the years to get the city to address the problem of blight. “They demolished some blight recently, but there are more properties that are a nuisance,” he said pointing out blight on the corner of Oak and Lasalle streets and an old flower shop on the corner of Atlantic and Allen streets.
Rodriguez said the old bakery torn down on Lawlor Street was littered with garbage, abandoned mattresses, and dog feces. He was concerned that run-off from the property was contaminating the soil of a community garden adjacent to the property. He said the soil is currently being tested.
“You can’t tear a building down until you prove there are no hazardous materials,” said Malinowski, who said the department followed normal protocol for Lawlor Street. “Every precaution that can be taken is taken. There’s a process done so that nobody is in danger,” he added.
According to Malinowski, the property on Lawlor Street will be leveled and the land put on the market. The Washington Park bathhouse plot will be used to further develop the park and the Fairview Street site will be used for an economic development project.
“The city has a big part of it (demolishing blight), but the NRZ’s have been vital in getting this accomplished,” said Sanchez. “You have a lot of community groups that have been active participants in these efforts and have done amazing work.”
Rodriguez said he plans to keep working with the city to address blight, but he’s not seeing an end in sight. “There’s still a lot more work to be done.”
Charles Paullin contributed to this story.
Michelle France can be reached at 860-801-5087 or firstname.lastname@example.org.