Norwich renews focus on cleaning up neighborhoods

Lucy Sullivan, who owns a home nearby, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, points to mail that was slipped through the doors of the vacant Adam’s restaurant supply building along Route 12 in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New Norwich Housing and Blight Code Enforcement Officer James Harriott takes a photo of an overgrown brush on a pavement Thursday July 21, 2022, during an inspection along 9th Street in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New Norwich Housing and Bane Code Enforcement Officer James Harriott and Building Manager Dan Coley examine problems in a basement Thursday July 21, 2022, during an inspection in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Neighbors Lucy Sullivan, left, and Cyndia Shook talk about the burn issues on Wednesday July 20, 2022, along Route 12 in the Greenville area of ​​Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

The old Starrwood Food Market Square lies empty on Thursday July 21, 2022, along Route 12 in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Building Manager Dan Coley examines structural issues at the vacant Adam’s Restaurant Supply Building on Wednesday July 20, 2022, along Route 12 in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Norwich – When Cyndia Shook and Lucy Sullivan bought a house 15 years ago on Lois Street, they loved the proximity to shops and restaurants.

They could walk to the Tim Hortons donut store. Longtime local business owners operated Adams Restaurant Equipment a block away, and Starrwood Grocery was a short drive from their home.

“Now it’s all gone,” Shook said.

The entrance to Lois Street, a residential road that ends at the Shetucket River, is now flanked by vacant buildings on Route 12-Boswell Avenue. To the left is the vacant former Tim Hortons, which briefly housed a chicken barbecue – Shook said she last bought chicken there after the Red Sox won the 2018 World Series – and the former Wonder Bar and banquet hall next door.

“It’s the lightest of plagues,” Shook said on Wednesday, showing the conditions to Norwich planning director Deanna Rhodes and building official Dan Coley.

The “last straw” that prompted Shook to complain to city officials came when the siding and soffit, or materials under the edges of a roof, of the now vacant former Adams Building at 727 Boswell Ave. . crashed into the sidewalk to the right of the Lois Street intersection. Debris remains on the sidewalk, with another piece hanging from the building, two weeks later.

The women use the sidewalk to walk around St. Mary’s Cemetery just past the building. Norwich Public Works placed trestles where the debris was but did not clean up the damage, Shook complained.

With the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity building 10 new homes on Margerie Street off Lois, the blight on Boswell Avenue projects a bad image for new homeowners, the two women said.

The former Adams Building is owned by Zhou Huijing, who lists his address in the building at 727 Boswell Ave., which has no housing units. Postal carriers deliver mail through a narrow gap in the front glass doors. The mail had been piling up on the ground for weeks, Shook said, but someone recently retrieved it and placed it, unopened, including Norwich utility bills, in a small black bucket inside Door. The new mail piles up on the floor again.

Coley said he sent notices of violation to Huijing at Boswell’s address and left a voicemail message at a New York City phone number. If the owner doesn’t respond, the city will clean up the debris and place a lien on the property for the cost, Coley said.

Backlog of burn complaints

Debris on Boswell Avenue is a new problem, but understaffing at the Norwich Planning and Neighborhood Services department has led to a backlog of burn complaints across the city. The city’s law enforcement officer position had been vacant since April and many enforcement actions expired, Rhodes said.

The backlog will be turned over to James Harriott, the city’s new blight and housing code enforcement officer who began Monday. Harriott will start with the former Adams building complaint. He has found a real estate company with a connection to the property and will try to contact the owner through the agency.

Harriott, 37, from New Haven came to Norwich after working six years in property management for the New Haven Housing Authority and three years for New Haven in transport. He graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in urban and community studies.

Harriott said he’s been a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for 15 years, “building homes from the ground up.” He also tackles the blight in his hometown of New Haven, using his pickup truck in his spare time to pick up trash and mow overgrown grounds.

“I’ve always had an interest in quality of life issues,” Harriott said. “I wanted to improve things back home in New Haven, something I haven’t had the opportunity to do. As soon as I saw this opportunity, I jumped on it. »

Rhodes said Harriott’s commitment to improving neighborhoods made Harriott a good choice for Norwich. Harriott will contact community groups, such as the Greeneville Neighborhood Revitalization Area Committee and neighborhood watch groups, to discuss concerns and form partnerships to clean up problem areas.

“He really cares about how the aesthetics of a neighborhood affect the quality of life,” Rhodes said. “During the interview, it really came across to us, the interview panel. They take pride in neighborhoods, their own neighborhood and their community.

Rhodes said Harriott can use her volunteer experience to help neighborhood groups organize cleanups and burn prevention efforts.

Shook and Sullivan offered to help clean up the Boswell Avenue-Lois Street area. In the past, the city’s public works department provided bags for cleanup and picked up trash afterwards.

Rhodes said residents must actively work to improve neighborhoods. Norwich recently purchased an online program called Open Gov which will allow residents to enter an address to track burn complaints or submit new complaints. The website, norwichct.viewpointcloud.comis also used for building permit applications.

Harriott can be contacted directly at (860) 823-3763 or by email at [email protected].

Financing for businesses and owners

The former Wonder Bar at 701 Boswell Ave. may soon have new prospects, thanks to the city’s American Rescue Plan Act grant. The city awarded $3.5 million of the grant to the Norwich Community Development Corp. to stimulate economic development.

Dante Salcedo, owner of Elite Auto Broker next to Wonder Bar, recently purchased the old bar. The NCDC awarded Salcedo a $10,000 grant to assess the building’s structure and needs.

Salcedo said Thursday he doesn’t have a plan yet but hopes to bring new business to the spot. He said he had struggled to maintain his motto at Elite Auto of having affordable used cars “under $3,000”. With the supply chain issues plaguing the auto industry, he’s looking for a new business.

“It could be a few ideas,” Salcedo said. “It could be a ballroom, an office for photography or insurance or for a mobile locksmith or a DMV registration center. These are just ideas now.

Salcedo welcomed the study grant from NCDC and hopes for additional funding from ARPA once he develops a plan for the building.

NCDC chairman Kevin Brown said other vacant commercial buildings on Boswell Avenue, and any commercial building across the city, could benefit from money from the Norwich revitalization scheme if landlords apply for funds with plans specific. The NCDC recently announced eight development grants totaling $1 million for projects with a private investment value of more than $4.2 million.

Brown said he was working on the potential redevelopment of the vacant plaza that had housed the Starrwood Food Market, a bank, a Subway sandwich shop and other small businesses. He said it was too early to discuss details.

The city also has aid for run-down housing, Rhodes said. Homeowners should contact the city’s Community Development Office, (860) 823-3770, for more information on lead paint reduction grants and interest-free property rehabilitation loans. Programs are available to households with qualifying incomes. Rental property eligibility is based on the income level of tenants.

Wayne Sharkey, manager and rehab manager, said 80 per cent of housing in Norwich was built before 1978, meaning it is likely to contain lead paint. The city received a $2.9 million federal grant for lead reduction and allocated $225,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to rehabilitate the properties.

Rehabilitation projects that address structural needs and safety issues can often be combined with lead reduction for greater savings for homeowners, he said.

The city approves about 20 to 30 properties a year for the programs, Sharkey said, but many people aren’t aware of the help available.

Rhodes said residents who see dilapidated homes in their neighborhood should speak to landlords to encourage them to apply for the programs.

“The stakeholders need to be the people who live in those neighborhoods,” Rhodes said. “A single scourge officer for the city won’t be able to control everything. If we have partnerships with the community and neighborhood stakeholders, then I think James (Harriott) can really be successful, and the city can be successful in cleaning up neighborhoods.

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