Starr Street: A model neighborhood
The Nov. 1 headline of The Day’s editorial, “Don’t Slam the Door on Starr Street Proposal,” is a far cry from the sentiment expressed in a full-page ad placed by The Day on Sept. 13, 1979, in a special section heralding the completed Starr Street project: “SOMEONE CARED.” Indeed, many did care about Starr Street. The people, past and present, living there continue to care — for the investment made by the Bank of New England and the City of New London in turning “dilapidated and on the verge of demolition” homes into a beautiful neighborhood where residents are required by deed covenants to sustain a quiet, clean, well-maintained street of owner-occupied homes, which pay ever-increasing taxes to the City of New London.
I understand that in the last decades, new restaurants and bars established in the Downtown Business District have played a major role in positioning the city as a cultural and entertainment center for the region. However, I believe the application for a Restaurant/Convention Center at 157 Green St. is an inappropriate, if permitted, use for that location — in a State Historic District abutting, within feet, a 200-year-old residential district, which has already survived many vicissitudes of New London’s changing urban landscape.
In 1976, Starr Street was considered one of the worst, if not the worst, slum in New London, riddled with blight, rodents, drugs, prostitution and decay.
In that year, The Savings Bank of New London proposed investing a significant amount of the bank’s assets in a complete renovation of the street and its homes. The City of New London, assisted by HUD grants, was brought into the project to provide redevelopment of the street’s infrastructure.
The goal and vision for the Starr Street project was to return a center city residential street to an attractive and desirable neighborhood of owner-occupied homes convenient to all the realized and yet-to-be realized amenities of downtown, which could also serve as a model for more of the same throughout New London.
This vision was codified by the developers who placed covenants in the property deeds: requiring buyers to owner occupancy for at least two years and to the upkeep of homes, both in historic “look” and in general maintenance — painting, landscaping and repair. The covenants also have requirements, restrictions and prohibitions regarding plantings, visible trash cans and trash, roof antennas, visible lights, signs, home-based businesses, and “objectional” audible noise, among other things.
Starr Street residents have lived by these covenants for over 40 years. They constrain our rights as property owners, as they protect us. Our street is still the model of a safe, clean, quiet, harmonious urban neighborhood. It is a desirable place to live downtown where homes are continually improved by owners, are increasing in value and in taxes paid to the City of New London, and where houses are sold within weeks, or days, of being put on sale — often before a listing is made public.
It seems abundantly clear that the Restaurant/Convention Center use change requested by Rod Cornish with three special exception permits, for expanded hours of operation to 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., a full liquor permit, and live amplified music and entertainment, would not meet, as the change of use zoning rules require, “Harmony with Development” and the “appropriate and orderly development of the district in which it is proposed to be situated.” The use change coupled with the special permit requests will undoubtedly “depreciate the value of property in the neighborhood” and will be “detrimental to the orderly development of adjacent properties” on historic Starr Street. Other foreseen issues include unavailable loading areas, no apparent space for trash receptacles, smokers, and the expected increase in foot, motorcycle and car traffic up, down and around the Starr Street residences day and night well into the early morning hours.
Starr Street residents have upheld and respected the vision of New London to create a neighborhood in downtown New London that is desirable to owners, attractive, clean, safe, quiet and a contribution to the tax base and to the quality of life in the inner city. The disruption sure to follow on this inappropriate proposal would be profound on our lives, our property values and the joy we all take in living in such a beautiful neighborhood and in welcoming respectful visitors and tourists walking, driving and enjoying the charm, cleanliness and safety of our street.
Deborah J. Donovan has been a Starr Street resident for 24 years.