Business owners address downtown blight in New London

City Center District temporary employees Caleb Russell, top, and William Jackson-Corbitt work to hang new flower baskets from light poles along Bank Street in New London Tuesday, June 9, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
City Center District temporary employees Caleb Russell, top, and William Jackson-Corbitt work to hang new flower baskets from light poles along Bank Street in New London Tuesday, June 9, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — It has been closed for more than a year, but people still are dumping mattresses, clothes and various other items behind the former Salvation Army thrift shop on Bank Street.

Mold is overtaking the front entrance to one of the buildings at 244-258 Bank St. There are unpainted, boarded up and open windows at the long-vacant building at 130 Bank St. There is peeling paint out front and a constant alarm going off inside the former State Street Saloon at 158 State St.

The blemishes on the buildings in the city’s downtown business district have not gone unnoticed by members of the City Center District, a group of about 150 property owners that is funded through a special district tax.

The group has taken action with help from the city’s Blight Enforcement Officer Kenyon Haye. The CCD, through its blight subcommittee, this year created a database listing addresses and potential blight ordinance violations. The list, which notes the location of peeling paint, broken windows or unmaintained landscaping, is now in Haye’s hands for possible enforcement action.

The early result of the initiative is encouraging, said Frank McLaughlin, a Blight Committee member and downtown property owner who said the collaborative effort, which also includes New London Main Street, has yielded some results.

A closed-off sidewalk in front of Church of the City on Washington Street has reopened after months of roof work. The mold-covered awning outside the former Lola’s Fashion store at the corner of State and Bank streets has disappeared. The Fog Factory at 22-26 Bank St. appears to have dressed up and painted its columns and deck.

Haye, who has a stack of files related to reported downtown blight within reach on his desk, said he has made calls, sent letters and visited property owners whose buildings are on the list. The owners for the most part have been receptive, he said, and either taken action or made promises. And while not all of the issues on the blight list violate the city’s property maintenance code, there may be code violations in the future for others he hasn’t been able to reach.

Charlotte Hennegan, owner of Thames River Greenery on State Street, said the CCD has for years explored ways to address the ongoing mostly cosmetic issues in the downtown with ideas that have included the creation of a downtown historic district with rules governing the appearance of buildings. But in the meantime, Hennegan said the CCD decided to “just go with what we’ve got and trust the process.”

Blight is not a new issue, nor one unique to New London. But what is relatively new is the city’s blight ordinance and blight officer. Thanks to passage of a new blight ordinance in 2015, Haye has the option of seeking civil penalties of $100 a day for violators or criminal penalties that could amount to $250 a day.

Haye said his real goal is to seek compliance, and he is in the notification phase of enforcement. Some owners are responsive.

The Salvation Army has cleaned up its storefront and posted prominent signs at the rear to let people know it no longer takes donations there. Haye attributes the occasional buildup of garbage to “some people who don’t have respect for another person’s property.”

And the DB Mart at 268 Bank St. has taken down its roadside sign, which is in poor repair, and will be installing a new one, Haye said.

Former City Council member John Russell said he was encouraged by the news of the initiative. Russell ran for a City Council seat during the November election and part of his campaign was addressing the city’s “perception problem.”

“I think it’s a great idea. (The CCD) for a long time has been trying its best to improve the downtown area,” he said. “It’s about trying to change the perception people have of the city.”

Kristin Havrilla Clarke, executive director of New London Main Street, a nonprofit group that works to revitalize the city's historic waterfront district, said it is a common goal for the CCD and her group to make the downtown a welcoming place.

New London Main Street has kicked off its Light Up New London initiative, a project to install lights inside the dark or empty storefronts downtown. So far the group has worked with places like the Church of the City, the ISAAC School and the Garde Arts Center. The Garde, for instance, has lit up some of the dark storefronts along Meridian Street.

“The goal is to get rid of the pockets of darkness, to brighten the area,” Clarke said.

Hennegan said while problems exist, there are property owners who continue to take pride in the maintenance and appearance of their properties. The Waterhouse Salon and Social Bar + Kitchen are just a few of the many examples, she said. Others point to Hennegan's shop and initiatives that have included the installation of garbage receptacles and hanging flowers in downtown as the best examples.

This story corrects an earlier version.

Blight in New London


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