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New London to buy contaminated site to create public park

New London — The city has begun the process of finding grant funds to pay for an environmental assessment and to cover cleanup costs of a contaminated vacant parcel of land at 43 Hempstead St.

The City Council on Monday, to the delight of neighbors of the vacant parcel, unanimously approved the $75,000 purchase of the property from Shiloh Development Corporation in order to create a public park.

The cost of the purchase is being covered by an anonymous donor. The cleanup costs remain unknown.

The 0.6-acre space is a former industrial site that Shiloh Baptist Church purchased in the 1990s, demolished a vacant building there but tried unsuccessfully to transform it into a public park.

Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said the city intends to create an open green space that is safe and allow the community to develop ideas of how the space will be used.

Area residents, particularly members of the Freedom Trail Neighborhood Association, have tried for two decades to find a solution to the blight in the neighborhood. The property had at one point been a magnet for illegal drug activity and now sits neglected.

In a recent letter to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, association founding member Kathleen Barrett said the group has never given up on its vision of a green space to “provide clean land for children and families to interact and play, preserve, celebrate and harness the power of our neighborhood’s racial and ethnic diversity, to increase owner occupancy, and to create an exemplary neighborhood focal point for health, wellness, happiness and community engagement.”

Hope Street resident Estelle Harrison, in a similar letter of support for the purchase, said a cleanup would “help enhance the environment and improve the quality of life for all Hempstead area residents.”

Mayor Michael Passero said initial discussions with environmental experts indicate that soil will need to be removed and the entire site capped and covered with clean soil, similar to what was done at Veterans Park.

“It has to be done, whatever the cost,” Passero said.

While it works to identify sources for grants, Reyes said, the city plans to address any safety precautions that need to be put in place to keep people out of the area. Previous environmental tests on the land have revealed soil contaminated with lead and arsenic.

g.smith@theday.com

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