By Andy Hart, courtesy of the Hartford News • 11:00 PM EST
Hartford's Imlay Street in Asylum Hill, Saturday afternoon April 18, 2009. Empty houses on one side, lots of residents hanging out on the other, and highway billboards in the background. Photo by Ken Krayeske
For several months, one of Asylum Hill's most beautiful thoroughfares, Imlay Street, has been left hanging, stuck between what it used to be and what developer David Nyberg was planning to make it.
In the spring of 2007, Nyberg’s company, Farmington-Imlay Associates (FIA), bought over a dozen buildings on Imlay and around the corner on Hawthorn Street and began renovation work on them.
According to Jennifer Hadlock of Hartford Organizing for Power and Equality (HOPE), about 100 Imlay Street residents have moved off the street since the renovation work began.
"They weren't strictly required to move but the construction work was so disruptive with lights going off and so on, and there was such a lack of communication between the developer and the residents that many couldn't take it anymore," said Hadlock.
In August, 2008, the City of Hartford issued a "cease and desist" order for FIA's renovation work on Imlay and Hawthorn Streets, based on objections that had been raised by the Hartford Historic Properties Commission (HHPC).
FIA appealed to the Hartford Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). But the ZBA upheld the cease and desist order earlier this year and it remains in force.
HHPC Chairman Greg Secord said, "We reviewed the work that was being done [on Imlay Street] and found that some of it wasn't allowed in a Historic District."
For instance, Secord said that the Victorian-style homes on Imlay Street typically had porch columns that had been "turned" or rounded rather than the simple, squared-off boards that were being installed by FIA. A new parking lot was also been built, which was not permitted under the City Historic District guidelines.
Another, more complex, problem arose once City staff began looking into the Imlay Street project, according to Roger O'Brien, City of Hartford Director of Planning. City zoning regulations state that an apartment cannot contain more than two, unrelated persons.
If the unit exceeds that limit, it has to be considered a dormitory, rooming house or some other type of residence, said O’Brien. He added that his department’s examination of the issue was prompted by an inquiry from the Connecticut Culinary Institute (CCI), which is located just east of Imlay Street, as to whether the properties on Imlay Street were properly permitted and zoned to house students.
The possibility of the Imlay Street properties being used as dormitories for CCI students was raised early by HOPE, which claimed Nyberg’s project would displace longtime Imlay Street residents and change the character of the neighborhood.
But Nyberg was noncommittal on his relationship with CCI. According to a story in The Hartford News on September 12, 2007:
"Nyberg also said he has no plans at this time to convert the apartments into condominiums nor does he have any formal agreement with the Connecticut Culinary Institute (CCI) to supply student housing. "I'd love to get a big institutional lease, any real estate developer would. But there is no such agreement now."
Now Nyberg is moving forward on two fronts. First, he is suing the ZBA over the cease and desist order. Second, he hired a architect who drew up a new plan for the properties that is in line with the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance for Historic Districts. Secord said Nyberg submitted the new plan to the commission on Wednesday, March 18. "We were very pleased with the redesign and we gave it our blessing," said Secord.
But Nyberg is still in conflict with the Planning Department over whether the properties will be classified as apartments, dormitories or rooming houses.
"Everyone involved is trying to resolve the issues in the best interest of the city and the neighborhood," said O'Brien.
The neighborhood does indeed remain concerned about the future of Imlay Street. Hadlock said the City should have put more pressure on Nyberg to meet with the tenants in the early stages of the renovation project.
"All the tenants wanted was to know what was going on. It was all very underhanded," Hadlock said. "He (Nyberg) should have shown some respect for the fact that many of those residents had lived there for 30 years."
In addition to HOPE, which has battled Nyberg for almost two years, the Asylum Hill NRZ is also anxious to meet with Nyberg about his plans for the street.
Bernie Michel, Chairman of the Asylum Hill NRZ, said, "We've been trying to increase neighborhood stability through homeownership. A rooming house or dormitory is the least stable form of housing."
If the zoning for Imlay Street is changed, Michel said the street could become full of rooming houses, which would have a very adverse effect on the neighborhood. He added that his NRZ has publicly requested a meeting with Nyberg, but they have yet to hear back from the developer.
Nyberg was unavailable for comment on this article.