New Haven residents say fence not needed

Kent Pierce/ WTNH
Kent Pierce/ WTNH

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Residents on the New Haven side of the Woodin Street fence have a message for their Hamden neighbors: come on over.

“I wish the people from Woodin Street would come over and see it themselves,” said Duane Brown, a Brookside resident. “There isn’t going to be trouble, people aren’t going to be wilding out here.”

The issue over the fence isn’t a white vs. black problem, Brown said, because many of the Hamden Woodin Street residents are black. Many Hamden residents have expressed great concern that the removal of the fence will lead to an increase in crime.

The fence started coming down May 12 after a press conference. Officials still are mulling over traffic plans to reconnect the area near the border with roads.

Police on both sides of the fence have said that the perception of some is different than reality when it comes to crime.

Rockview hasn’t any major issues since it re-opened and Brookside, which has been open since 2012, has only seen a handful of minimal issues, said Sgt. Renee Forte, district manager of New Haven’s Westville neighborhood. Domestic events are the most common issue, but that is true of almost any area, she said.

“We are seeing a definite decrease in crime,” she said about the effect of remodeling the complex.

There have been no reported shootings or robberies in either Rockview or Brookside since the beginning of the year.

Officers Allyn Wright and Elizabeth White normally walk a beat that includes Rockview, Brookside and the Westville Manor housing developments. Westville Manor is located farther from the fence on Level and Lodge streets.

Hamden Police Chief Thomas Wydra said the fence has subdued the fear of crime on the Hamden side of the border over the years.

“However, there is insufficient evidence to support the notion that the fences have actually prevented crime,” he said. “We know of confirmed incidents where the fences did not deter criminal acts, and literally served as hindrances during active police investigations.”

The fear of crime can have a powerful impact on quality of life for individuals and neighborhoods, Wydra said.

“As we move forward with the deconstruction of the aforementioned fence, it will be our collective responsibility to identify current and acceptable police personnel deployment and crime prevention strategies that will provide these neighborhoods with a level of comfort and safety that they deserve and expect,” he said.

Plans are in the works for a joint New Haven and Hamden police substation and Hamden plans to have an expanded bike patrol on Woodin Street.

The Rockview and Brookside housing developments of years past no longer exist. What used to be a densely populated development for low-income families has evolved into a mixed-income development with some owner-occupied homes.

The demolishment of the old Brookside development concluded in April 2009. A total of 296 units and a maintenance facility were demolished and replaced with 202 rental units and 20 owner-occupied units, said Jasmin Franjul, spokeswoman for Elm City Communities, also known as the Housing Authority of New Haven.

Rockview was demolished in 2004, and 195 units and a community facility were replaced by 77 rental units and six owner-occupied units.

The Brookside community is mostly isolated and surrounded by a wooded area. The neighborhood was mostly quiet during the afternoon of May 23, so much so that at times the only sound was that of birds chirping in the distance.

The city has touted the Quinnipiac Terrace housing development as a similar success story. The rebuilding reduced the number of units from 256 to 160 and turned a high-density area into a neighborhood with a suburban feel.

Residents in Brookside have been vocal about how much Brookside has changed. Resident Antinish Heard said she was worried when she first found out that she had been accepted into the New Haven Housing Authority Brookside property about a year ago. Reality calmed her fears.

“It’s really nice here and my kids love it,” she said.

Heard grew up in Hamden and West Haven.

Often, the only people hanging outside are either families or small children, she said.

The fence bottlenecks Brookside residents into one entrance and exit and can be a major inconvenience, especially for those who walk or take public transportation.

One of Heard’s friends works at the Hamden Walmart on Dixwell Avenue. She takes a bus from Brookside to downtown New Haven and then has to travel north again toward Hamden, she said. The journey takes about 90 minutes.

Fellow Brookside resident Carlos Wallace also was eager to note the old Brookside no longer exists.

“It’s not a ghetto out here. … They are being scared for no reason,” he said.

He called Brookside “the safest and coolest” part of New Haven.

Forte predicted there wouldn’t be any immediate change with the fence because the area is becoming an active construction area that is blocked off to the general public. One area of the fence that was taken down during a press conference was replaced with a construction fence shortly after.

New Haven Police spokesman Officer David Hartman also said the transformation at Rockview and Brookside changed criminal activity. Hartman patrolled the area prior to the redevelopment and the area was rife with criminal activity, he said.

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Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com

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