As demolition of the south block of the Riverside Apartments on Olson Drive begins this month, Ansonia Housing Authority and city officials are moving forward with plans to keep the property undeveloped.
The Ansonia Housing Authority is reviewing other properties in the city to rebuild up to 48 housing units, in the hope that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will approve the plan.
Meanwhile Ansonia Aldermen are also moving forward with preparations to ask voters to approve spending $320,000 to purchase the property on Olson Drive.
The actions come after HUD initially said the city would have to rebuild public housing units on Olson Drive — or face sanctions from the agency.
When city officials announced this summer that they wanted to purchase the Olson Drive land and preserve it as open (undeveloped) space, HUD officials balked, saying the plans violated an agreement between Ansonia and HUD to provide affordable public housing.
But after further discussions between Ansonia and HUD officials, the federal housing agency has agreed to consider placing the housing units elsewhere in the city, according to Jimmy Miller, the interim executive director for the Ansonia Housing Authority.
“HUD has said they are willing to negotiate down to zero units” on Olson Drive, Miller told the Ansonia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Wednesday (July 31) at its regular meeting. “They want some units to be replaced. They are no longer demanding that they all be at that site.”
About 71 percent of people support preserving open space on Olson Drive, according to a Valley Indy True Vote poll published in June.
Several members of the Board of Aldermen and Mayor James Della Volpe attended the meeting Wednesday to continue their push for flexibility at the Olson Drive property.
“We’re very interested in the future use of the property once the buildings are taken down,” said Eugene Sharkey, the president of the Board of Aldermen.
Miller is working with Tise Design Associates, a firm hired by the Ansonia Housing Authority, to identify other locations in Ansonia where affordable housing units could be created. The idea is to spread the sites around the city, instead of lumping them all in once place.
Miller said they have six sites identified, but wouldn’t disclose the location of any of those sites. He said by Oct. 1, he will present those options to the Ansonia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners to review.
Miller said the board will have to find some combination of the six sites to add up to the 48 units being demolished on Olson Drive.
Once the board picks an alternate plan, it will develop it more thoroughly and present it to HUD for approval, Miller said.
“If all goes well and we can come to something that’s agreeable to HUD . . . I think we’re going to be OK,” Miller said.
“That whole west side of town is going to be a keystone to the livelihood of the rest of Ansonia,” Housing Authority member Ed Norman said.
Ansonia wants to borrow $4.9 million for a number of capital improvement projects, ranging from replacing roofs and fixing failing heating and ventilation systems in old city buildings.
One of those items is $320,000 to purchase the land on Olson Drive.
The Board of Aldermen plans to send the spending proposal to voters in the November election.
So even though the Ansonia Housing Authority likely won’t have an answer from HUD this month, the Board of Aldermen plans to move forward with its plans to purchase the land — just in case.
“We have the bond proposal, we’re going to vote on it August 20th,” Sharkey said. “We have to have all our ducks in a row by Sept. 5 to have this on the November ballot.”
Sharkey said the Board of Aldermen are researching what the city’s rights are regarding the property — but has been having trouble getting clear information. The board has re-instituted a subcommittee to keep track of the Ansonia Housing Authority in order to be kept up-to-date on the issue.
“I don’t know where we go from here. I know our mayor has some meetings set up. I don’t know how you people can help us, other than what you gave us,” Sharkey said. “I just wanted to let you know we’re very interested. We’re interested in the property, and we’re interested in the future use of it.”
Alderman Jerome Fainer represents the Fourth Ward, which includes Olson Drive. He told the Ansonia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners that the Board of Aldermen should be more involved in the process.
“I don’t want to see projects back. I don’t want to have 100 units back there. The neighborhood needs to be spruced up. It’s got to be something different than what’s there,” Fainer said.
David Knapp, another member of the Board of Aldermen, said he was embarrassed that he doesn’t have information to give the public about the project. He was asked about it by a constituent at the supermarket this week, and couldn’t answer the questions, Knapp said.
“I said, ‘Gee, I really don’t know.’ And she said ‘Shame on you that you’re an alderman and you don’t know what’s going on.’” Knapp said.
“I should know what’s going on as an Alderman and as a taxpayer,” Knapp said. “And I would like to think we are going to become active participants in this master plan that is going to be rolled out in the near future. The Aldermen here are very willing and ready to participate.”
Robert Lisi, the chairman of the Ansonia Housing Authority, said the AHA commissioners are also waiting for answers to some of the same questions.
“I will tell you some of us have asked those same questions, and have not received any answers,” Lisi said. “As soon as we get some answers, we certainly will give those answers to the mayor.”
“This will be a very transparent board,” Lisi said.