An excavator tore brick and concrete from a three-story apartment building on Olson Drive Tuesday morning, putting into motion a long process to change the Riverside Apartment Complex.
The demolition of Building 1 at the public housing complex was a long time coming, officials said.
Eventually, officials hope to tear down all the buildings there and replace them with townhouses. But for now, the demolition is targeted for just buildings 1 and 2.
A small group of bystanders watched as the first bricks toppled down the side of the building at about 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The demolition held a different significance for each of the city workers, residents and passers-by who watched.
For some, like Neil Hubbard, the demolition meant something as simple as a job. Hubbard stood by watching Tuesday morning, hoping to score some extra work cleaning up the debris when the major demolition was over.
Others said it signified nothing.
“It doesn’t make a difference,” resident Franklin Jackson said, hardly looking up as he walked by the excavator tearing bits of brick apart from the building. “It doesn’t bother me. As long as they’re going to build up a better place, get rid of these people who hang around getting drunk.”
Still, other residents looked at the demolition in a more negative light.
Deirdra Caple, for example, was upset about the noise from machines. For the past several weeks as construction crews cleaned out the buildings to make sure it was safe to demolish them, Caple heard the noise from her second-story bedroom window.
Now, she’s concerned about the dust blowing into that window while she’s in there. And, Caple worries she will be booted out of her apartment when the time comes for it to be knocked down.
“I’m just getting comfortable here,” said Caple, who moved in two years ago. “It’s like, I got to get up and move again.”
Kimmula Eason, another resident, worried the changes won’t solve the problems at the complex. This summer, there were two murders there, and residents on a normal day have complaints that range from crumbling staircases to trash littered around the complex.
“No matter what you build back up, no matter who you lease it to, there’s going to be problems,” Eason said.
Eason has started saying she thinks the land is cursed because it, along with most properties in the area, was once owned by Native Americans but was eventually taken over by settlers. Eason said she believes there were ancient burial grounds on the site.
Local historian and executive director of the Derby Historical Society Robert Novak Jr. said he’s never heard talk about ancient burial grounds at the site, and said there’s never been any evidence of their existence there.
Other residents, many who declined to give their names, said they were happy to see the buildings come down.
“A New and Better Ansonia”
Before the first building started coming down Tuesday, Mayor James DellaVolpe spoke with the Ansonia Housing Authority director and the chairman of the housing authority board.
“The transition to a safe, more secure and better quality of life for all of the people in Ansonia is now officially underway,” DellaVolpe said. “We have remained steadfast in our goal of bringing reform to this neighborhood despite the opposition of some and the political gamesmanship of others.”
The housing authority board of commissioners approved plans to tear down seven of the 11 buildings and repair the three others. But in the future, the city and housing authority want to tear down all the buildings and replace them with “affordable” townhouses with a certain percentage set aside for low-income residents.
The Housing Authority and police department have said the layout of the apartment complexes – horseshoe formations with the backs of the buildings facing the street – makes it hard to patrol the neighborhood. There have been problems with drug dealing and crime.
“This to me is a big step. It’s a concrete step to start seeing some needed physical changes to the projects at Riverside,” said James Tyman, chairman of the Housing Authority Commission.
When the units were built in the 1960s, it was looked at as a desirable place to live, said Novack, the local historian.
“It was seen as a clean, modern residential unit that housed people who lost everything in the flood, as well as the underprivileged,” Novak said. “It was actually desirable at one time.”
The demolition is expected to take several weeks.