Compendium: Mary Falvey

Compendium: A collection of concise but detailed information about a particular subject.

HPA's Mary Falvey (far right in blue jacket) leading an Envisionfest Walking Tour (2013)

HPA’s Mary Falvey (far right in blue jacket) leading an Envisionfest Walking Tour (2013)

“Hartford Preservation Alliance, this is Mary” is the telephone greeting which opens an opportunity to learn about historic property in Hartford.  At the Alliance, our Assistant Director Mary A. Falvey is our compendium, dedicated to helping those who have questions and need to find help.  Historic properties, their historic designation, history, style and type are all at Mary’s fingertips (thank goodness).  I bought a property and have discovered that it is historic, now what do I do? An owner need only to provide her with an address and Mary will open a world of knowledge to help encourage the historic preservation of Hartford’s cherished architectural fabric.

Our strategic plan adopted late in 2014 envisioned the Preservation Alliance as a partner and critical collaborator in community economic development.  Not just by suggesting what color to paint the front porch but a real comprehensive resource for information and guidance.  Our technical assistance team has been successful in providing information and support making the journey far easier.  It is Mary who helps the owner make the first step; she is the foundation upon which we help to build relationships with owners, developers and city planners.  Mary has singularly organized and arranged our website www.hartfordpreservation.org to offer information, references and resources.  It is a tremendously helpful window in which to look for preservation material.  She has linked the property owner to useful references making life easier.  By the same token, she has an encyclopedic knowledge of who and where to search for more help.  Joining us for one of Mary’s walking tours will open your eyes to the vast history of the City’s historic buildings. (BTW she is a Civil War buff and is hard at work documenting the 1,500 veterans buried in Hartford’s cemeteries and blogging about their life and times at www.hartfordinthecivilwar.com)

So, give us a call and if you are lucky, you too will be greeted by “this is Mary”.  Understand that for Mary historic preservation matters yet to the Preservation Alliance, Mary matters most to Hartford’s historic preservation.

What Will It Take?

farmington-avenue-corridor-banner-picture-collage

Early in 2015 the Hartford Preservation Alliance and the Hartford Business Improvement District joined together to address the question posed by a desire to improve the Farmington Avenue corridor between Sigourney and Woodland Streets.  What is necessary to bring about a change along the corridor and contribute to community economic development for Asylum Hill?  Our determination to gather many collaborators allowed us to seek wide-ranging opinions and to encourage a diverse mix of ideas.  With the help of a consultant our collaboration produced “The Farmington Avenue Comprehensive Community Plan, A Framework for Action.”  Our challenge was to create a vibrant, pedestrian friendly and safe Farmington Avenue corridor between Sigourney and Woodland Streets with a high quality and diverse mix of commercial, cultural and residential offerings. We wished to create a cohesive identity where commercial and residential buildings complement the rich and architectural heritage. Along the corridor sit six vacant and abandoned historic properties which, among other sites, posed tremendous opportunity for revitalization.

Among the signature properties is the Comet Diner.  Built, or rather delivered, in 1948 the classic stainless steel diner has been a destination and a beacon on Farmington Avenue providing food, drink and hospitality since it opened as the Aetna Diner. Times and urban demographics changed ultimately causing the diner to close its doors ten years ago.  The owners have been frustrated with a reuse of the property and therefore recently determined that the building needs to be demolished.  Unfortunately their strategy is to invite a reuse involving big box retail.  Perhaps the destruction of the Comet Diner would drive a spike into any hope for a revitalization of the Farmington Avenue corridor.  For decades the diner has been a destination even when sitting vacant and abandoned.  There exists an architectural cohesion while it sits empty.  Yet to destroy this bit of history takes away one more icon from Hartford and therefore eliminates more of the historic fabric of Hartford.

The Comprehensive Community Plan pivots on the preservation and adaptive reuse of the Comet Diner.

A recent application to demolish the Comet was withdrawn by the owners to be considered at a Hartford Historic Preservation Commission hearing.  Within days the Hartford Preservation Alliance worked diligently to alert the public that such an action was being taken.  Within two days we had marshaled the public to protest the demolition request.  We won the skirmish but the battle is far from done.  It is now incumbent for Hartford and the preservation community to find an adaptive reuse this needs to be a practical solution for community economic development.

Please keep in touch with our effort to “Save the Icon”.  We would welcome any suggestions of a reuse or ideas of what might be done with the Comet.

“People need to believe it’s a great place . . . We need a positive campaign. Then perceptions and perspective will change. Begin by taking the randomness out of the neighborhood and then gradually adding resources; whether a bike or walking trail, new vendors or creating the same look and feel . . .

When we do this folks will believe in the potential, have a sense of pride and invest in the area’s future.”

Floyd Green, Vice President, Aetna, Inc.

Community Relations and Urban Marketing

An Unacceptable Preservation Procedure

Aug 17 2016 agendaBy surprise the Preservation Alliance was notified that an application had been filed to demolish the Comet Diner.  An email was casually sent by Development Services with the agenda of Hartford’s Historic Preservation Commission’s August 17 hearing.  We received the email at 4:30 on August 12.  To our astonishment a request to demolish the Comet is on the agenda.  Thus any form of public notice is given less than four business days in which to respond.

During the past two years the Preservation Alliance and the Hartford Business Improvement District (BID) have worked to create, along with a host of neighbors, stakeholders and the City of Hartford to forge a Comprehensive Community Action Plan to revitalize one of Hartford’s major commercial corridors Farmington Avenue.  A signature strategy of the plan is to preserve an iconic diner, known for decades as a gathering spot, the Comet.  Now vacant and abandoned this property is a keystone to renewed economic activity and is to be incorporated in a multi-use project involving residential, retail and commercial buildings.  The centerpiece of the project will address six vacant and abandoned properties located along Farmington Avenue between Woodland and Sigourney Streets.  This strategy has engaged the public and been well-publicized for the past year and a half.  All efforts to renew and preserve hangs in the balance of a hearing which has yet to be made public, the notice of which was sent out discretely four business days ago by the City of Hartford.

I come from a city with a robust commitment to historic preservation.  Nearly all communities in the city are defined by their historic names.  In fact, property is marketed according to the historic designation and not by an address thus a house is known to be located in “Meridian-Kessler” for example.  Therefore to establish a consistent procedure in a city with many historic districts any action to come before the historic commission automatically triggers a 60-day application period.  The property owner is required to place yard sign advertising to alert the public that an application is pending on an historic building. The public is then invited to make an inquiry and request a copy of the application.  Automatic public notice is served.

Hartford always talks about the great historic fabric which exists in all neighborhoods.  We boast that there are roughly 5,300 historic structures in districts or individually listed.  However there exist no procedures to make the public aware of any modification or removal of those structures of which we are proud.  The application seems to be random; often the staff is pressured to get applications on the agenda as quickly as possible.  In the case of the Comet an application is quietly made to demolish one of the signature historic structures in the city which much effort has been made to preserve and reuse.  But for the vigilant efforts of the Hartford Preservation Alliance this item would have gone before the Historic Preservation Commission without public notice.  For a city which embraces its historic past such a haphazard policy is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.

For more information on the proposed request to demolish The Comet, please visit our homepage.

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We Shouldn’t Ignore Small

This week we welcome guest blogger Jonathan Cabral. Mr. Cabral is a Multifamily Operations Officer at the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and is a Director on Hartford Preservation Alliance’s Board .

We Shouldn't Ignore Small

For many of us who have lived in Connecticut most of our lives, we often take for granted some of the most charming aspects of New England. In a time where development, particularly economic development, is about going big (did someone say Go Goats!) we overlook the importance of smaller developments. Many of our downtowns are made up of small mixed-use buildings with warm brick façades and unique architectural design left behind by our New England forefathers. In some of our oldest commercial corridors, you will find small multifamily buildings that were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These buildings generally have less than 20 housing units but are larger than a three or four family home, and were designed to be practical, aesthetically pleasing, and long lasting. Small multifamily and mixed-use buildings can provide the type of housing density and affordability that is oftentimes lacking in many of our communities. It is also the type of development that can be conducive to creating more walkable neighborhoods.

Small properties make up a sizable portion of our current housing stock. Nearly 10% of Connecticut’s total housing units are found in structures with 5–19 units. When you calculate small properties as a proportion to just multifamily structures (2 or more units), over 26% of Connecticut’s multifamily housing units are found in structures with 5–19 units. [1] Most of this housing is located in our urban centers, like Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford. In addition, small multifamily buildings contribute significantly to the economy. According to the Joint Center of Housing Studies of Harvard University, a quarter of the nation’s affordable housing stock is in multifamily properties with 5–19 units. Typically owned by individuals who often perform their own administrative and maintenance functions, these properties are not only an asset to their owners but are their livelihood.

The unfortunate reality is that these properties do not have easily accessible capital that many larger properties have. Older small properties have become neglected over time and many require significant funds to rehabilitate, while small infill developments can often require as much time and effort as larger deals to put together. Small property development requires entrepreneurial thinking by both owners/developers and lending institutions for them to work.

Over the years CHFA has worked to try and come up with the right funding and formula to make small multifamily projects financeable through its relationships with the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). For example, in 2014 CHFA launched its Small Multifamily CDFI Loan Pool which provides participating CDFIs a funding source to offer short- and long-term financing to properties with 3 to 20 units. Since its inception, the loan pool has helped finance 27 once blighted or vacant properties, resulting in 100 units of housing. It is this small development “incremental” approach that can result in the development of more affordable rental housing in smaller communities, and help revitalize weak real-estate markets that have limited growth but significant need.

[1] – 2010 – 2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

This article first appeared in the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s newsletter. 

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