‘Goodbye sleazebag slumlords’: Dwight residents deliver letters to Elicker Words and photos by Natalie Kainz

“Goodbye sleazebag slumlords + developers” read a sign held by Wendy Hamilton, a local philanthropist who ran for mayor in 2019. Dressed in a space helmet — her response to the pandemic — and Ugg boots, the stand-up comedian came to City Hall to take a serious stand: one against the city’s decision to sell a park in the Dwight neighborhood.

Hamilton came to support a group of 12 Dwight residents on Monday afternoon who delivered 15 letters to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker opposing the city’s $1 sale of Kensington Park to a developer in exchange for affordable housing. The letters were responses to the city’s March Environmental Review Report, which found “no significant impact on the human environment” caused by demolishing the playground. Monday marked the city’s deadline for public comment in response to the Environmental Review Report, which had to be submitted in writing to Elicker’s office.

“The environmental justice aspect of this report is saying that they are okay destroying two-thirds of an acre of mature, public green space — the only public playground in Dwight,” Friends of Kensington Park member Jane Comins said on the steps of City Hall. “There’s no mention of how the park combats air and noise pollution, that it provides physical space for play and exercise. … I don’t know what their definition of environmental justice is, but it’s certainly not mine.”

In an interview with the News, she criticized the mayor for treating the Kensington Playground sale as a done deal — something negotiated prior to his term in office.

At a Mayor’s Night Out event last October, Elicker said that it would be irresponsible to “switch gears at the 11th hour” on a project which he had inherited from his predecessor, former Mayor Toni Harp. On Monday, Elicker came out to collect the letters from FOKP member Patricia Wallace on the steps of City Hall.

“It was great that Mayor Elicker came out to receive the packet of letters from us, but one of his most sacred duties as mayor is to stand up for democracy,” Wallace told the News. “We do not feel that he has done that.”

Elicker said to the group that because the park issue is in the midst of a lawsuit — one filed by FOKP earlier this year — he could not comment on it.

The city commissioned civil, transportation and environmental engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill Inc. to put together the report. The city aims to release the $250,000 currently held by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME program to fund the development.

FOKP’s letters included an assessment of the park’s value to community health, written by Dwight resident and pediatric nurse practitioner Shirley Deng. Robert Dubrow, faculty director of the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, also submitted a letter urging the city to preserve the playground as it is “essential for [children’s] health and well-being.”

FOKP also brought six drawings of the playground by children living in the neighborhood, including some drawn by the Carter family, who attended FOKP’s bike giveaway on April 18. Wallace said she hopes people will recognize how the desires of the children to preserve their green space is expressed in the drawings.

Six members of the group set off on a march from Kensington Playground to City Hall in the afternoon. FOKP member Victoria Vebell helped hold a sign which read “Save Kensington Playground.” She said she came out to the event because she wants more people to recognize that the city failed to secure community support in its decision to sell the park.

Hamilton said she felt that rallying for the preservation of Kensington Playground is important because she has seen past incidents of public land being sold for little all across the city. In addition to Kensington Playground, the land under 360 State St., a 300-foot-tall residential building completed in 2010, was also sold for one dollar. As reported by the Independent, the developer of that building promised to provide parking for an office building and take on the responsibility for “millions of dollars of environmental cleanup” in return.

“Developments built on the cheap are popping up like poison mushrooms,” said Hamilton in an email to the News. “You could kick most of these buildings down with a Timberland....and they are nursing home ugly to boot.”

Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, also spoke at the event. She called the city’s Environmental Review Report a “word salad tossed at important categories of consideration” with “not one substantial argument in it.”

In her letter, Farwell wrote that the New Haven Urban Design League, which is dedicated to protecting New Haven’s natural and historic assets through advocacy, opposes the project. She said that the city’s Environmental Review “does a disservice to a vulnerable community.”