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Tuesday, November 14, 2006
A Village, What it Takes, Enfield Connecticut
Video of Donald Christmas, shot December 2007, scroll down
January 13, 2004
A Village: What It Takes
January 5, 2004, By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Hartford Courant Staff Writer (ctnow.com)
There are many criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, and those that live as parasites their entire lives. Police and authorities in some downtown areas go after the very few that are hardworking, paying taxes, have property, and./or own a business for whatever revenue that can be had, even confiscating property on the slimmest of excuses. Complain and maybe get harassed or even worse, thrown in prison and/or out of Connecticut. Your State could get this bad �
Enfield PD, Stafford Springs Police, Connecticut State Police and other police in other cities and towns across this nation can contribute to the delinquency of minors, crime, drug/alcohol abuse, sex crimes, blight, misery, fraud, and lower the quality of life by ignoring criminals and crime to go after the easy revenue, from those easiest to fine and to find. In essence, punishing good, moral behavior. �Steven G. Erickson
ENFIELD -- This neighborhood's story is a familiar tale of a once-thriving village in a town that grew up on an industry now long gone. Over time, it was allowed to decay - parts of it fell to fire, others fell to urban renewal projects, and the rest just fell from favor.
Thompsonville, once this town's heart, soon grew to be its handicap.
Now, what remains are the variables of a sociological study: a neighborhood that has more people, lower average incomes, higher crime rates and lower rates of home ownership than the rest of town.
But for those who lost hope in Thompsonville - and not everyone did - there is reason for optimism. Old destination businesses continue to thrive along the neighborhood's main retail drag, Pearl Street, and new ones are finding that a good product is a good product, and that consumers will travel to get it.
The trick, neighborhood advocates say, is finding a reason to bring consumers back, convincing people to take a second look and getting those who do come to linger before they leave.
That means a renewed focus on economic development and housing rehabilitation, in addition to a healthy dose of public investment.
"Part of the problem is people who've been in the community a long time look at Thompsonville Village and see it in comparison to what it used to be, and it compares very negatively in their minds," said Town Manager Scott Shanley.
"But I think we need to spend more time looking forward to what the section of town can be now, as opposed to looking at it and seeing what it was back then."
Then there's a little thing called political will, and it's not easy to get, said Mary Lou Strom, a former mayor and one-time head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
The best way to get people to care, she said, is to focus on their pocketbooks.
"Without revitalization and rehabilitation, all Thompsonville does is add a tax burden to the rest of the town," she said. "The lower the property values, the more the money needs to come from somewhere else.
"I don't think anyone who is looking to revitalize Thompsonville is saying it's going to be the town center again," she said. "But it certainly can be much more than it is now."
The Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Co. opened in the late 1820s and thrived until its mills stopped in 1971. The sprawling, 26-acre facility was an industrial and community center.
Now, just as then, the factory's hulking remains are a vital part of the village's future.
In the late 1980s, the facility was converted into apartment space. Today, the apartments hold roughly 1,000 people, renters who can afford $710 to $1,595 a month. It boasts a 96 percent occupancy rate.
In rebirth, the Bigelow has succeeded; the question is whether the village that grew up around it can follow its lead.
That's what the town asked in 2001, when it commissioned what is commonly known as the Shapiro Report - a consultant's look into the past and future of the neighborhood, prepared by Abeles Phillips Preiss & Shapiro Inc. of New York.
The report was a dose of reality. Thompsonville, once Enfield's center, could never again compete on the retail landscape against the box stores and supermarkets that front many of the town's major commercial roads.
To revive Thompsonville, the report said, was to rethink it.
The report called for targeted investment to attract consumers; homesteading and historic preservation; landscaping and fa�ade improvements; a major project to integrate the riverfront access; and more.
The gist was simple: If you don't give people a reason to come, they won't.
"It took decades for Thompsonville to fall into disrepair, and it will take decades to revitalize the neighborhood," the report cautions.
What advocates are beginning to recognize is that you need money to get money. That is, private investors won't bring their money if there is nothing to attract them. So the town has started on that front.
It is in the middle of an expensive project to dredge and landscape Freshwater Pond, which rests at the heart of the neighborhood. Although the senior center moved out of Thompsonville to a new facility last year, the town is putting a new roof on the old building and hopes to find a use for it. It has improved its boat launch along the river, invested in its youth center and put in pedestrian-friendly streetlights - all in an effort to bring people here.
"I would agree that we want to spur private investment, because there is a limit to what government should do," Shanley said. "Because, in the end, it's the private sector that needs to invest."
And that is starting to happen.
John Pereira could be Thompsonville's poster boy.
Two years ago, he bought one lot with two buildings: a duplex drug haven and old retail space. Now, both are alive again, one as his home and rental unit, the other as his business, TJ's Affordable Mirror and Glass.
"It seemed like this was a community that had fallen by the wayside, but that had some nice potential," he said.
Not only is he invested, he's involved. He joined the town's revitalization committee and is working with town staff to improve his properties.
But Pereira is not the only one looking at Thompsonville with a businessman's eye.
For years, a tailor, a frame and art store, a country goods gift store, a glass shop and, until recently, a cobbler have made Thompsonville their destination-shopping home. There is Diana's, the bakery with regional distribution; Caronna's Market, the third-generation grocery store with a successful package store next door; and Silvia's Restaurant, a newly reopened banquet facility in what was a boarded-up bank.
A handful of new businesses will be setting up shop early this year, taking an old bar and turning it into a gift store, a tattoo parlor and turning into a recording studio, and an old school and turning it into a home for young but growing businesses.
In the not-so-distant old days, Thompsonville had more than two dozen bars and saloons - one of which is now better remembered by its nickname, "Buckets of Blood," than its real name, which no one interviewed could remember. No one is eager for those days to return.
"When you start converting abandoned and derelict churches and tattoo parlors into functioning businesses and close down bars that sold more drugs than booze into a design studio, you're starting to make some progress," said Ray Warren, the town's director of economic development.
There are obstacles to opening new business, though. The regulatory process can include visits from five different inspectors from town and state agencies, as well as the village's separate fire district. That can intimidate and confuse new business owners.
Making money matters worse, Enfield has five independently taxing fire districts. Thompsonville residents - the town's poorest - pay three times as much as residents in some other parts of town for fire service.
"There's no incentive to make anything nice right now, because you have to pay higher taxes," said Jason MacLelland, owner of the Pearl Street Barber Shop across the street from Pereira's lot. MacLelland, who has taken on the role of a neighborhood organizer, left a barber shop with higher visibility to come here. Some customers refused to follow.
But once he got here, more customers came, and he's not hunting heads to cut. And, like Pereira, MacLelland has chosen to get involved first and complain later. Together with the town, he has worked to revamp what was a run-down parking lot. He sweeps his sidewalks. He organizes charity poker games; he goes to planning and zoning meetings; he is speaking out.
"To me, if you make your money here, you give some back," he said.
So it bugs him that he has to pay higher taxes because he chose to move to the most depressed part of town. And even though the tax difference isn't enough to break the bank, he said, it's enough to make a business owner think twice.
The town is also turning its sights on residential rehabilitation, an area where it has admittedly under-performed, Shanley and Warren said.
"That's an area we can and will do a better job on," Shanley said.
Or, as Warren says, "There's no shortage of targets. We need to be more productive to prove to the state and present to them more comprehensive projects."
Finally, the neighborhood needs some good news to counter the decades of bad, said Mary Lavorgna of Caronna's package store.
"I see Thompsonville slowly coming around," said Lavorgna, who is more concerned about Thompsonville's image problem than its crime problem.
Although there is more crime in this neighborhood than elsewhere in town - there are more people here, and drug crimes between acquaintances are common, police said - crime is not limited to this neighborhood, Lavorgna said.
As Shanley was quick to note, there have been a number of homicides in Enfield in recent years; but none of them have been in Thompsonville.
"I'd like to change people's idea," she said. "To change perception, that it's OK to come down to Thompsonville."
Don Christmas of the Thompsonville section of Enfield, Connecticut, spoke out about the lack of protection and services for downtown property owners and proposed Civilian Oversight of police at a town meeting. His arrest, being threatened with prison by police, his alleged being stalked and harassed by police officers is in his opinion for speaking out about unfair taxes/fees, complaining about police, and for proposing legislation that angered police. I did all that too, but I did go to prison, losing my home, family and pets, for testing the 1st Amendment in Connecticut.
Comment left in "Railroading of Mr. Donald Christmas" post:
i know buddy christmas very well.. enfield police are not exactly alter boys. as for reporting a crime to the enfield police chief i wouldn't bother. reason one. this summer chief ronald marcotte was coming back from the casino in a town owned vehicle on town time and was pulled over by state police for speeding (107 mph) he was almost arrested until he called scott shanley and a deal was worked out(bumpkins). reason 2. he has a serious gambling problem and is never at the police department. he also goes to the casino with an on duty officer as security . his son ron jr has been arrested many times from drugs to robbery and has never been convicted. chief marcotte is just there to collect his retirement and do nothing else. the police captain told me once that there are no bad officers on his force. donny if you need good dirt on any of them call me or email me.
Posted by: jim at February 8, 2004 09:46 PM
______________________ (Added February 27, 2004, 7:00AM EST)
What Drug War?
In Stafford Springs, CT, in an area 2 footballs fields or so long on major Rt. 190 (W. Main St) between the town historical fountain to the cannon, drugs are or were openly sold, prostitutes service their customers, teens openly drink, use and sell drugs, assault each other, rob those walking around, and some teens would openly walk into the bars and restaurants and exchange drugs for cash.
With a State Senator�s and Selectman�s office right near the drug activity and sales that was so frequent and blatant, it held up traffic on a major route and side streets. Police and politicians had to know what was going on, in my opinion.
Residents would complain at town meetings and directly to the selectman, State Senator, State Representative, and to Connecticut State Troopers and Stafford Town Police naming names and little to nothing seemed to be done, except in the pursuit of confiscating cash, assets, property, and collecting fines.
Alcoholics would hang out and drug deals could be seen going on openly in front of the Resident State Trooper�s and Stafford Police Station on the same main drag. Calling police and naming names would usually only have the police just telling the dealers and vandals who had called reporting them and where the caller lived. The caller could then be terrorized by the dealers and vandals having his/her vehicles and home wrecked at an even greater rate.
David Hayes openly dealt drugs off the wall at the park in view of politicians and police for possibly over a decade! He would openly walk to where he lived on 99 W. Main St and reach above the picnic table up into a rickety roof structure assembled above it as one of his drug and cash stashes, openly, over and over for years. In my opinion police had to know, as it was so blatant, and obvious, and traffic was being delayed 24 hours during peak periods.
There were overdoses and those dropping dead from overdoing drugs and alcohol. A crack addicted prostitute that lived on the main drag in Stafford claimed she was raped. Maybe her customer did not give her the crack cocaine or cash as promised.
I saw a prostitute allegedly with HIV on her knees servicing a know drug dealer in an alley on W. Main St, while he used a torch to burn something in a glass pipe. Juan was named as the individual that threw a car battery through a window in an apartment at 99 W. Main St, allegedly over a dispute over money and a drug deal. Even though Juan was named to police, the incident may have gone uninvestigated like countless, possibly hundreds or even thousands of others.
I was threatened with arrest by the teens drinking, fighting, and selling drugs off my front yard at 5 Church St. Stafford Springs, Connecticut, if I dared call police on them, and when I called police reporting the drug activity and the teens that had physically threatened me if I interfered with their �business� and how I would be arrested if police, came not them. The State Police dispatcher was rude and argued with me on what words constitute threats and no police officers were sent.
I later called when a man, I named by name, shot up, possibly heroin, openly during the day in front of children in the Summer of 2002, behind 3 Church St, Stafford Springs, CT, and the police officer I called yelled at me and the father of the children for calling. No officer was sent!
What Drug War? It is only about further ripping off honest taxpayers and those that are less than honest that can be fined, charged fees, and have assets and properties confiscated for the bad behavior and illegal acts of criminals that act as informants to the police, in other word revenue collection aids for collecting money and confiscating money and property above and beyond declared taxes.
If police and authorities do little or nothing regarding crime and drugs downtown, more and more taxes can be collected and more and more police and officials can live as parasites off of working Americans, as do their partners in crime, the career criminal parasites. There would not be the rampant drug and alcohol activity on campuses and in the suburbs if it was not so openly allowed in downtown America.
If it about ripping off more of your hard earned money, not about going after criminals and solving social problems.
(Disclaimer: All contained here in is my opinion and to the best of my recollection and knowledge)
Posted by Vikingas at January 13, 2004 12:30 AM TrackBack
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A CT DCF Christmas
Police, Prostitutes, and Railroading Landlords to Prison