A coalition of neighborhood groups and city organizations
may be at odds with Hartford City Council over which body has
the power to select the firm or firms who will assist in writing
the city's application to be designated as a Federal "Empowerment
Zone." The application is due on October 9.
As an Empowerment Zone, Hartford would receive $130-$230 million
in tax-exempt bond authority, $100 million in Social Service
Block Grant funds over the next ten years and $100,000 in planning
funds. The program is operated by the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD)
The coalition of neighborhood groups, which was formed specifically
to pursue the Empowerment Zone, is an outgrowth of Hartford 2000,
which is made up of representatives from the city's Neighborhood
Revitalization Zones (NRZs).
At a meeting last week, coalition members agreed to interview
several consulting firms on Friday and present their findings
at a meeting on Monday, August 31.
At Monday's meeting, which was attended by over 50 people, the
coalition's Bernadine Silvers announced that the interview committee
had selected Urban Strategies of Toronto, Canada as lead consultant
and the Connecticut Institute of Municipal Studies (CIMS) of
Hartford as secondary consultant. CIMS is headed up by former
Hartford Deputy Mayor Nick Carbone.
However, Silvers also said that she had received a call from
Mayor Mike Peters on Monday informing her that some City Council
members were concerned about being left out of the selection
process. Silvers added that the Mayor also told her that some
Council members had been working with CIMS and wanted to make
sure it was a part of the application process.
Silvers and other coalition members expressed anger and confusion
over Council's concerns about being left out of the process.
"This [the coalition's selection process] was a legitimate
process," said Silvers, "If Council's angry that they
haven't been included, that's not our problem."
Council was informed about Friday's consultant interviews on
Thursday in a memo from Assistant City Manager Linda Bayer. Councilman
Mike McGarry said the memo left insufficient time for council
members to rearrange their schedules and attend the interviews.
But Silvers said such difficulties shouldn't hold up the application
process, especially since the deadline is only six weeks away.
"I'm tired of the community getting beat up because of a
lack of communication or politics as usual that goes on in this
McGarry said he is not opposed to the Empowerment Zone but did
add that he and other Council members do have serious questions
about not only who should select the consultant or consultants
to write the application but also who would have the ultimate
control over how the zone is formed and run.
"This thing [the Empowerment Zone] could have a major effect
on the city's development for the next ten years. The question
is: who is really representative of the people, the elected officials
or a group of activists who happened to be available at the time,"
He also said that many Council members and other city leaders
are upset about the increasing amount of control that is being
given to boards of appointees rather than elected officials.
"Some people are very concerned that the obligations and
rights of Hartford voters are being chipped away...first the
School Board of Trustees, then the NRZs, the [Capital City] Economic
Development Authority and now this," he said.
Despite the disagreement over who should select the consultants,
Silvers said Urban Strategies has expressed a willingness to
work with CIMS and Carbone, who attended Monday's meeting, said
CIMS is also willing to work together, pending an agreement on
the actual division of responsibilities.
In other business at Monday's meeting, Tom Phillips, Development
Policy and Program Administrator for the City of Hartford, said
the coalition reached a tentative agreement on the core zones
of the overall Empowerment Zone. Under Federal regulations, the
core zone can consist of up to three non-contiguous areas where
the poverty rate for the census tracts included is at least 25
percent for 90 percent of the area and at least 20 percent for
the remaining 10 percent of the area (based on 1990 census figures).
The total population of these areas cannot exceed 50,000. Phillips
said, right now, Hartford would have two zones, one containing
most of the Northeast section of the city and parts of the Upper
Albany and Clay Hill neighborhoods and the other taking in most
of the Frog Hollow, South Green and Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhoods.
The Empowerment Zone can also contain up to 2,000 acres of "Developable
Sites" which would basically be used to provide employment
and other services for the people in the core zone. Up to three
Developable Zones could be included in the plan. They would be
free from poverty level limitations and would not even have to
be in the city. However, Phillips said he is still waiting to
hear from HUD on the amount of residential units that can be
included in the Developable Zone. Right now, he said the coalition
is looking at a number of areas, such as the industrial corridor
that runs alongside New Park Avenue, a large piece that would
run from the old Thomas Cadillac property on Albany Avenue and
Capital Community Technical College in the west all the way down
through downtown and out to the site proposed for Adriaen's Landing
and also a site at Bradley International Airport. Phillips said
the Bradley site is under consideration because utilizing an
international airport would improve Hartford's chances for getting
the Empowerment Zone designation.