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In Your 'hood

No Dead End

Joanne Iacobellis, Alyssa Murray and Ginnie Dowd on Kenwood Drive, where they want a cul de sac and dead end created to keep cars from cutting through.

Kenwood neighborhood group fights for safer street

By Sharon Bass

When Alyssa Murray came to Joanne Iacobellis' Kenwood Drive home last week, she brought with her an Avon catalog and a brand new pair of Avon slippers.

But Murray didn't come to talk Avon. She came to talk traffic.

The two women are members of the Kenwood Valley Neighborhood Association, a group that formed last fall to address current and future traffic problems on their suburban roads, particularly Kenwood Drive. They say traffic comes whizzing through that 25-mph street as a cut-through to the nearby Dunkin' Donuts, and to avoid two traffic lights on Whitney Avenue.

They're afraid for the kids. They're afraid for the dogs. They're afraid for themselves. And they say their fears are not being heard by the town or the university.

"I have a dog. Other people have a dog. And nobody slows down," said Iacobellis.

"Especially at 7 o'clock in the morning, they're flying through to get coffee," said association member Ginnie Dowd, who lives on nearby Klarman Drive and was also visiting Iacobellis last week.

And the women say when the nearby Quinnipiac University athletic center (entrance is on Sherman Avenue) is completed, traffic will really be hell.

Iacobellis said she tried to reach Quinnipiac officials several times to discuss the issue, but has gotten no response.

However, she did reach the mayor.

During a phone interview with the Hamden Daily News, Mayor Carl Amento said he met with the neighborhood group about creating a cul de sac at one end of Kenwood and making it a dead end, which is what the association wants. However, it looks like its wishes might remain just that -- wishes.

"This isn't going to be done for another year and a half," said Amento. "I don't think it makes sense to do anything until we know what's going to happen" after the Quinnipiac project is completed. He said during major sports events a sawhorse and a cop will block access to Kenwood.

"A sawhorse is only a Band-Aid to a traffic problem that will only escalate with the addition of another campus," said Iacobellis, clearly annoyed. She questioned who would pay for a traffic cop if the athletic facility "is rented out to another organization. The town of Hamden is going to put someone on OT?"

According to Lee Davies, the town's director of Traffic and Parking, there are no plans to make any changes on Kenwood. If one end of Kenwood is cut off it would create more traffic on Sleeping Giant Drive and Brown Street, he contended.

"I met with Lee Davies and the mayor to take a look at the area, and one of the suggestions that came from that meeting -- from both of them -- was to create the cul de sac on Kenwood Avenue in proximity to Sleeping Giant Drive," said Iacobellis.

Davies said a Quinnipiac-funded traffic study, per Iacobellis' request, was conducted last fall. It mechanically counted cars going down Kenwood, Brown and Sleeping Giant.

He said results showed "10 percent more [traffic] than we expected." He calculated his expectation by counting the number of houses and figuring 10 trips per day per home. He attributed the higher volume discovered in the study to the state agricultural substation on Kenwood and the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church on Sherman and Whitney, which would generate more traffic than a residential-only neighborhood.

Iacobellis countered that the study was done in February, not last fall, during President's weekend on that Friday, Saturday and Sunday. "And I'm not sure that that would attribute to the increase in traffic because a lot of people went away. The increase in traffic is due to people cutting through," not going to church or the substation, she said.

Another grievance Iacobellis has is that Quinnipiac didn't hold any meetings with the neighborhood to discuss its expansion plans.

John Morgan, spokesperson for Quinnipiac, said, "We've gone through all the town processes and have gotten approvals" for the new athletic center. The project, due to be completed in January 2007, will include a 157,000-square-foot building with basketball and hockey arenas. Eventually, he said, a graduate medical school and graduate housing will likely go up at the new site.

About eight years ago, the college was upgraded to a Division 1 school, calling for better sports facilities. Currently, the Quinnipiac ice hockey team play in Northford, Morgan said.

Councilman Matt Fitch, who represents the 1st District, which includes the Kenwood neighborhood, said the association has met with resistance from both the town and the university.

"All they want is to improve and protect their neighborhood and they are being shown disdain by the town and Quinnipiac," he said. "The mayor gave them the runaround; Quinnipiac won't return calls or e-mails; and the traffic director was beyond unhelpful to the point of being condescending."

Still, the Kenwood Valley Neighborhood Association, which has over 30 members, isn't about to take a backseat and watch nothing happen. The group is determined to get one end of Kenwood closed off -- either by the church on the Sherman Avenue end or where Kenwood curves by Sleeping Giant.

"We've asked for just a stop sign (for now)," said Murphy, but to no avail.

Dowd has lived in the neighborhood for 47 years. She's watched it change. Sherman Avenue was "a little country lane" back then. It was safe for small children to cross streets. As the area was developed and the traffic increased, Dowd said she stopped letting her cats outside.

Although a 25-mph sign is posted on Kenwood, the women say it's quite common for cars to travel at 60 mph.

"A lot of it is Quinnipiac," said Iacobellis.

Murphy said, "It's not just college kids. It's the locals as well."

August 28, 2005

Because of Connie

Connie Vereene

Hamden's beloved block watch guru celebrates another year on the lookout

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Eighty-three kids live on two blocks of Cherry Ann Street. Connie Vereene has made it her business to know all of them.

Fifteen years ago, when she bought her 105 Cherry Ann house -- the scene of a very lively "double block watch" party Saturday -- she said she thought she had moved out of New Haven and into Hamden. But she was only half right. Her side of the street, with the odd numbers, is Hamden. Just across the asphalt where the even numbers are, it's New Haven. Instead of moaning and groaning, Vereene turned her little neighborhood into a big family that looks out for each other day and night.

And according to anybody who knows the vivacious, gregarious woman, Vereene has done a damn good job.

Her block was on fire during yesterday's shindig with dancing and live music -- thanks to DJ Trife Good. Politicians and police also dropped in. Mayor Carl Amento was there. So was Gabe Lupo, commander of the street crime unit. He called Vereene's block watch "very effective, very effective, because they know the people here are united," he said.

Crime has plummeted 75 percent since Vereene came on the scene, according to the Hamden cop.

State Rep. Peter Villano (D-Hamden) also put in an appearance. Working on a hot dog and lemon-lime soft drink, he noted he's been coming to the double block watch (double, because it includes Hamden and New Haven) for 10 years.

New Haven Alderman Charles A. Blango visited for a spell. (His ward includes the even-numbered homes on Cherry Ann Street.) Asked what brought him to the party, he had just one word, "Connie."

Vereene's watch includes eight captains: Vereene and three others from the Hamden side and four from New Haven.

Block watch captain Odessa Fortes with her six grandsons.

"Connie got me involved," said Odessa Fortes, a Hamden captain. Fortes was there with six of her 13 grandkids. "There are no drug sales, no house break-ins" anymore, she said. The only thing missing is a playground, but political will, said Fortes, especially from New Haven, is just as absent.

"The Hamden mayor has been very, very helpful, but the New Haven mayor, John DeStefano, no help at all," said Fortes. "Connie has put her heart and soul into this block watch. If it wasn't for her, this wouldn't have happened. She loves the kids, the neighbors."

Block watch captain Belinda Hannon with her daughters.

Belinda Hannon, a New Haven captain, concurred. "It's like a big family. We know all the kids. We involve the children and make them junior block watch captains."

When Vereene, who works for Chubb insurance, moved to Cherry Ann Street her kids were already grown. Still, she said, she wanted to do something to curb the street crime.

"We had drugs on the street and all of that kind of stuff," she said, catching her breath for a moment yesterday. She seems to rarely slow down, and as the party host, she was in full swing.

"My baby is 36. I'm giving back to the community," said Vereene. She said she pitched in $700 of her own money for the party to buy 48 pounds of hot dogs and equal poundage of hamburgers, 10 cases of soft drinks, 24 bottles of spring water and lots of sweet goodies. She said she got some contributions from neighbors and Stop & Shop.

"I just love kids. I don't want them going in the wrong direction," said the block watch guru.

How cute is she? That's 3-year-old Frances Banks digging into a dog.

August 27, 2005

A Tomato Grows at Mishkan
And so do eggplants, peppers, kale, corn, broccoli and kohlrabi for area soup kitchens

The woman behind the garden effort, Melinda Tuhus.

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Toiling yesterday in the veggie gardens behind Congregation Mishkan Israel on Ridge Road -- with the August sun beating down on them -- 16-year-old Eric Graza and his mom said they feel good about what they're doing.

"It's a good service project. A good way to help out," said Eric as he handed red, ripe, organically grown tomatoes to his mother, Linda Green of Bethany. Half of the proceeds from this 15-plot community garden go to soup kitchens in Hamden and New Haven. The other half goes home with the grower.

Green gives her son another incentive to pick veggies with her. "He gets Dairy Queen afterwards." Eric smiled.

After Eric Graza finishes picking tomatoes, he gets ice cream.

For 15 years the garden, called the Pe'ah Project, has been producing strong, healthy vegetables. Started out as strictly a Mishkan effort, people like Green, who belong to the neighboring Unitarian Society of New Haven, have joined in.

Orchestrating the volunteer gardeners is Melinda Tuhus. Simply put, she said, "It's a really hands-on way to make a difference. And I don't have any garden space at home." Tuhus lives on Carmalt Road, just blocks from the reform temple.

Pe'ah is so named after the biblical mandate that farmers set aside a portion of their crops for the poor. Literally thousands of pounds of organic produce have been cultivated over the years behind Mishkan, said Tuhus. She and others personally deliver the crops to St. Ann's Soup Kitchen on Dixwell Avenue in Hamden and to the Community Soup Kitchen in New Haven.

Now that's a mitzvah.

August 15, 2005

The Butterflies of Brooksvale Park

Horticulturist Andy Brand intrigues a child with a captured dragonfly.

Story and photos by Kirsten M. Walker

The intense heat and humidity yesterday did not deter a group of "friends" from taking an afternoon walk at Brooksvale Park. Led by horticulturist and Friends of Brooksvale Park member Andy Brand, the group was on a quest to view the butterflies that either call the park home or merely stop by in their travels.

"It's so hot and dry, not the best weather for butterflies but we'll see something I'm sure," Brand told the group gathered near the native species garden. It was designed and installed by Hamden resident and Eagle Scout Chris Traester and showcases many plants and flowers native to Hamden.

As the group of kids and adults stood near a bright stand of purple coneflower, Brand turned over a swamp milkweed leaf and pointed to a tiny white speck that all would've likely missed.

"There's a monarch butterfly egg," Brand pointed out. "It'll hatch in a few days."

The Friends of Brooksvale Park arranges these kinds of walks -- free and open to all -- to promote nature education and encourage people to see the park as more than just a place to kick around a soccer ball.

Heading to the skating pond, which was totally dry and more like a meadow, it was soon evident that dragonflies were more prevalent than butterflies. Just as fun and interesting to look at, Brand gently caught some dragonflies in a net and safely enclosed them in a small plastic container or carefully displayed them between two fingers.

The adults were just as fascinated as the kids. Brand's knowledge of each specimen he showed was enthralling. And there were even a few butterflies fluttering around the arid pond.

Meadow hawk and green hawk dragonflies, damselflies, locusts, least skippers, tiger swallowtails, cabbage whites and more were the stars of the afternoon.

Drinking bottles of water as they trekked along, the hikers seemed increasingly fascinated as each unique creature was discovered.

Brand continued to discuss where the butterflies live or migrate to, what they eat, where they lay their eggs, which plants are good for the larvae and who their predators are. He named a few guidebooks for those interested in further pursuing butterfly identification.

Before the afternoon was complete, Brand pulled out a soft-sided cooler filled with an assortment of plastic containers holding a variety of caterpillars. From a short one with "eyes" to ward off predators to a pair of furry, horned ones -- which you do not want to touch or else be stung -- the caterpillars were a hit with all.

For more about becoming a member of Friends of Brooksvale, the events the group sponsors, photos from this walk and from others, and a recommended book list for butterfly enthusiasts, go to www.brooksvale.org.


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