Frog Hollow Residents and Emanuel Lutheran Church Leaders Come Together to Rebuild Historic Hartford Property for Habitat for Humanity – Hartford Courant

HARTFORD – The two parties working together with power tools, scrapers, hammers and paint on Saturday – officials from the Emanuel Lutheran Church and representatives from the Frog Hollow neighborhood revitalization area – could not have been more distant in September 2019.

After years of trying to figure out what to do with the property at 315 Capitol Ave., the church sought to demolish the three-story 1890 Queen Anne House, which the church purchased for $120,000 in 2012 with the original intention to rehabilitate until costs proved prohibitive.

The plan was to raze the visual pollution that sits in the shadow of the Legislative Office building, which church officials say attracts drug addicts and squatters, and to use the cleared plot to ease traffic for the daycare at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Broad Street. .

But some Frog Hollow residents, including Carey Shea, acting chair of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, and Greg Secord, opposed the proposal.

“I had just moved into the neighborhood,” Shea said. “I was really delighted to see how beautiful and historic it was. I looked at this building and said, ‘It’s a beautiful building, why would we need to tear it down? It could be renovated. …

“I was angry because I had just returned from New York and seen building after building after building being rehabilitated. And I was frustrated. like a throwaway town. What’s allowed to be torn down in Hartford wouldn’t be allowed to be torn down anywhere else. And I had worked in a little foam myself.

The neighborhood’s revitalization area initially voted against the plan, and the following night the Hartford Preservation Commission unanimously rejected the request for demolition. Grudges abounded following the decision.

“It got heated,” Shea said. “Fingers pointed.”

Instead of metaphorically keeping their fingers clenched into clenched fists, the neighborhood and the church reached out with open arms.

After the Hartford Preservation Commission meeting, Shea and Secord contacted the church’s senior pastor, Rev. Paula V. Mehmel, to see if the parties had common ground to determine what could be done. if need be, with a house which, for all intents and purposes, the church was now stuck with.

“There was a big disappointment because we put a lot of energy and effort into it,” Mehmel said. “But I said, ‘We have to live our values.’ If they want to meet with us to find a solution, we have to meet with them to find a solution.

The parties met and began a dialogue and several ideas were floated, including possibly moving the building.

“It was a good thing, we all said, ‘Let’s move on. … Let’s find a way forward,” Mehmet said.

“Everyone has a vision of what they want to do with it, like a dream,” added Mike Nowak, manager of the church’s property team. “And you don’t want to give up on your dream. So getting a turnaround like that is like giving up on a dream. So that’s what you have to go over. Say, ‘OK, this is where we are now. And after?’ It was disappointing, but you can’t live like this forever, so you move on.

Secord, who has a passion for historic architecture, had worked with Habitat for Humanity on separate property and pitched the 2,500-square-foot home on Capitol Avenue as a potential project, possibly renovating it for a family of military veterans.

“Particularly because it’s across from the armory, it seemed like a no-brainer,” Secord said.

“I was like, ‘Oh wow,'” Shea added. “We have all the ingredients: a big house, a big landlord, a big congregation, a big nonprofit, supportive neighbors, a good fundraising apparatus…and a spectacular building on one of the main thoroughfares of Hartford so everyone can see this. Hartford is booming.

The stars aligned, with the church ultimately selling the house to Habitat for Humanity for $45,000 — a steep discount but something for the church to reinvest in the community, Nowak said.

Yet the hard feelings that had been generated in 2019 had not only dissipated, they had given way to brotherhood and community building.

Shea and Secord donated to ImmaCare when the church held food drives, and they volunteered in the church’s frost shelters.

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“We went to dinner at Greg’s,” Mehmet said, calling the two “friends from church.”

It all brought neighborhood and church members together — about a dozen workers in all — on a scorching Saturday to the sound of the unmistakable symphony of power tools, hammers and scrapers that come with home renovations.

Len Turpin, renovation and project manager for Habitat for Humanity, says the renovations are a bit behind schedule, but the goal is to complete the work by the end of the year.

Shea, who served as acting director of the Hartford Land Bank, noted that the rehabilitation project is essential.

“This is the last destroyed home on Capitol Avenue,” she said, adding that she plans to attend a church service in the near future. “If you drive end to end, it’s the last one. This is a real milestone for Hartford. Real estate values ​​in this area have really gone up. Everything that comes to market is now recovered. It’s going to be a shining star in the neighborhood.

All parties agree that following heated discussions three years ago, they have not only stitched together their relationship, but they have also stitched together the neighborhood and a small but important part of the city. Simply by working together.

“We wanted to improve the neighborhood,” Mehmet said. “It’s the best of all possible outcomes.”

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