As the revitalization of Broadway is nearing completion with new tenants like Urban Outfitters and J. Crew, a mini-revival may follow just up the street on Dixwell Avenue, but not without its share of controversy.
After remaining vacant for nearly six years, the buildings at 156-158 Dixwell Ave. caught the attention of Cong and Ly May Lim of Hamden last year. The Lims deposited $25,000 with the city, which currently owns the buildings, intending to open a new grocery store and reopen an abandoned laundromat on the site, which had also housed a bookstore and a ValuMart.
But what appeared to be a simple property transaction became a complicated political struggle, and the Lims have now decided to move on, leaving the property’s future in doubt once again.
“New Haven sat on the deposit for over a year while it got bounced around as a political football,” said Norbert Church Jr., the Lims’ attorney. “Eventually, my clients just got exasperated as their money sat around doing nothing.”
Following approval from the Livable City Initiative, an organization that redevelops blighted properties in New Haven, the Lims’ proposal went to the Board of Aldermen. It was during this phase that the troubles began, said Bill Dyson, the chairman of LCI and a state representative.
Ward 21 Alderman Willie Greene said he decided not to support the deal because of insufficient advertising and unequal opportunity.
“My reasons for opposing the sale had nothing to do with the Lims,” he said. “It’s about fairness, and many people from the Dixwell neighborhood were not aware that the building was up for sale.”
But Church said the building was obviously vacant and that anyone interested in the property had the opportunity to make an inquiry.
“It’s been on the market for quite a long period of time,” he said. “And anyone who drove by it could see that it was vacant. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there were ‘For Sale’ signs out front, but it’s easy enough for anyone to find out about the property.”
Eventually, however, Greene obtained enough support to prevent the transaction from going forward. But many aldermen had other reasons for opposing the Lims’ plan.
Ward 24 Alderwoman Elizabeth McCormack said her main concern was protecting Minore’s, a neighboring grocery store.
“We already have two grocery stores in the area, and whether or not we can support another one is questionable,” she said. “People saw it as competition.”
After a year of such opposition, the Lims withdrew their bid. The city returned the $25,000 deposit, putting the properties back on the market.
Church said the Lims will not bid again and have begun looking elsewhere to start their business.
“My clients wanted to re-establish business there, but because of the city’s inaction, there’ll be nothing there,” he said.
With the official bidding period ending on Oct. 17, Greene said he hoped to have the building occupied by the beginning of next year.
“The property is very important to Dixwell,” he said. “If we’re talking about rebuilding our community, we need to build a solid economic base. I want to bring in a business that will create jobs for our children and get them off the streets.”
Dyson would also like to sell the property as soon as possible, but for a much simpler reason.
“We want to start collecting taxes on it,” he said.