Maggie Grether, Contributing Photographer

The Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective finished constructing six tiny homes to serve unhoused people in New Haven on Saturday, Oct. 21.

Six days later, the Collective received a cease-and-desist letter from the New Haven City Plan Department asking the group to halt any further building and vacate the structures, saying that they violated city zoning codes.

Mark Colville, who founded the Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective and coordinated the tiny house project, maintained that unhoused people in New Haven require “immediate relief” before the temperatures begin to drop, which a lengthy official process may not allow for.

“This is an emergency,” Colville said. “People need immediate hospitality… They don’t need forms filled out.”

The tiny homes, which members of the Collective built in Colville’s backyard at 203 Rosette St., violate the city’s structural zoning codes by increasing housing-unit density beyond zoning code limits. In addition to asking for the removal of the six tiny homes and cessation of any further construction, the cease-and-desist letter also outlines a process through which the Collective could apply for an exception to these zoning codes and build the tiny homes with the city’s approval.

According to city zoning regulations, the Hill neighborhood is a “RM‑2 High Density Zone,” in which the use of land and buildings within these areas is limited, in general, to dwellings at a density of about 22 dwelling units per acre. According to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, the city advised the Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective that the construction of tiny homes violated these regulations. 

“[The Collective’s] intentions are laudable,” Elicker told the News. “But they are doing this outside of the legal framework that community members have spent decades creating.”

He also said the city informed the Collective that they could submit a zoning variance application to the New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals, which, if approved, would allow for an exception to the zoning code. 

Elicker acknowledged that there is no guarantee such a proposal will be approved.

“We have the same expectation for [the Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective] that we have for every other property owner in the city that follows the law,” said Elicker.

The Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective did not apply for a zoning variance application.

In an interview with the News, Mark Colville pointed to a recent statement by Connecicut Governor Ned Lamont declaring homelessness to be a public health crisis.

“With the state of emergency and coming into the winter, we’re just concerned that delaying puts people’s lives at risk from hypothermia,” said Shannon Carter SPH ’22, who is working with Colville to address the Collective’s efforts to build tiny homes.

Colville also expressed frustration with the city’s response to the tiny homes project, especially in light of Lamont’s declaration.

“When there is a state of emergency, the mayor has the authorization to bypass zoning laws and to get permits for exactly what we’re doing,” Colville said.

Elicker told the News he believes the city needs to continue to increase support for people experiencing homelessness. He outlined city efforts to address the housing crisis including the city’s recent purchase of a hotel that will be converted into a shelter.

Elicker also said he believes that individuals must adhere to zoning laws out of respect for the city community.

“There are laws in place that have gone through extensive community input,” Elicker said. “For one entity then to decide to disregard previous community input and just do what they want to on their property is not fair to the overall community.”

Elicker mentioned the Board of Alders’ 2021 decision to unanimously approve a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow owner-occupants to install accessory dwelling units in their homes. Accessory dwelling units include structures like garages or sheds that are converted into housing units. However, the first phase of this amendment only allows for the creation of ADUs if they are modifications of a pre-existing structure — which does not encompass the tiny homes that were newly built.

According to Elicker, an original version of the bill received pushback from the community after prompting concerns about increased density. The city’s solution involved phasing in the changes. He added that the second phase of the change, which has not yet been proposed before the Board of Alders, will allow for any homeowner to construct an additional unit to serve as an ADU.

Colville claimed that members of the Hill neighborhood consented to the Collective’s plans to construct the tiny homes.

“This is a neighborhood response,” he said. “The Hill is an example of what a neighborhood should be, because we take care of our own, and we take care of everybody else who shows up.”

Before the tiny homes project, Colville set up a private encampment in the backyard of his home in order to avoid government intervention with his activist efforts. 

This initiative, he said, was a response to the city’s decision to bulldoze the tent city at West River last spring.

“Since they’re kicking everybody off encampments on public land, we put one on our private land so they can’t do that very easily,” Colville said. 

According to the New Haven Independent, Elicker said that the city would pursue litigation against Colville if the Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective does not comply with the city’s requests. 

Colville told the News that he welcomes city litigation because “the law is on [his] side.” He added that the Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective might eventually engage the city in litigation if the city does not take legal action first. 

The New Haven City Plan Department is located at 165 Church St. 

Correction, Nov. 27: In a previous version of this article, Mark Colville’s name was spelled incorrectly. The article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling.

Correction, Jan. 19: A previous version of this article erroneously reported that the cease-and-desist letter the city sent asked The Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective to take down the six tiny homes they built. The letter instead asked the Collective to refrain from further construction. The letters were sent after construction on the tiny homes was complete and residents had already moved into the structures.

Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.