By KAITLYN NAPLES
The West End Association began in 2011 with just 50 members. In just two years, the association has cultivated and enlarged that number (which includes individual and business members), has held numerous fundraising events like the Taste of Bristol and the West End Rockwell Park Summer Festival, twice, and continues to work together to make the West End neighborhood a better place.
At last week’s council meeting, the association went one step further and presented a plan to the City Council, which they feel will enhance the safety and improve the quality of life in their neighborhood.
Dave Hamelin, president of the association, presented the council with some facts of the West End neighborhood.
“Our property owners have to resort to hiring their own security at night to watch their property and keep their tenants safe to prevent them from leaving; We have businesses getting trashed at night; Our tenants are afraid to walk through their own neighborhood because of the people hanging out on the sidewalks; We had a business owner shot breaking up a drug dealer fight,” Hamelin said. “This is simply no way to live and as a city we should do something about it.”
Hamelin presented five suggestions to the council, which was all sent to the city’s Planning Commission for further review and consideration.
The association is asking the city to install a “quality camera system” that would focus on the main intersections. Hamelin said the association appreciates the current increase in police efforts in the neighborhood, and asked the city to permanently fund those patrols to keep crime under control.
Regarding the cameras, Hamelin said “it is less expensive to watch camera monitors than it is to have two-man patrols 24 hours a day all week long and it is very easy to review during slow times.”
Next, Hamelin said the association wants to help establish a Neighborhood Awareness Program, which could put together meetings with groups of residents so they can meet local police officers and city officials, hear the concerns of residents, and establish a good rapport.
“This will build trust and open up a line of dialog that doesn’t exist right now,” Hamelin added.
The association also would like to see some changes made to the Bristol’s Tax Freeze Program. Hamelin said the program is “a great way to encourage property owners to improve their proper ties,” but he said it needs to change its criteria to not just include buildings that are “totally awful.” He said the program needs to also be advertised more.
“A tax freeze is a great way to encourage improvements that are a win-win situation for the city. Just imagine how many properties could be substantially improved with no loss of money to the city and a promise of future tax dollars,” he said, adding that the association also requests an increase in the allocation to the business facade improvement program.
Another suggestion by the association is to establish a regular “apartment inspection program.” The program would reassure guidelines for safety, security and sanitation for apartments across the entire city.
“This program should also create a tough no tolerance policy for any landlord that refuses to bring their property up to this minimum standard,” Hamelin told the council.
For its last suggestion, the association wants to work with the city to plan to revitalize business in the West End neighborhood. Part of the plan, Hamelin said, is to identify “strategic underperforming properties,” and if they were removed, these properties are opportunities for future development.
“Available customer parking is a major concern for businesses in the area. We have some beautiful and classic buildings and these additional parking options must work to preserve the character and context of the neighborhood. Through the strategic placement of new parking, both shared and municipal, we can achieve both goals,” Hamelin added.
Mayor Art Ward said the plan will be forwarded to every department in the city.
“We share the same sentiments,” Ward said. “Many of us long for the days back when it was safe, neighbor-to-neighbor, business-to-business, when everything flourished.”
Hamelin said the association realizes their plan costs additional money and possibly addition personnel, but, he said, “the real cost is in the decay of the quality of life.”
“We have a great city, fantastic schools, an awesome park system and strong neighborhood pride,” Hamelin said with a crowd of West End advocates filling the room behind him. “We believe that with vision and determination, great things can happen.”
By KAITLYN NAPLES