The city is asking a nonprofit to remove tiny homes built for unhoused people

On Friday afternoon, the city sent a cease and desist letter asking a Roseate Village neighborhood group to demolish six tiny homes they built this month.

Natasha Khuzam

2:45 AM, October 31, 2023

Staff reporter

Courtesy of Mark Colville

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

Six days later, the association received a cease-and-desist letter from the New Haven City Planning Department asking the group to remove the homes, saying they violated the city’s zoning laws.

Mark Colville, who founded the group Rosette Village Neighborhood and coordinated the tiny house project, emphasized that New Haven’s unhoused people need “immediate relief” before temperatures start to drop, which a lengthy formal process may not allow.

“This is an emergency,” Colville said. “People need instant hospitality…they don’t need to fill out forms.”

The tiny homes, built by group members in Colleaville’s backyard at 203 Rosette Street, violate the city’s structural zoning laws by increasing the density of residential units beyond the limits of the zoning code. In addition to requiring the removal of the six tiny homes and a halt to any further construction, the cease-and-desist letter also outlines a process by which the collective association can apply for an exception to these zoning laws and build the tiny homes with city approval.

According to the city’s zoning regulations, the Hill neighborhood is a “RM-2 High Density District,” with land and building use within these areas being limited, in general, to housing at a density of about 22 dwelling units per acre. According to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, the city has notified a Roseate Village neighborhood group that the construction of tiny homes violates these regulations.

“(The group’s) intentions are laudable,” Elicker told the News. “But they do so outside the legal framework that community members have spent decades creating.”

He also said the city informed the association that it could submit a zoning change request to the New Haven Zoning Board of Appeals, which, if approved, would allow an exception to the zoning code.

Elicker admitted that there was no guarantee that such a proposal would be approved.

“We have the same expectations for (the Roseate Village neighborhood group) that we have for every other property owner in the city that follows the code,” Elicker said.

The Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective has not applied for a zoning change.

In an interview with The News, Mark Colville pointed to Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s recent statement declaring homelessness a public health crisis.

“With the state of emergency and the onset of winter, we are concerned that the delay is putting people’s lives at risk due to hypothermia,” said Shannon Carter SPH ’22, who is working with Colville to address the association’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 announcement.

“When there is an emergency, the mayor has permission to override zoning laws and get permits for exactly what we are doing,” Colville said.

Elicker told the News he believes the city needs to continue increasing support for people experiencing homelessness. He outlined the city’s 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 people should abide by zoning laws out of respect for the city community.

“There are laws in place that have had extensive community input,” Elicker said. “For one entity to decide to ignore previous community input and do whatever they want on their property is not fair to the community as a whole.”

Elicker mentioned the Board of Alders’ 2021 decision to unanimously approve a zoning code amendment that would allow owners to install accessory dwelling units on their homes. Accessory dwelling units include structures such as garages or sheds that are converted into residential units. However, the first phase of this amendment only allows ADUs to be constructed if they are modifications to a pre-existing structure – which does not include newly built tiny homes.

According to Elicker, the original version of the bill received opposition from the community after concerns were raised about increased population density. The city’s solution involved making the changes in phases. He added that the second phase of the change, which has not yet been proposed to the board, would allow any homeowner to build an additional unit to serve as an ADU.

Colville claimed that members of the Hill District approved the collective’s plans to build tiny houses.

“This is the neighborhood’s response,” he added. “The Hill is an example of what a neighborhood should be, because we take care of our neighborhood, and we take care of everyone else that shows up.”

Before the tiny houses project, Colville set up a private camp in his backyard to avoid government interference in his activist efforts.

He said that this initiative came in response to the city’s decision to demolish the tent city located on the banks of the Western River last spring.

“Since they’re kicking everyone out of camps on public land, we put a camp on our private land so they can’t do it as easily,” Colville said.

According to the New Haven Independent, Elicker said the city will file a lawsuit against Colville if the Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective does not comply with the city’s requests.

Colville told the News he welcomes litigation in the city because “the law is on his side.” He added that the Rosette Village Neighborhood Association may eventually bring the city into a lawsuit if the city doesn’t take legal action first.

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

Natasha Khuzam

Natasha Khuzam covers housing and homelessness issues for the city office. She previously covered climate and environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore at Davenport College majoring in history, ethics, politics, and economics.

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