The Union City Challenge

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NAUGATUCK — Concerned Union City constituents shared their thoughts about cleaning up the blighted area Tuesday night at a public forum of the Union City Revitalization subcommittee, an initiative spearheaded by Second Deputy Mayor Mike Ciacciarella, burgesses Bob Neth and Hank Kuczenski, and local residents and business owners.

Though many ideas were proposed, they largely emphasized beautifying the district and, in turn, attracting more local business.

Anne Ciacciarella, Mike Ciacciarella’s wife, was confident that “businesses are going to want to come” once things get cleaned up.

A priority, it seems, is to do something with a boarded up, mostly-abandoned building on the corner of North Main Street and Prospect Street (Route 68), where Exit 28 leaves Route 8 motorists—an area where Stacy Jagello, a lifelong Union city resident, can recall trick-or-treating as a child, an amusing notion given the area’s current state.

Resident Bill Tripp said the borough should “pressure” the owner to do something about the “eyesore,” adding, “I don’t even want to ride through Union City—it just looks like crap.”

Robin Gerber, another resident of the area, suggested enlisting the help of local artists who are “willing to dedicate time and creative energy” to improving the aesthetics of Union City, perhaps in the form of street art—murals, window glass art, and so on.

Terri Rung of the Naugatuck Garden Club voiced the club’s support for the revitalization project but was concerned that people might use flower planters as trash cans.

Litter and enforcement were also common themes in the discussions.

Jim Zaiko, a 50-year Union City resident, implored the committee to “do [his] taxpayer money good.”

“There’s people throwing trash out the window … the cop is sitting there trying to catch someone with a seatbelt [infraction]. … Nobody’s doing nothing,” he said. “The police department isn’t there at 2 a.m.” when there’s the highest potential for vandalism, drug abuse, and other crime— “They’re there at four or five in the afternoon when it’s bright and sunny.”

Reinvigorating North Main Street is one of the Union City Revitalization subcommittee's chief goals.
Reinvigorating North Main Street is one of the Union City Revitalization subcommittee's chief goals.

Resident Jim Olsen thinks that adding at least two more high-power lamps to illuminate the area near Vinny’s Pizza and Prospect Street School, where the meeting was held, would do wonders to make people feel safer.

“People are mostly concerned about safety,” he said, “Any bad neighborhood is that way because people are afraid, and there’s nothing to be afraid of in Naugatuck.”

Burgess Bob Neth suggested the possibility of video surveillance in high-crime areas, but acknowledged the prohibitive cost of such equipment.

Ciacciarella and others explored the option of organizing a neighborhood watch group to address crime-related issues.

The discussion also touched upon improving sidewalks, adding a parking lot, considering a sound barrier to block traffic noise from Route 8, and enacting an “adopt-a-spot” program.

Despite the many concrete steps that might be taken to ensure Union City’s future success, some think the problem is as much an existential one as it is a practical one.

“We’ve had a lot of comment about things we’d like,” said resident John Lewis, “but we’re missing the word community.” He suggested that perhaps the problem lies as much in a lack of community spirit as it does in crime, blight, and lack of business.

“We have a lot of spirited people and a lot of powerful ideas,” he said, but it will take a one-step-at-a-time group effort to really improve the area.

Kevin McSherry, pro bono legal counsel to the revitalization project, echoed Lewis’ sentiment, saying “Union City has character … it has good people … we need to bring the strings together.”

And it’s not just the initial cleanup effort that will need the sustained togetherness of the community. Ciacciarella and Neth both stressed the importance of cooperative spirit in maintaining Union City once an initial clean-up has been completed.

“We eventually want to hand this over to you,” Ciacciarella said.

“Whatever we can do to improve [Union City],” Neth added, it’s going to be up to the community to maintain it.”

There will be a community clean-up day Oct. 3 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Call Mike or Anne Ciacciarella at 729-8886 to volunteer. More information is available at www.unioncityct.com.