Thursday, February 14, 2013

Protecting Middletown's Gateway

COMMENTARY
Opinion submitted by Jennifer Proto, High Street homeowner, and neighbor to a proposed commercial development and associated zone change that will affect historic residences on Washington Street, and nearby neighborhoods
Expanding zoning to allow for commercial development on Washington Street (Rt. 66) will most definitely negatively impact my home (my backyard abuts two properties in the Washington St Historic District) and the rest of my neighborhood.

Strip malls appear because developers have figured out it’s cheaper to buy residential homes (especially in the wake of a home mortgage crisis) and get a zoning change than to buy an existing commercially-zoned property (for which Middletown has many – just check out those vacant store-fronts!). In my opinion, the developer interested in putting in a Starbucks isn’t responding to public demand (I already can walk to several downtown coffee spots) – he’s looking for tenants to foot the rent for his company’s office space located on the 2nd or 3rd floor.

Any thriving city needs a balance of residential and commercial areas. Middletown’s problem is we don’t have enough homeowners – some downtown neighborhoods have less than 14% owner-occupancy! The associated consequences of absentee landlords, blight and crime extend beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood itself to the city as a whole. Putting in a poorly conceived retail building where it does not fit will only serve to drive more local homeowners like me away.

It is my understanding that Ed’s proposal would protect current residential properties, but would also allow adaptive reuse by special exception. Thus, on a case-by-case basis it could be determined whether something like a law office could convert a residential home…but a traffic-inducing drive-thru establishment would be prohibited. His proposal makes perfect sense for protecting the fragile, historic character of Middletown’s gateway while offering some flexibility for changing times.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I called the city today and my understanding is that any actual proposal for a piece of land will require a public hearing including detailed plans. I think the language developed by the developer is good for many areas. May not be good for corner of Pearl and Rt 66 but how about the corner with Midas or Newfield St.or South Main past the hospital. I say above the zone change and lets see some plans for an actual site. If its bad development I trust the public opposition will cause our elected PZ Commission to vote no.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

I don't believe we ought to be changing a zone in such a dramatic way for the profit and convenience of one developer. If the zone change is good for particular sites, let's examine the entire zone, and do a real re-write. This is piecemeal, and designed to let a particular developer get his way.

cybermom said...

This is called "spot zoning" and at one time was illegal. Stop and Shop wanted to put in a store on route 17 near Randolph Road. That proposal was defeated because of spot zoning regulation.

Anonymous said...

The public is so misinformed. A zone change has to do with the entire zone, not a good or bad singular design.

No there is no referendum as some commentors on other sites are asking for.

Yes sure some would like a box store on Washington St. and a book store on Main. But thats not how the world works- Developers with money come up with ideas and we see if it fits not the other way around- If you are dead set on one type of store you may wait forever- everyone who wants this here or here is wrong in they way they see things working.

it really is scary people's lack of understanding of basic government....i thought that was a requirement taught in schools?

Jennifer Proto said...

I have a master’s degree in public administration and have worked in government for nearly a decade. I do not find the majority of the public discourse on this topic to be misinformed, although I suppose it is easier to dismiss public criticism by saying so.

That’s an interesting take on how “the world works,” but then you can say whatever you want without being accountable to actual fact when you post anonymously. I was taught in school that city residents and elected officials - not developers with money – establish the plan for where developers may, and may not build. This is not about arguing the merits of one “store” over another – this is about whether any “store” should exist in a zone which for centuries has been intended primarily for residential properties.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:50

You know what else is taught in schools. Capitalizing 'I' at the beginning of a sentence.

:-) IslandGirl (grammar Nazi)

Anonymous said...

And while we're on the subject of real estate-let's tear down Sumner Brook Mill Condos. That place is nearly uninhabitable.

Stephen said...

Just some points for clarification. Land use restrictions can be dated back to the 1880's. I believe San Francisco was one of the earliest cities to use this, to keep Chinese populations from getting what they wanted. This was overturned by the Supreme Court as racially motivated. The actual birth of zoning regulations dates back to 1916 in New York. So centuries of Zoning is misleading. Not even a century has passed yet, just as a point.

City planners and zoning boards set the vision for the City. Restrictions and zones are designated to protect residential neighborhoods, business neighborhoods, and to prevent what is usually seen as urban sprawl. With the local governments fighting for tax dollars, all new construction or changes must be brought to these boards. The boards job is to protect the law, enforce regulation, and approve or deny changes or buildings that may hurt the area in question. Any developer can propose changes to that board, but our jobs as citizens is to ensure these elected boards do what is best for the community.

If these boards do not, our jobs as voters is to remove them from office at the next election. Referendums to the public are costly, and usually lead to misinformation provided by biased opinions. The proposed change in this case would not fit, and should be denied. As far as anonymous posters go, it is a choice made by those who know attacks will be forthcoming from those who take the opposite side of an issue. So I for one have no problem with anonymous posters to protect their privacy. Calling them out and pushing off their opinions is wrong. It's always good to hear other opinions.

Some of us, like myself for instance also have a MPA, MBA and a BS and offer intelligent conversation. The attacks on spelling and grammar are childish as are the attacks on their anonyminity.

I will sign as Stephen, but will not be bullied into last name use just to attack my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Kudos, Stephen! Well said. I've been slammed here by a couple of regular posters several times since the inception of the Eye for stating an opinion anonymously. However, whenever I meet them in person, they are very civil to me.

shane said...

Ed
Thank you for caring about the quality of our neighborhood. It is such a nice place to live. Keep fighting the good fight. My family and I support your efforts.

Catherine Johnson said...

This is the most informed post I have read in years! Stephen: where are you and will you run for Planning & Zoning this year?

I would like to elaborate on a few of his points:
"City planners and zoning boards set the vision for the City. Restrictions and zones are designated to protect ... neighborhoods, and to prevent ... sprawl."

First, what a DREAM it would be if our P&Z and planning department did, in fact, reinforce good urbanism and minimize conventional suburban development (sprawl). What a dream it would be to have residents recognize where we have a good thing going, and ask the P&Z to make sure these areas are protected. Middletown would finally have some self-awareness about its strengths and its competitive edge over other places, and emerge as The City in Connecticut.

I would argue that the best of what we have here in Middletown, right now, is not protected. This proposed zoning change has exposed the glaring omissions to our regulations. As Stephen says, "it does not fit." Well, if others share that opinion, as I do, we need to make it crystal clear to the P&Z what DOES fit. And we need to make sure those specifications are put into the zoning code to guide the next proposal for development here.

That leads me to a second point: who does creates the Vision for a city? I'm afraid it is the rare exception that administrative planners and P&Z's have a vision. State- and nation-wide, P&Z commissioners are terrifically undereducated when it comes to the vision part of the job. Outside of a 2-hr intro session on how to read a site plan, and what state statutes qre required to review applications when they are first elected or appointed, no education is offered to them. Vision for a city comes from whoever comes forward with a vision. This step was skipped in the latest re-do of the city Plan of Development, and now we are seeing the price we'll have to pay. The question is: will we, in the absence of our own vision, accept this developer's vision of what Middletown should look like?

I hope we use this opportunity to offer the P&Z commission a VISION for downtown and South Main St neighborhoods, no matter what zone it's labeled at present, so this Vision guides POLICY (written into the city Plan of Development), which will then be translated into REGULATIONS (a proper form-based code) for those parcels. This is the real protection for those places: an actual code that describes the size of parcels, building footprints, building placement on lot, how to build on a corner lot, parking location, parking space cap, lawn requirement, lighting, drive-thru's, enclosure walls where comm'l/res'l uses abut, dampening A/C condenser sound transmission, etc. A clear and concise description of the physical form the neighborhood wants to see is the best way to get desired development, and to preserve the integrity of what's already there.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

To all anonymous posters with hurt feelings: consider the alternative and have the courage to sign your posts.

As an anonymous poster you have no credibility.

As an anonymous poster your information is not verifiable.

As an anonymous poster, you leave yourself open for criticism.

As an anonymous poster, you might be anybody - in this case, someone working for the developer, for example.

As an anonymous poster you take advantage of everyone who is courageous enough to stand by their opinions.

As far as I'm concerned, if you can't sign your name, you may as well keep your opinions to yourself.

Anonymous said...

so then why allow any?

Stephen said...

Exactly why people will not post the last names Ed. Because you use this blog to bully those who choose to offer opinion other than your own. If you think the information posted is not verifiable , I suggest you attend some higher education. Simple research which took three minutes verified what was posted. You can downplay the intelligence levels of the anonymous posters all you like, but it only shows a lack of foresight. Some of us remain to be this way because of people such as you. You practice your craft by bully tactics. Quite concerning for a member of the Board of Education.

The truth is what was posted is factual and worthy of reading. If you had taken the time to actually understand it, you would realize it is in agreement to defeat the proposed change. As far as leaving us open to criticism , I obviously disagree.. These are facts that you choose to ignore. The last time I looked we lived in a free country, which allows us to offer our opinions signed or not. Lets take a look at the posts. My posts are factual, intelligent and to the point. Your posts are full of emotion and attacks which lead us to believe you do nothing to back your own postings.

I take advantage of no one, and am a proud member of this community. No matter what your bias is based upon, it really shows your inability to have an intelligent conversation. Fact is, your opinion of me and the anonymous poster is none of our business. If this blog chooses to not post anonymous opinions, then that is your choice. I suggest you stop that ability and that way you will only get those who agree with you.

Have a wonderful day!

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Rant away Stephen, whoever you are. But you're wrong on all counts.

Did I realize you were against the proposal. Yes. It does not forgive your anonymity.

I need to get some higher ed? Sounds like an insult, Mr. Anonymous.

And let's consider who's the bully. I sign everything I post. I take responsibility for everything I write. What about you? Obviously not. BTW, how can I bully someone without an identity.

As for disagreeing with those who post, it's called debate. Just like I'm doing with you now.

If what you posted is factual, and you have some authority, sign your name and demonstrate that you're what you claim, "a proud member of the community."

You have a complete misunderstanding of "free country" in which you are conflating freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

First, your comments have not been edited or deleted. Second, this blog is not obliged by the Constitution to print your comments. It's a courtesy that we do. Third, you can say whatever you want, wherever you want, but there are consequences, some legal, if what you say is slander or libel. Fourth, this is the hilariously ironic situation where you complain that you can't offer an opinion, but you have.

In the case of my posts, they are factual.

In the case of my criticism of your anonymity, let me remind you what you reminded me. It is my right, and I exercise it.

And then I sign my name.

Stephen Devoto said...

I do not object to 'anonymous' in the same way that Ed does, but it is a stretch for anonymous to claim 'bullying'. Please speak to an actual bullying victim before using that term to describe your anonymous pain.

Realize that comment moderators see many more comments than you do, and all anonymous comments are apparently by the same author ("anonymous"). You know very well that you are not the same anonymous who submitted a dishonest, personal attack on a member of our community. We don't.

You see thoughtful comments on issues of importance to our city, we always gratefully post them, and wish that we knew whom to thank for the contribution.

You do not see comments that include slander on individuals, we never post them. The grey area between attacks and respectful disagreement is huge and Anonymous believes that we are blocking comments because we disagree with their content, not because they contain a personal attack. Frankly, I don't care.

Perhaps Anonymous would understand if we posted a comment policy. The policy on Old War Dogs is a model. I have put possible Eye-specific additions in brackets, and War Dog specific text not bold.

Our Comment Policy
Contributed by Bill Faith

Apparently we've become popular enough to need one.

To our readers: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the right to provide your own soapbox and stand on any street corner in the country saying damned near anything you feel like saying. It does not give you the right to walk into my home uninvited and shit on my carpet. Likewise, you have the right to start your own blog and write damned near anything you want to. You do not have the right to waste my bandwidth on attacks on [anyone]
me, my fellow veterans, our currently serving military personnel, or the nation we risked our lives for and they are currently risking theirs for. I am not a nice man; never pretended to be. Save yourself some time and just don't bother trying.
***
I've turned on comment moderation. Relevant comments will appear after they've been approved. I really don't give a rat's ass how many [secrets about the Board of Education you know.]
student deferments Dick Cheney had or whether some libtard is capable of understanding that Air National Guard service does not constitute "dodging the draft." Get a KOS diary. Start your own site. You're done polluting mine.
***
Let me try to put this in simpler terms since traffic has picked up enough for the occasional [City Hall griping wanna-be]
leftyto wander by the site. I'll try not to use any big words.

When you send a letter to the editor of your local paper it may or may not get published. The paper isn't obliged to publish it just because you took time to write it. If you call the editor or one of his top reporters dumb names your letter probably won't be published. The same goes for letters claiming the world is flat, we've never been to the moon, George Washington was gay, etc. The fact that you chose to honor my poor little blog with a comment does not obligate me to post it. If I like it I will. If I don't like it but if it reflects some thought I probably will anyway. If you try to tell me [Drew]
Bush lied, [Serra is hiding a secret] the Jews blew up the World Trade Center and we [should investigate corruption in department xx] need to invite Osama and the Iranians over for afternoon tea you're wasting your time and mine. I'm a Viet Nam combat veteran with a Master's degree in Engineering; I [We're volunteering our time on behalf of our community, to improve our great city;] we don't need some snotty nosed kid whose biggest accomplishment in life is saving some Nintendo princess telling me what's wrong with [me or anybody else] our foreign policy. Don't waste your time and mine trying.

Jen Alexander said...

Ha! This sounds great Stephen, and it made me laugh. Yes, here at the Eye, we do get a lot of conspiracy theory comments about any and all of the political figures in town, always by people who claim to know about some criminal behavior that for some reason they won't report to the authorities.

But I also kind of liked the policy suggested by the boldly-named Tetragrammaton:

Anonymous posters agree to censorship by the editors (sic) of the Eye.

Or maybe we should just get back to the question at hand: Would it be better for Middletown if Washington St. & South Main St had more shopping centers/drive-through restaurants and fewer historic houses and residences in the blocks surrounding downtown?

-Jen Alexander

Stephen said...

Once again, it is clearly a tactic utilized by this blog creator to bully those who choose to remain anonymous. Just an opinion from what I've read here. Amazing how some claim to be all about making Middletown better, but you attack anonymous posters at will. I offered opinion on the subject of the P&Z changes being considered. Only to be insulted by someone who believes his point is the only correct one. As far as the comments about educating oneself, it was a suggestion not an insult.

Rest assured I will no longer read or post here as no intelligent comments are accepted by anonymous posters. From a personal standpoint, I never attacked in this forum, and use to enjoy reading what you published here. Hopefully fighting the zone change will go forward with intelligent research, well thought out opinions, and not by emotional roller coaster rides. I will continue my opinion on this zoning proposal at City Hall. Because the bottom line is the preservation of that neighborhood, and not a misdirected knee jerk reaction.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous posters unite!

As one, I don't have an objection to censorship of posts that are slanderous, rude, or personal attacks. What I do have a problem with is a double standard, when the Eye claims there is a standard but allows one of their own to call people "scoundrels" and "cowards".

Anonymous said...

I also feel that the emotional attacks on anonymous posters distracts from the issue under discussion. Focus on the argument, not the person who made it. Personal attacks against anonymous posters serve no purpose, except to provide an outlet for frustration. I don't think that's why you all started this blog.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anons 3:57 and 10:54

In order for me to insult someone, I would have to know who that someone is. You see slander and libel has to be directed at a person, and has to be an intentional lie. My thoughts on anonymity are neither.

I would stop tweeking anonymous posters, but it brings so much perverse joy into my life.

If your feelings are so damned hurt, stop posting anonymously, or at all.

And how the hell do you know why I started this blog?

Anonymous said...

You've written multiple times that the reason you started the blog was to keep Middletown citizens informed on what was going on in our town. Hopefully you didn't do all this work just to be able to vent your frustration with anonymous online comments. My sole point is that attacks on anonymous posters distracts from the stated goal.

Anonymous said...

On the lighter side of the debate I submit the following, Starbuck's most expensive drink: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-pricey-starbucks-drink-20130220,0,7801206.story

joseph getter said...

Anil Dash proposes ways to make your blog a great place, here: http://dashes.com/anil/2011/07/if-your-websites-full-of-assholes-its-your-fault.html. He makes a strong case for not allowing truly anonymous comments. Another thing The Eye lacks that Dash recommends are guidelines and policies for posting and commenting.

Stephen Devoto said...

The Eye Stylebook includes guidelines for posting. All authors have been sent this, but we do not have an editor to police it; we rely on the good effort of the volunteer correspondents.

As for a comment policy, we would love to have one, but have been unable to codify rules for anything except the most obvious (no spam ads, no slander). If you are able to draft one that you think will satisfy and is consistent with the spirit of The Eye, please send it to us or simply post it as a comment.

We have debated whether we should allow anonymous comments, and have so far decided that they add value to the community. "Anonmyous" believes that we use a personal judgement to decide which of his comments gets published and which do not. We agree with him.

We treat signed comments differently, we have never rejected a comment that was from a clearly identified person.

Anonymous said...

Ed's comments to anonymous posters seem to fall into the definition of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously