Ed McKeon is a former Middletown Eye editor, and resident of Pearl Street. He is challenging the expansion of the MX Zone, and recommended that former residences in the ID Zone be regulated as a residential zone with adaptive reuse allowed. This is an opinon piece.
Middletown's office of Planning, Conservation and Development is working overtime in their support of the upcoming P&Z hearing on a change in the MX code. They have issued three sets of "staff comments" in support of the change. You can find those comments here.
For the record, I oppose the change. And I disagree with the comments.
In Staff Comments 1, the planner's office suggests that the change "simply 'opens the door' to allow property owners in the MX zone to apply to the commission." It's kind of like saying, Pandora opened the door of the box, filled with the evils of the world, simply to allow what was inside, out. I believe the outcomes will be similar.
In the same set of comments, the planner's office also concludes that, "mixed use (sic) development of the type envisioned is definitely desirable and the way of the future." A visionary statement indeed, if you don't consider the idea that two-story buildings with storefronts have been around for centuries, and as such, are not the wave of the future, but a reinforcement of past best practices.
In Staff Comments 3, the planner's office cherry-picks the plan of development to bolster support for the MX change. As a colleague notes, "although they (the planning staff) cite two guiding principles under "Economic Development" - 1) Increase commercial tax base and 2) Reinforce downtown as economic/cultural center, they fail to include the third principle, "Offer incentives for recycling brownfields and rehabbing historic structures."
I would argue, in addition, that the MX change does the opposite of reinforcing "downtown as an economic/cultural center" by diverting commercial attention to the outskirts.
But it's Staff Comments 2, that's most surprising. It appears the planner's office has had a late conversion to adaptive reuse. They offer a fill-in-the-blank quiz, and jpegs of several locations where chain restaurants have been forced to adhere to strict zoning regulations to fit into those locations.
|The Planning Staff's selected view.|
|The Google view of Columbus.|
|A not-so-romantic streetscape in Columbus.|
But from another perspective (Google's), you can see just what a mess it is. I would guess that the "pedestrian-friendly" walkways are used far less frequently than the fifty-car parking lot, or the drive-thru, both of which empty onto Lockwood Avenue. That side street surely sees more vehicular traffic than it ever has.
Here's the McDonald's in Freeport, ME, with some of the same issues.
|Freeport Maine parking lots from above.|
Another problem with this set of Staff Comments is that the photos deal with adaptive reuse of older buildings, while Centerplan, who is behind the MX zone change, wants to knock old buildings down, and throw new ones up.
And none of these buildings illustrated fit the minimum size requirements of the proposed change - 15,000 square feet, and 300 feet of frontage.
Finally, that fill-in-the-blank quiz I mentioned earlier. I'm not so sure the Planning department would get a passing grade. Less than a year ago, a new fast food restaurant was built on Washington Street.
If we were to fill in the blanks the sentence would have to read. "Make Middletown look like Taco Bell, Or Make Taco Bell look like Middletown." I suggest e settled for the former.
|The new Taco Bell on Washington St. in Middletown.|
The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission meets Wednesday, February 27, 7 PM, in City Hall's Council Chambers to deliberate two significant zoning proposals which could affect Middletown neighborhoods.