Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Think Outside the Bun

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.
There are a few problems with this approach.  The first is that the photos only tell half the story.  Here's the photo as it appears in the Staff Comments.  This is Burger King ("yes, and with a drive-thru") in Columbus, GA.  Ignoring the lollipop BK sign, it's a handsome building from ground level.

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.
Unfortunately, when that fast-food restaurant came to Middletown, town the city did not adhere to 'form-based" guidelines which would have begun to bring positive change to the streetscape on the commercial strip on Rte. 66.  It seems, we even didn't take the time, as they say at Taco Bell to "Think Outside the Bun."

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.


Susanne Fusso said...

Good post. The "staff comments" are disgusting.

Anonymous said...


Susanne Fusso said...

I notice that all the comments that support this development are unsigned. I wonder why that is?

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

NIMBY and proud of it, Anon 10:22.

You got my name right, BTW, what's yours?

I bet you were one of those kids who said, "nah-nah-nah-naaah-nah."

Anonymous said...

Why are ad hominem attacks allowed on this blog. Ed are are becoming inappropriate. If your blog doesn't like Anon, then do away with it!

Anonymous said...

Middletown Eye - do some self policing! Ed's nah nah nah comment is unnecessary and just because he bullies under his name doesn't mean you have to post it.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anons 12:18 and 12:35 you've made my day. I thought it would pass without being called a bully.

You are hilarious, really. Take your show on the road, althogh, how would you appear on stage? With a grocery bag over your head?

Let's see. I'm called NIMBY, in a way that the anon thought would insult me, and that's not ad hominem.

In fact, I would have to know your character in order for me to make an ad hominem attack. And I don't even know who you are.

My name is Ed. What's yours?

Bill Wilson said...

I don't support your text change Ed. I will tell you to your face unlike those who write and post on the Middletown Eye. I have said I prefer the text change to stay as is and let those who own the land have a say in how it is developed. You want to take that away from them. I wonder how you would feel if you had land that you could develop and were told you couldn't because someone down the road doesn't like it. Would that be fair, because that is what you and the "Village" district people are doing.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...


Happy to talk to you at length about it. The best thing that could happen tonight is a vote against no zoning changes.

The MX change actually would devalue neighboring properties.

But, as you know, zoning is about not letting anybody do anything they want with their property.

Thanks for the comment.