Sunday, March 3, 2013

Commentary: Don't Allow A Death Knell For A Neighborhood

The following was sent in to The Eye by Bill Carbone. Carbone lives on Pearl Street, very near to an area subject to a zoning code text change that would open the door to high-traffic commercial shopping centers. 
The Eye would be very happy to post other submitted opinions on the proposed zoning code text amendment.
I am opposed to Centerplan’s request change to the MX zone for many more reasons than three minutes will allow me to share. Thus, I have chosen to focus here on the issue of traffic and pedestrian safety.

Allow me first to say that I absolutely love this community. My wife and I have chosen to raise our two kids here because we believe that the North End of Middletown offers the opportunity to live in a diverse community in which one can conduct much of his daily business without a car. We have a car, but we walk my son to school each day, we walk downtown to shop, and I usually walk or bike to work at Wesleyan. Because of this, I know many of my neighbors well; we see each other and speak. I know that many of the other members of this community feel the same; we’ve chosen to be here, downtown, and as such have helped shaped this Pearl St and High St corridor by maintaining our homes and gardens and friendships. We are the real “gateway to Middletown.”

If this zoning change is allowed, my street will be punctuated by a strip mall with a chain restaurant and a drive-thru rather than by historic homes. As far as I understand it, this zoning change could amount to many other neighborhoods like mine suffering a similar fate. However, what follows relates to Centerplan’s specific intentions on Washington between Pearl and High Streets.

Already, when I walk home from work at Wesleyan I often wait for the walk signal and then must cross between cars idling in traffic that have blocked the path. I’ve seen accidents involving cars, pedestrians and bikes, plenty of road rage, and have even been cursed at for pushing the walk button. This development will obviously worsen traffic volume. Moreover, since the flow of traffic in afternoon rush hour is moving mostly towards Main St, many cars will need to turn left across traffic to enter the strip mall. Not only will this further congest Washington St by backing up the left lane with cars waiting for an opportunity to turn, it will also significantly increase the number of vehicles shooting across onto Pearl St during yellow and freshly red lights.

Though this zone change semantically deals with commercial development on highways, the proposed entrance and exit of this building are from a new curb cut on Pearl St, which is decidedly not a highway. This is a death knell for my neighborhood. It adds a busy intersection on a sidewalk; and it’s a sidewalk over which my son and I walk twice a day, to and from school. It will also lead to significantly increased traffic on Pearl as people exit and take a left to cut down to Grand St. to reach Rt. 9. In fact, anyone in that parking lot with a GPS will likely be guided right past our house. We can expect traffic to build up at the corner of Pearl and Grand, and likely quite badly on Grand itself. So, in addition to the idling vehicles in traffic on Washington and at the new drive-thru, there will be idling vehicles directly in front of homes on our side streets.

Our neighborhood doesn’t need this change, nor does Middletown. There are already a plethora of excellent restaurants and coffee shops on Main St, both locally owned and corporate. There is also plenty of unused space on Main St that could be developed if there is demand for more. As for strip malls, drive-thrus and parking lots, one need only to travel one mile away from Downtown on 66 to see them in every condition from new and occupied to old, empty and foul. This plan comes with no guarantees; we’re being asked to take it on faith that development will be done in accordance with local landscape, will feature “high end” establishments and will benefit our community. In my eight years in town I’ve watched Main St. blossom as restaurants and businesses opened and succeeded. I’ve also watched a brand new strip mall and supermarket rise up and doom the old one across the street into an ugly vacancy. My faith is in Main St and a well-reasoned, conservative plan of smart development elsewhere such as I have seen this Planning and Zoning Commission enact in the past.


Anonymous said...

I especially like your last sentence, "well-reasoned, conservative plan of smart development..." Why is it that so many "conservative" businessmen have absolutely no interest in conserving anything that gets in the way of profit?

Casual Observer said...

I am for all the goals and values Bill Carbone and Stephen Devoto espouse, but I am not against everything they oppose. But we have a reality gap about what has been requested. There is a sense of hysteria around this regulation change that is overstated, overhyped and unwarranted.

The photo of the children happily sitting on a front porch is cute enough, no doubt, but it makes people think that the other side of the argument opposes and threatens that scene. This is not the case at all. I don't know where that photo was taken, but I'm guessing it wasn't facing Rt. 66. It was likely in the interior of the neighborhood just north or south of 66. Those areas are not affected by this regulation; only the arterial highways are. I don't know if there are any young children on front porches on Rt. 66 on its entire length through Middletown.

The proposed regulation adds broader retail and restaurants to the "Mixed Use" Zone- MX. As it stands now, a developer can build an office building with a convenience store on the ground floor, with a Starbucks franchise included within the store. What it can't have is a drive-through. But if they locate a bank there, currently permitted, they can have a drive-though. They could also put an apartment building (think 3 story brick building, just like farther up the hill, nursing home or a number of other uses. They could also tear down all the buildings and put in a used car lot- no kidding!

So having a restaurant, shops or even a coffee shop with a drive-through window (assuming it can be done in a way which does not harm the environs) on the ground floor of a 3 story office building does not "sound the death knell for a neighborhood" by any stretch of the imagination. The important think is for the City to reuire/demand an appropriate urban-friendly design, along the lines of the building where Brew Bakers is. Repeated use of the hot-button word "strip mall" is entirely and purposefully misleading, and one could not be built there according to this regulation.

What we should all want is for Centerplan to continue to grow while staying in Middletown (word is they may move out if this is turned down), add more people and revenue to our downtown, and ask in return for a handsome and functional addition to our community.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! May cooler heads prevail.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Don't be fooled. "Casual Observer" is not a "casual observer," but is associated with the group proposing changes in the MX Zone.

He is also wrong. Attorney Ralph Wilson, who represented Centerplan at the hearing, was finally forced to admit at the hearing that traffic would be diverted onto side streets, not onto state highways like Washington Street.

So, the kids on the porch are very much at risk.

Casual O said...


You're guessing wrong- I am not part of that group and I did not testify at the hearing, and I don't live downtown.

Irrespective of all that, I have stated my position in a factual, even-handed way. And others should not be fooled by the head-count pro and con. Opponents are always more highly motivated to come out to these hearings. About 40,000 other people weren't concerned enough by the proposal to come.

Ed McKeon said...

Gosh, Casual Observer, sorry for the bad guess, but we'll never know who you are until you out yourself.

So, maybe I'm right after all.

As for that factual even-handedness, don't put your arm out of joint patting yourself on the back for something that's obviously not true.