Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Can't Tell The Players Without a Program

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.

The hearing on the proposed "text amendment" was marathon.  Five hours of testimony from petitioners, experts (so-called), and residents, weighing in on the effect of two new commercial uses in the MX Zone - high volume restaurant and retail with drive-thrus. 

The final tally of people who made public testimony during the public hearing was forty (40) residents opposing the change in the MX Zone and five (5) in favor.

Most of the residents who oppose the change introduced themselves and made it clear how and why the zone change would affect them. They were neighbors, community members, parents, grandparents, attorneys, architects, students and professors.

Among those making statements opposing the plan were:

Liz Warner, local historian and author of the book, A Pictorial History of Middletown.  Warner also, coincidentally offered to buy "the Wesleyan house" (184-186 Washington), from Wesleyan, to be used as a residence, long before the Centerplan deal became public, but her offer was rejected.

Brian Stewart, professor of physics at Wesleyan and victim of a biking accident on Washington Street when a car leaving a drive-thru struck him.

John Hall, former minister of First Church, and the president of local environmental group, the Jonah Center for Earth and Art.

Attorney Jared Proto and Jennifer Proto, owners of a house adjacent to the proposed Centerplan development.  They reported that they rejected an offer from Centerplan to buy their house, and that the real estate agent representing Centerplan told them they didn't want to raise their daughter in Middletown because "the schools are terrible."

Attorney Jane McMillan, whose firm, Howard and McMillan is located in the Main Street Market.

Pamela Steele, owner of Pamela Roose Specialty Hand Knits in the Main Street Market.
Jim Sarbaugh, a representative from the Middletown Trust for Historic Preservation.   A letter from Stacey Vairo,  Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, State and National Register Coordinator, was also sent to the P&Z Commission opposing the zone change.

Mary Alice Haddad, resident of Pearl Street, and Wesleyan Professor in the Government Dept.

Eloise Tencher, owner of Brewbaker's, on Main Street, who wrote a statement opposing the development.

Ellen Ornato, former assistant planning director in Meriden.

Biff Shaw, former chair of Middletown's Planning and Zoning Commission, whose letter was read into the record by longtime Middletown activist Katchen Coley.  Shaw has retired and lives in Essex.

Diane Gervais, owner of Amato's Toy & Hobby on Main Street, who is the daughter of Vinny Amato, who spoke up many times about protecting Main Street and not allowing commercial sprawl.

Andrew Texler of the Wesleyan Student Association who read an official statement from the WSA opposing the change in zone.

D'mitri D'Alessandro, resident and owner of Middletown Framing on Main Street.

And dozens and dozens of concerned residents, neighbors and citizens.

The proponents were not so forthcoming about their credentials.  Here's some additional helpful information.

The Meerts Statement.
John Meerts is the CFO of Wesleyan University who was instrumental in the original plan to locate the Wesleyan Bookstore in the Centerplan development, and in optioning a former student residence on Washington Street to Centerplan.  Meerts spoke as the official representative of the Wesleyan administration.   Meerts lives in Guilford.

Seb Giuliano
Seb Giuliano is the former mayor of Middletown.  Attorney Ralph Wilson, who represented Centerplan at the hearing, was Giuliano's campaign manager when Giuliano ran for mayor, and Wilson contributed generously to his campaign.  Wilson also hosted a regular Comcast cable show with Giuliano when he was mayor. Bob Landino, of Centerplan, has also contributed generously to the former Mayor's campaigns.

Bob Landino
John Desena is the principal of JDS Holding in Middletown.  He also owns a vacant lot in Middletown, on the block where Centerplan has indicated it would like to build a commercial building.  

Bob Landino, is the CEO of Centerplan.   He lives in Chester.

Lee  Osborne, owns a home on the block where Centerplan has proposed a development.  His home is under option for sale to Centerplan.

Each of those testifying, save one, is a landowner, represents a landowner, or has an option on land that will immediately become more valuable if the MX Zone amendment is passed.

Conspicuous in Their Absence

Several people you have expected to see at the meeting were not in attendance.

Bill Warner
Larry McHugh, who urged chamber members to attend, did not attend himself.  A letter supporting the MX change, indicating that the Chamber Executive Board voted to support, was read by Chamber employee Jeff Pugliese. 

Mayor Dan Drew did not attend, but sent a letter which was read into the record by town planner Bill Warner (who lives in Middlefield). 

Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University.  This week at an open forum on campus organized by the WSA, it is reported that Roth was questioned about whether Wesleyan would pull out of an option that Centerplan has to purchase 184-186 Washington Street.  Roth reportedly said Wesleyan would not pull out of the deal because they were under contract.  When a followup question was posed about whether Wesleyan would renew the option, Roth refused to answer.  Roth was also asked to explain why Wesleyan CFO John Meerts aligned himself with those speakers in favor of the zone change, and Roth explained that Meerts did not intend to do so.

Also absent were any Middletown Main Street store owners, or Middletown businessperson, not directly connected to the proposed development, who was willing to speak in favor of the proposal.

The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission meets Wednesday, March 13, 7 PM, in City Hall's Council Chambers to deliberate and vote on a change in the MX Zone which will allow for the development of strip-mall commercial development along Washington Street and South Main Street.


06457 Voter. said...

Does Middletown's Town Planner really live in Middlefield?

Anonymous said...

You forget Quentin Phipps Down town Business District chief.

Anonymous said...

Tim Roaix - I am not anonymous but I am on a bus trying to type with my big fingers. Quentin WAS there I talked to him or he has a doppleganger

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Please note that Prof. Haddad is in the Government Department, not in History.

Jen Alexander said...

Dear Anon 7:27: I approved your comment! Yes, I spoke against the zone change proposal. I think it makes Middletown less attractive to visitors, and less fun to live here too. And thanks for the shout-out to Mark! Yes, he founded CHC and several of the original buildings were historic! Just goes to show what adaptive historic re-use can do.

-Jen Alexander

Anonymous said...

But for his new building, I don't think you get to call it "historic adaptive reuse" when your tool of choice is a bulldozer! (parking lot entrance on residential side street, I might add). I admire what he has created and support his mission, but just in terms of preservation and traffic, it causes one to think. Where were the protests then? How is this not a double standard?