Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wadsworth Street Subdivision Approved

Wadsworth Street is at the bottom,
parking for the Park is across the street
The Planning and Zoning Commission last week approved a 9-lot subdivision on Wadsworth Street, across from the parking lot for Wadsworth State Park. The approval came after extensive discussion over creating public access to new open space at the back of the subdivision, along the Coginchaug River.

The Conservation Commission supported the public access, Director of Planning Bill Warner, as well as two nearby residents, opposed it, and the P&Z sided with Warner and the residents.

The developer of these 9 lots agreed to donate over 4 acres of land, mostly not suitable for building, to the city to be protected as open space. Publicly owned open space, especially that not used for active recreation (ball fields and playgrounds) is overseen by the Conservation Commission, which is composed of residents appointed by the mayor, and is advisory to the Planning and Zoning Commission.  The Conservation Commission is supported by staff in the Planning Department.

The Chair of the Conservation Commission, Ellen Lukens, spoke at the public hearing, and praised the donation to the City of open space along the river. Lukens  told the P&Z Commission that after careful consideration, the Conservation Commission recommended that the developer also grant a 30' easement along the western edge of the development, so that in the future the city could build a trail that would provide public access to the protected land along the river.  Lukens said that the city has very little protected open space that is flat, and this trail would allow people with disabilities or strollers to gain access to the city's land along the river. The developer readily agreed to this request.

Peter and Claudia Marsello, neighbors who might be impacted by a potential future trail, expressed their strong opposition. Peter was concerned about people bothering livestock on his property and leaving garbage along the river.

Bill Warner, the Director of the Planning Department, told the P&Z Commission that his vision for the open space was different from that of the Conservation Commission. He said he wanted the open space to be an undisturbed area for wildlife, not necessarily an area where the public would walk.

The P&Z Commission approved the subdivision without the easement for access to the open space, the vote was 6 in favor, 0 opposed, Commissioner Les Adams abstained.

Before approving the subdivision itself, the Commission voted 5 to 2 to approve a waiver of the requirement that new subdivisions include sidewalks.   Commissioners Les Adams and Molly Salafia voted against granting the sidewalks waiver.
Author's Disclaimer: I am providing information about P&Z meetings, as I have done since 2008, on a volunteer basis for The Eye. I am now a candidate for the Planning and Zoning Commission, and I will continue to cover P&Z until the election in November, because my motivation as a volunteer and one of my goals as a candidate is to increase community understanding of and involvement in land use decisions. The Eye welcomes coverage of P&Z (and other municipal meetings) by any correspondent, including all candidates for office; I would be thrilled to divest myself of The Middletown Eye's P&Z "beat".


Anonymous said...

Looks like just another cul de sac, to me.

Catherine Johnson said...

This is a tragedy. I agree with the previous commenter: it is just another cul-de-sac. This development does not reflect the beautiful setting of the river or state park, nor doesn't relate to its existing neighbors. It's just another piece of suburban sprawl. My heart aches for the neighbors and for having to live with another mistake.

The trouble is that the commission and city staff has not taken the time to understand what value these precious last properties at the edges of our city have. There has been no examination of how properties here and elsewhere in the Greenbelt should function. It is ridiculous to pit one commission labeled "Conservation" against another commission labeled "Planning and Zoning," as if the two have different goals. Not to mention splitting hairs over "a vision" of who should walk there! The problem is that everyone has forgotten that humans have their own environment, and that it needs to be protected and advocated for. Let's discuss what should or shouldn't happen on such properties commissions together, neighbors, property owners, well before an engineer details the drainage and site work. Let's understand the alternatives before accepting the first thing that crosses the desk.

I do not begrudge the property owners the chance to sell or develop their land, despite the fact that this property has a deep and profound connection with my family. I am sorry no one took the time to look around and notice the pattern of development here at the edge of town, at the edge of the hamlet of Rockfall, and say, "Hey, Let's make the new stuff look like it belongs here." The small houses clustered around the bend in the road at Rogers Manufacturing were built when a bone mill opened over 100 years ago; train service offered an option for travel and freight delivery. The pattern here is not one of curvilinear roads and garages attaches to houses on wide lots. The pattern is narrow lanes or driveways laid out at 90 degrees to the street, houses with the gable end facing the street, garages behind houses. Buildings are small and lots are rectangular, not pie-shaped. The houses right at the bridge are American 4-squares, if memory serves. What a great classic model for new house construction.

Middletown has outdated subdivision regulations that contribute only to continuing the suburban template. The commission has not re-examined its subdivision regulations in at least the last 3 decades, and it has every right and responsibility to do so. This was entirely avoidable. The vote was 5 for, 2 against. Had JUST ONE commissioner been educated and spoke up, this new piece of ugly would not have been approved.

My most optimistic hope is that the would-be purchaser of the land replat the 5 back building lots and get rid of the pie-shaped lots. Follow the traditional pattern found here in Rockfall and the edge of town, and create a narrow gravel lane parallel to Wadsworth that connects to two streets. Such a lane would fit in more with the character of roads in this part of town, roads through the Greenbelt, and allow both humans and animals to walk comfortably. Such a road would distinguish it from the typical suburban tract, and more importantly, potentially make a real place worth caring about rather than just something to sell.

Anonymous said...

Open space just means non building does not mean it gets to go to the land grabbers for a public park. The developer donated 40% of the land to the city above what is required - 10%- open space can be privately owned, but the conservation commission sees it otherwise.

Madam Nirvana (Molly Salafia) said...

I voted against the granting of a sidewalk waiver. Please amend, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous to not require sidewalks!

Anonymous said...

C. Johnson is completly out of touch with market realities and what people want to buy. Ask any realtor or developer cul de sacs sell for a premium. Every town in CT has these types of subdivisions and thats what buyers in the market want. C. Johnson suggests the city should make land owners and developers build something they do not want and no one will buy which will result in a regulatory taking without compensation. Just what she wants.

Anonymous said...

Middletown is a good example of letting the market determine development. In my opinion it could be improved by additional thought and planning. The assertion that every town in CT embraces this type of development is not accurate.

Anonymous said...

The question is: how much planning? Establishing a plan of development and zoning based on that is one thing. Requiring every new building to suit Ms. Johnson's aesthetics is another. It is not the proper function of the P&Z to decide that I can only build a small house with a gable on my land because that is what Ms. Johnson thinks would look nice there. Planning and Zoning decisions need to be based on objective standards, not the subjective opinions of one resident.

Anonymous said...

It is not the job of the p&z commission to be neutral, as though it can add up all viewpoints and then divide by the number of viewpoints to arrive at some average position. It is the job of the commission to look at each application objectively and arrive at a decision. It can decide that cul de sacs and McMansions are the best of all possible options in a particular situation, or it can decide that narrow lanes with traditional houses on small lots attached to a grid of streets is the best option. It can take context and history into account. It should articulate standards and aim to achieve high quality development, not least to protect (insofar as it exists) and expand a high quality of life for Middletown's residents. This means that it needs to make decisions about development philosophy *before* the developer's application arrives, which means it needs to craft a thoughtful, objective, qualitative plan of development. Objectivity is not neutrality. There should be no neutrality when it comes to value. There should always be objectivity.

Tree Fanatic said...

If we don't require developers to meet high standards, they are certainly not going to meet them out of the goodness of their hearts, or their perceptions of what the market demands.

The same is true of commercial development -- some towns require conformance to their architectural character -- others get the standard-issue Dunkin' or McDonalds.

It was my understanding that residential development is not all that desirable from a tax revenue standpoint, so why are we caving to developers who don't want to meet our extremely basic requirements?

Anonymous said...

Is Middletown so in need for any kind of property tax revenue that it must cater to the lowest , most "basic requirements" for residential development? Is that why the landscaping often looks so minimal and devoid of any thought for the location?

The Tree Fanatic was very restrained not to have mentioned trees and makes a good point about the real costs of residential development on the town's services, especially education.

Anonymous said...

Developers build to the market. Take same development and put it in Madison and it would be classified as beautiful with $800,000 homes and fantastic landscaping. Require same quality in Middletown and it won't get built, thereby denying the property owner the right to use their land as it is zoned.