Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No wonder democracy is a hard sell...

Given the events of the last few weeks, I'm beginning to understand why some countries still resist democracy: our financial system is self-destructing thanks to greed and irresponsibility, our Congress is bickering like bratty children in the backseat of a car only 1/2 an hour into a 12 hour vacation drive, and residents sat through yet another 2 hour meeting on the proposed Army base in Middletown.

OK, maybe the last thing on my list doesn't fully compare with the first two, but I will admit that the process of democracy is challenging, tiring and frustrating. The complete transcript of tonight's meeting should be available in about ten days on the Army COE's website. (Check here.) Here's some general comments about how that went:

Deputy District Commander, David Dale, opened the meeting with a review of the project timeline. The public comment period for the 4 site finalists (Cucia Park, Bysiewicz Industrial Park, Ken Dooley/Boardman Lane, Mile Lane) ended today. The Army will rank these four sites in order of preference to create a Site Identification Report that will be forwarded for approval by 17 October. By October 30th, this list of sites will be approved, and the NEPA process will begin for each site. In early November, the Army will release the site rank order, but this preference listing doesn't mean that the #1 site on the list has been chosen at that time. By March 2009, the contract will be ready for advertisement, with the contract award happening by June 2009. Occupancy is expected by March 2011.

This timeline didn't spell out specifically the actual date by which the final choice will be made, so that detail remains unknown for now, and that's the source of my frustration. But, I'll get to that in a minute...

The comment portion of the meeting was to gather any missed information the Army didn't receive via its blog. The Army's summary of the key comments posted on the blog for each site:

Bysiewicz Industrial Park:
  • Loss of tax revenue for the city
  • concern over wetlands
  • increased traffic
  • approved industrial development
  • strain on local utilities
  • site has been cleared

Cucia Park:

  • Loss of park, open space, wildlife habitat
  • no loss of tax revenue
  • zoned industrial, surrounded by industrial use
  • good access to 91
  • revenue to City for sale of property
  • public support
  • impact on neighborhood

Ken Dooley/Boardman Lane:

  • loss of tax revenue
  • wetlands
  • increased traffic on residential streets
  • blasting
  • strain on utilities
  • City Resolution
  • public opposition
  • zoned industrial

Mile Lane:

  • Government owned
  • no tax loss
  • contaminated site
  • increased traffic
  • near schools/residences
  • city has interest in redevelopment

After this basic summary of the feedback each site has received, residents were able to comment on each site. These comments were videotaped and also annotated by a court reporter for inclusion in the official record.

The only comment on the Bysiewicz Industrial Park was from the owner of the brick home that would be surrounded on 3 sides by the base: he will offer his home for sale to the Army should this site be chosen. (This house would make a stately home for the Base Commanding Officer, so I recommend that he hold out for top dollar should it come to that...)

Several residents from Smith Street and the Westlake area made surprisingly strong comments AGAINST the use of Cucia Park. Most of the comments referenced how nice the park used to be and chided the city for not taking care of it. Councilman Klattenberg clarified that Cucia Park is actually about 4.4 acres contiguous to about 36 acres of abandoned industrial land (a former brick yard). The Mayor's Advisory Panel already inquired about preserving public access to the pond, and the Army has promised to take that under consideration.

Stephen Devoto, on behalf of the Westfield Residents Association, spoke specifically about the 3 possible sites that are in Westfield (KD/Boardman Lane, Bysiewicz Industrial Park, and Cucia Park). Ranking Cucia Park as the best choice, Devoto stated that the WRA is not thrilled about the city selling a park. However, given the extreme circumstances (and the fact that the Army SHOULDN'T be looking for land in Middletown ever again) the use of Cucia Park brings the most benefit to the city with the least amount of harm to residential neighborhoods. Devoto also commented that WRA's passionate involvement in the site selection process doesn't come from NIMBY (not in my backyard) concerns: rather, the passion comes from the abundance of analysis that the WRA has conducted since June, and the conviction that IF the Army has to build in Middletown, it should value above all else what the town thinks is the best site.

Mayor Guiliano spoke plainly and simply about the KD/Boardman Lane and Cucia Park sites. He asked the audience to consider for a moment that a private developer had submitted the Army's plans: in the case of Boardman Lane, the Mayor was "pretty confident" that those plans would be denied, just as he was confident that the same plans for Cucia Park would be approved. Guiliano told the Army to keep in mind that the Boardman Lane/KD site asked the city to accept something it wouldn't accept from any private entity. (Way to go, Mayor!!!)

After other comments on public safety issues, traffic concerns, and the danger of a schedule determining the sites available for consideration, Councilman Klattenberg mentioned that the Common Council will be taking up a resolution at its next meeting (Monday, October 6th) that endorses the use of Cucia Park and directs the City's Economic Development Commission to begin the process to dispose of the property as necessary. The Councilman also compared the Army's "open and collaborative" process to a funny joke about a neighbor listening to a husband and wife argue. At a point late in the evening, the arguing suddenly stopped, and when the neighbor later asked the wife what happened, she replied that her husband had agreed to a compromise: he agreed with her position.

That's where I'm at. I'm ready for the Army to catch a clue and to agree with the town's position on Cucia Park. David Dale's response to Councilman Klattneberg's comments was a polite "thank you for your comments" response, but I really wanted a simple "Yes, Dear." Of course I understand why he couldn't say that, but I'm ready to move on to other things (like maybe the bus issue and how the Board of Education has rocks for brains when it comes to imagining what parents are going through because of the new busing policy...oh, wait, that's something for another time...).

A brief on-the-way-out-the-door conversation with the Army's architect enlightened my suffering in a way I hadn't considered before. Until the NEPA process kicks in for the 4 sites (that's about the beginning of November), the Army is only about cost, engineering considerations and site availability. The public passion for or against a particular site doesn't come to bear on the decision making process UNTIL the NEPA considerations are factored in.

Wait for it...yes...read those two sentences again...yes, I can see the light bulb turning on above your head. If all the public comments for or against a specific side aren't evaluated and factored into the selection process until NOVEMBER at the earliest, what on earth have we been doing for the last 3 months? I was assured that the public comments made on the blog and recorded during tonight's meeting are now part of the official "stuff" that will be looked at during the NEPA review, so yeah for everyone who took the time to give their opinions. However, I was under the impression that since so many of us (elected officials too) have been saying the same thing for so long, that the sustained and vigorous protest against the Boardman Lane site (no matter how you access it) would have affected the narrowing process that whittled 16 sites down to 4. But no. I was wrong. The only factors that appear to have caused properties to fall out of contention were cost-related - both time and money. A perfect site may have been dropped because it was too costly to develop or because it would take to long to figure out how to develop it. Meanwhile, a perfectly horrible site is preserved just because guestimated engineering costs fall within the allowed budget.

Yes, I do understand this is the real world, and that the ideal isn't always possible. However, as the presidential candidates keep reminding us, Main Street is supposed to matter. We the people gave our government the power it needs to function, we the people pay for that functioning, and we the people ought to BENEFIT from that functioning. Abraham Lincoln said that the "legitimate object of governments is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all or cannot, so well do for themselves - in their separate and individual capacities." As a nation, we've agreed to separate that doing into local, state and federal responsibilities, and I don't think anyone is challenging the basic need for an Army Reserve Training Center. But in THIS case, THIS community of people CAN decide what needs to be done, and the federal government ought to take heed. Our federal tax dollars will pay for this new facility, and how rude it will be to suffer a site chosen despite strong and sustained resident and local elected officials' opposition.

So, the end really isn't the end yet. The public comment period for the site selection list is closed, but we learned tonight that what REALLY counts is the 30 day public comment period on the NEPA process/results. That won't start until at least November. Right. See what I mean about tiring and exhausting? Just as Christmas is approaching, and I'm betting that this holiday season will be hard for a lot of families, we still won't have resolved the issue of where this base is supposed to go. Maybe I'll start on an updated version of the Grinch who stole Christmas...

Consensus builds for Cucia Park

Click document to enlarge.

Proposed Common Council Resolution

From Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz

From Governor Jodi Rell to Army Secretary Geren

That's a lot of Peanut Butter

I was reading Michael Roth's blog at Wesleyan this morning and saw that Wesleyan students did a fundraiser for the Amazing Grace Food Pantry, with a whopping total of $11,000 in food.


I talked to Ron Krom, the director of Amazing Grace Food Pantry (and the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen), and learned a little more about the donation. He said this ranks as one of the 2 or 3 biggest donations of food that they will receive during the year. This donation is a little different than a regular food drive. Instead of donating cans of food, the students fasted for one day and donated the cost of that day's meals directly from their student accounts -- so Amazing Grace can now use those funds to purchase food -- at distributor prices, not at retail -- from the Weshop. This means that the pantry can decide when and what they need -- if they're a little short on Peanut Butter one month, they can just order it from Weshop.

I learned a little more about the food pantry's operations from Ron. Currently there are about 660 families that come once a month to get food from Amazing Grace (which is up 10% from this time last year). That adds up to about 1000 adults, 500 children, and 200 seniors every month.   Each household can get 3 days worth of food -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Amazing Grace gets about half of their food supplies from the CT Food Bank, a centralized food pantry that distributes throughout New Haven and Middlesex Counties. And they get the other half through a program that they developed called "Families Feeding Families". This effort pools the food donations of churches, businesses, social clubs -- you name it -- who pledge to donate a certain amount of certain staple items each month. (At South Church we call ourselves "The Tunafish Church" -- we commit to donating at least 100 cans a month.) This smart program, which maximizes the impact of the community's generosity, is coordinated by the always-involved -citizen-volunteers Nancy Meyer and Mimi Rich.

Ron was just blown away by how much the Wesleyan fundraiser grew from its first year -- when it brought in $4,400 in food.   He talked about how moving it was to join hundreds of students as they broke the fast at the Usdan Center, with a line stretching out of the building, and how he then got the chance to talk to them about hunger and homelessness in Middletown.  This has already brought some new Wes volunteers into his organization.  

The idea for the fundraiser came to Wesleyan through a student, Nadeem Modan, class of 2010.  The "Fast-a-thon" coincides with Ramadan, the traditional Muslim month-long fast, and the fundraiser was an interfaith event that involved students and staff of all religions (or none at all.) Nadeem should be proud -- he did a wonderful thing for all the people who will be fed by Amazing Grace, and for those of us who are inspired by his vision!

If you know of a group that might like to make monthly contributions to Amazing Grace's "Families Feeding Families" program, you can email Ron at ron.krom@sbcglobal.net.

Last chance to comment on Army Reserve Training Center site

The Army Corps of Engineers will host another meeting about the proposed Army Reserve Training Center in Middletown, tonight, Tuesday Sept. 30, at 7 pm in Council Chambers at City Hall.

The four sites still under consideration are:

Bysiewicz Industrial Park, Middle Street
Cucia Park, Smith Street
Boardman Lane, with access from Ken Dooley Road in Westfield
Mile Lane, on the former Nike base and Army Reserve Center

Consensus seems to be forming in town for Cucia Park.

For information on the sites, or to comment online, the Army Corps of Engineers has created a blogsite.

Middletown Local Animal Rescue Group Founder Nominated by Animal Planet TV!

Local Debbie Bagley founder of C.A.T.A.L.E.S. has been nominated by Animal Planet TV as a 2008 Cat Hero of the year. She has been rescuing felines for over twenty years, and has converted parts of her property into a cat sanctuary. C.A.T.A.L.E.S. hopes to receive donated land in the future and build a larger facility with areas for feral cats. Ms. Bagley and her organization of volunteers has rescued hundreds of cats from all over Middlesex county. On top of all this Ms. Bagley works full time as a home health care provider. Her rescue group takes in many cats that local City run Animal Control does not have facilities for; C.A.T.A.L.E.S. is often called directly by surrounding municipalities including the City of Middletown. C.A.T.A.L.E.S. Receives no annual funding, and relies solely on donations and fundraising. For a link to the organization's website click: http://www.catales.org

To read her story and vote for Ms. Bagley please click here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Clack Mountain String Band at Wes Thursday

Got a note from Ragtime Annie that Eastern Kentucky's Clack Mountain String Band will be stopping in Middletown, at Wesleyan's 92 Theater, on Thursday October 2.

Here's the schedule as posted on Wesleying:

: Thursday, October 2nd
  • 7:30-8pm - Flat foot dance workshop with award winning dancer Julie Shepard-Powell, from North Carolina. Learn how to dance like this guy.
  • 8-10 Music and Square dance! Banjoes, fiddles, and calling by Julie, who'll call some boot stomping southern-style dances. NO EXPERIENCE necessary. Just bring yourselves, and your dancing feet!
Location: 92 Theater

Grief counselors available at High School

After the moving tribute to the life of Matt Christopher at First Church on Saturday, there was some lingering doubt among parents of Middletown high school students, that grief counselors had not been available at the school after the news of Christopher's death began to spread among his friends and among other students. As reported Sunday in the Middletown Press, Saturday's memorial tribute honored "the 18-year-old Middletown High School student who lost his life to a heroin overdose Sept. 3."

According to Middletown High School Principal Robert Fontaine, grief counseling protocol immediately went into effect after notification by Middletown Police on September 4.

"Grief counselors are assigned depending on the level of student response," Fontaine said in a phone interview today. "Sometimes it will be handled by high school counselors, and at other times we will seek additional assistance from the district."

Because of family privacy concerns, a general announcement was not made. Instead an email was sent to teachers advising them to notify students, and to alert teachers that they should be aware of potential response by students.

Asked if the incident could provide a "teachable moment" for students, Fontaine expressed additional concerns about family privacy and confidentiality.

"It's a private moment. And usually, the teachable moment is generated through the family," Fontaine said. "For example, we have had speakers from Mothers Against Drunk Driving address students. In this case, we haven't been contacted by the parents."

Students seeking counseling should speak with their teachers, or talk to school counseling staff.

Donations in Matt Christopher's memory can be made to Matt Christopher Scholarship, Bushy Hill Nature Center, PO Box 577, Ivoryton, CT 06442 or Green Street Art Center, 51 Green Street, Middletown, CT 06457.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Eye M - Dining Out

Every once in awhile you eat something that tastes like home and brings back long forgotten memories.  That happened to me last night.  Reminded by Jen Alexander's Eye article on Main Street last week, my family tried the new taqueria in town.

Iguana Ranos has been serving  tacos for the last couple of months and oh, how I wish that I had been eating their tamales since day one.  I grew up in a community with a large Mexican immigrant population and one of my favorite hangouts growing up was a mom and pop taqueria.  The food I had last night tasted like home to me.  

Iquana Ranos serves a tamale with flavor to match my memories.... spiced right pork surrounded by corn meal dough and steamed in a corn husk.  I also had the best gordita (home made thick  tortilla)  I have ever had.  If you are adventuresome, try the lenqua (tongue) tacos - all tacos are $2 and I recommend the onion and cilantro topping.  The couple sitting next to us said they had been there often in the last couple of weeks and they loved the Beef (barbacoa) and chicken tacos with verde (green) sauce.  

Iquano Ranaos has only three tables and row of bar stools - so get there early or plan on take out. This is not a fine dining experience with ambiance but it is authentic and if you have never had anything but the dumbed down version Mexican food we usually find in Connecticut, be ready for the real thing.  Prices are more than reasonable, ranging from $2 to $8.  

Owner, Polo Martinez and staff were very friendly and ready to help the public understand the menu and make special orders.  Iquana Ranos is across from the new Its only Natural grocery store at 524 Main St.   

A Sunday walk through Wes

There's an old management style that always seemed practical to me - management by walking around.

On a slow news day, the same principal would seem to take root. Walk around until you find a story. One thing I've always loved about where I live is the proximity to a cultural and educational institution like Wesleyan.

On the Washington Terrace green, I met second semester Wes sophomore Matthew Larkin who was completing a line drawing assignment for his drawing class.

"The hardest thing for me is to draw what I see, and not what I know," he explained.

Just down the street, a Sunday afternoon concert of classical music, "Songs of Love and Loss" at the Russell House.

And a bit further into campus, the first home football game, against Hamilton, was taking place (as I walked away, Wesleyan was down by 10 in the fourth quarter).

In addition, I picked up a print copy of the Argus, with a strongly-worded editorial excoriating students for not being involved in the town's ongoing discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers on the siting of an Army Reserve Training Center here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cucia Park--Planning and Zoning

I was present at the Middletown Planning and Zoning meeting on Wednesday 9/24. What is posted by the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission at the comments page for Cucia Park, on the Army Corps of Engineers web site, may be "true", but it misrepresents what transpired as far as this citizen is concerned.

On 9/24/2008 the publicly elected members of Middletown's Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5 to 1, with one abstention, to uphold an unofficial resolution that was read to them, regarding locating the ACOE project at the Cucia Park site. What the commissioners might have " felt" or "recognized", is a mystery to me. There was no "discussion" among commissioners on any of the points made in the "unofficial resolution". It was not discussed that this vote would be posted to this web site, by the commission itself. The topic was not on the written agenda for the P&Z.

It was clear to this observer, that more than half of the commission members were surprised when initially being asked to vote on this unofficially resolution. When one member asked why they where being asked to vote on this, the response was that it was the last chance for P&Z--given their meeting schedule and the tight time line of the ACOE--to show solidarity with the rest of the city in support of the Cucia Park site.

I was dismayed to see how this was handled for the following reasons.
1. What is the point of voting on an informal resolution?

2. Why would any planning and zoning commission make any kind of vote on any land use project without first hand knowledge, written documents, details, facts, figures, zoning codes, and property lines in front of them? That is what they have been elected to do.
3. Why would this site be preempted (which it seems might have happened) from at least the possibility of a formal presentation to the P&Z by the developer -- the Army?
4. Cucia Park may well have deserved the full support of the P&Z once it was fully examined by their own standards. Instead, I'm left to wonder.

It is unfortunate if the ACOE timeline does not fit with the P&;Z meeting schedule, but that does not obligate the Commission to vote to endorse the use of a site, that as a commission, they have not reviewed or discussed in all of it's ramifications and details. I would rather have seen a discussion about how to get around the timing problem, and a vote to withhold any endorsement, based on an unfortunate lack of information outside the control of the commission. Is this a binding endorsement? It was not on the agenda. Commissioners had no documents in front of them to go on. I do not think the public meeting was officially closed, before the commission vote was taken.

I hope I have conveyed that the "endorsement" posted by "Middletown Planning and Zoning" on the Cucia Park ACOE web site, did not meet any of the standards we have come to expect and anticipate from the oversight of elected officals and our planning and zoning commission.

Discovery at the Durham Fair

The 92nd annual Durham Fair has been a wet one so far this year. However, there is a lot to enjoy at the Fair even in a heavy rain.  When the grass pathways and all the carnival area are mired in mud, stay inside the buildings and the tents, explore the displays.  The animal barns (poultry, rabbit and goat; Sheep and Llama; Cow), are each worth a lot of time.  At almost all hours of the day, animals and their human handlers are being judged, and most of the judges are very good about explaining what they are looking for to the audience. The farmers and animals are always friendly and happy to interact with visitors.  In the vegetable, photo, crafts and baked goods, and children's entries buildings, it is wonderful to linger, comparing the entries, marveling over the amazing locally grown and produced bounty, and looking for familiar names.  It is remarkable how often a familiar name shows up, revealing a competitive spirit previously unknown. 

Another place worth exploring on a rainy day at the Fair is the Discovery Tent, which is near the crafts and baking building.  In the Discovery Tent, there are a range of exhibits almost entirely from non-profit organization, with the unifying them being a spirit of exploration.  Saturday morning in the stage area Dr. Charles Smith, from the University of Connecticut, gave a fascinating show and tell on snakes. He had with him black, garter, water, and rat snakes, and when he brought them out to be touched and held, it was no surprise that he was surrounded by dozens of eager kids (their parents were a little more cautious).  Other displays in the tent were from the students of Lorrie Martin's oceanography class at Coginchaug High School, who have crabs, and eel, a starfish and other tidal denizens there to be touched.  Trout unlimited, the Sierra Club, Durham Farmer's Market, Weil Farms honey, Labs 4 rescue, the Mummy Road Show, and Middletown's own Pedal Power are represented in the Discovery Tent. Zhong Guo Cha, a tea company based in Killingworth, displayed a diverse abundance of teas from around Asia.  

There is a full line-up of talks in the Discovery Tent on Sunday:
  • 10:00AM Gary Nicol/Bill McEnery -Bicycles as Tools NOT toys; How to use your bicycle for all trips of 2 miles or less.
  • 11:30AM Hale Hill – BioFuels
  • 1:00PM Nancy Ballek – Ballek Garden Center Ten Steps to a More Sustainable World
  • 2:30PM Lisa Davenport - Lisa Davenport's Home Gallery - Green or LITE Green Interior Design, Your Part in Saving the Planet!
  • 4:00PM Canberra Industries, Inc. An AREVA Company - Everyday Radioactivity and Nuclear Power
  • 5:30pm John Calandrelli, The Sierra Club - The Past, Present, and Future of American and Wholewide Energy Use
On Sunday the forecast is for less rain than Friday and Saturday, but if it is still wet, take a tour through the barns, buildings, and tents!

Friday, September 26, 2008

It ain't Wall Street

In all the economic upheaval, it's been kind of nice to hear politicians say they are thinking not just about Wall Street, but about Main Street too. Shucks, guys - we didn't know you cared!

So while Main Street is the new buzzword, I thought I'd chime in -- from Main Street, Middletown --about how things look from the cheap seats.

How is the economy doing right here?

Most places I shop downtown are holding their own, but are feeling very cautious as they face the important holiday shopping season, which can make or break our retailers. "So far so good, but I'm watching that fourth quarter" as one shop-owner said to me. Others are more pessimistic -- one long-time storekeep said: "How is it? It's not good." But on the positive side, I hear from retailers who think that more people are shopping local because they are reluctant to drive out of town. And the new It's Only Natural Market just posted their best Monday in the history of the business (perhaps thanks to the terrific article in the Eye by Pearse Pinch!)

Commercial real estate in the downtown seems sort of schizophrenic -- there's ongoing investment (yesterday I wrote about Fiore's new storefront windows) but there's also a few stubborn vacancies, which don't seem to be attracting viable new business tenants. Sometimes that's good -- when landlords are hungry, it makes room for a new crop of creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs. But it also leaves us with a "knocked-out" teeth smile, when you walk past empty storefronts.

The restaurants seem a little soft - and I've noticed a new interest in advertising on their part - but you can still find people waiting for a table here and there, and the sidewalk seating at Amici's and First & Last is still hot. And new businesses like the Taqueria in the North End are filling seats every night, and clearly drawing from outside the neighborhood. Still, it can be pretty quiet on those early weeknights.

How about the banks? We're all watching that one. Our banks are a key anchor in our downtown, and most (except, notably, for Liberty Bank) are attached to very large institutions -- chains, if you will -- that make decisions at some corporate headquarters. That's a little scary when it comes time for them to economize. I hope they stay solid, because the local people who work at these big companies are very much part of our Main Street community.

Happily, the news is good for local tourist attractions (full disclosure: I'm with Kidcity) -- the "stay-cation" has brought new people to town who might have gone Sunday-driving in Litchfield or Cape Cod in better days. We're glad to have them.

So if you can't offer a $700 billion bailout, but you'd still like to do your part to help the economy, then join us down on Main Street. 'Cause all the cool people shop local.

What they're saying about Cucia Park

The Army Corps of Engineers has solicited public comments about parcels of land they are considering for an Army Reserve Training Center in Middletown.

The presumptively leading site is Cucia Park, a pocket park on Smith Street adjacent to a large corporate and industrial park, and I-91, has gotten the most in the way of commentary on the ACE site.

The comments on the park range from informative:

The army has repeatedly demonstrated with their actions that their goal is to build an enormous building and parking lot on pristine, open space, and in return take away from the Middletown the tax revenue that we would receive otherwise. Cucia Park offers Middletown a chance to avoid the loss of pristine open space and the loss of tax revenue.

There is legitimate debate about whether Middletown is required by law to be the host for this Army facility. However, if that debate resolves itself in a way that forces Middletown to host another government facility, Cucia Park is BY FAR the least bad site for the military training facility.

To the hilarious:

I am coming around to recognizing the benefits of this site for Middletown:

1. Destroys habitat necessary for gentlemen requiring clandestine sexual encounters. (An adaptable species, they will soon find a new place to proliferate.)

2. Probably preserves the little pond. (Get rid of the fish. They are too predatory.)

To the official sanction (more on this in a post tomorrow):

Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission

On September 24, 2008 the all-elected Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission endorsed the Cucia Park site with five (5) members voting in favor and one (1) opposed. The Commission recognized that the area has been planned for industrial development for many years. The site is in an industrial zone and has easy access to non-residential roads and the interstate highway system. The Commission felt that locating the facility at Cucia Park represented sound land use planning.

At any rate, the comment period ends on September 29, so comment while you can.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Well Worth Saving...

It's been a whirlwind year for Macdonough Elementary School, the North End's main school for K-5. Earlier this year, budget problems faced the school board, and teachers, parents and neighborhood leaders fought successfully to keep the school open. Now, we have more cause to celebrate.

ConnCAN, a non-profit organization, and leader in the field of education has named Macdonough to be the third most improved school in the state. The 2008 CMT scores showed an average of 21% increase in students "at goal" across the board. Also, ConnCAN highlights 10 schools state-wide as "success stories", with a video and spotlight on their website, and Macdonough was chosen for this honor, as well. The video will be filmed in the coming weeks.

Just a few years ago, Macdonough struggled to keep pace within the district. Now, it is in line with the district and state averages in math and reading and exceeds them in writing. The school has new leadership, dedicated teachers and a community that believes it can succeed. 

Congratulations to Teachers, Staff, Students, Parents and community members for proving that this school is well worth saving.  

Klezmer Fusion at Wes Friday and Saturday

Clarinetist David Krakauer takes the stage at Crowell Concert Hall on the Wesleyan campus tomorrow evening to present a concert which will range from a set of solo classical pieces to a full-band performance with Klezmer Madness!

Krakauer is a licorice-stick virtuoso who is comfortable playing in a wide-ranging and diverse set of styles including classical chamber music, Eastern European Jewish klezmer music and avant-garde improvisation.

A klezmer jam takes place at the World Music Hall on the Wesleyan campus at 7 pm Friday, admission free. On Saturday, a ticketed concert begins at 8 pm and tickets are available through the Wesleyan Box Office. The Saturday concert will be preceded at 7:15 by a pre-concert talk with Wesleyan Professor of Music, Mark Slobin

The Courant remakes the paper, removes Kamins

You've all seen the ominous Hartford Courant ads: 9/28/2008, they scream, like some promo for a post-apocalyptic horror film. It may not be so far off of an analogy. That's the day we all get to see the "re-made" Hartford Courant.

Today brings another kind of preview.

After many years of weekly columns previewing arts and cultural attractions and events in Middletown, Middlesex County, and in other nearby towns and venues, the Hartford Courant has relieved Richard Kamins of his duties as columnist.

His farewell column runs in today's print edition, but is strangely absent on the web version of the Courant.

Not only is it exactly the wrong move to make to keep local readers informed and involved while providing a sense of community, it's foolish from a financial standpoint. Believe me, what they paid Richard is meaningless in the rocky ecomomics of the Tribune's balance sheet. The value they received in return was huge. They are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and coupled with the current lackluster reporting on other town affairs, I suspect more than one subscription will be cancelled as a result.

As for Richard, he should be commended for doing a great service for the community, and for artists of all stripes for all these years that he's written the column. I read it faithfully each week, and having once written a similar column for another newspaper, I know the hours it takes to consolidate the information and present it in a way that's informative and interesting. Thanks, Richard.

Kamins, remains totally involved in the cultural scene in Middletown. He's got his radio show, and he's currently involved in a local production of Hamlet.

So, I suspect, it's not the last we've heard from Kamins.

After all, there are other ways to learn about what's going on in the community than reading a watered-down version of community news in the Courant.

Just Like Italy

I'm sorry not to have a photo for you, but wanted to spread the word that Fiore's Restaurant on Main Street is installing a beautiful set of wood doors and windows on their storefront. The new layout will allow them to have sidewalk tables -- and they plan to have white tablecloths, as they said, "just like Italy."

In these times of dire economic forecasts, it's nice to see businesses investing in Main Street.

Eye M- Cooking

I've heard from many of the Eye readers that they are looking to eat better and fresher and somehow do that by spending less.  Here's a recipe for tasty, cheap, quick, good for you eats.  Delicious juicy curried turkey burgers can be had by mixing ground turkey with grated carrot, chopped peanuts and curry powder.    Pan fry or grill the burgers and serve with or without bun.   We had these last night with sauteed vegetables, simmered in a curry sauce,  served over rice. Many different vegetables work for this but yesterday I sauteed sliced cauliflower, chopped tomatoes (from my garden) and chopped cooked potato. To the sauteed vegetables add Korma simmer sauce or other jarred curry sauce (mine came from Trader Joes)  and simmer a few minutes to get the flavors to blend. For my vegetarian friends the curried vegetables can be a meal in itself.   Thanks to my daughter for the turkey burger recipe and to my Tibetan friends for inspiring the vegies in curry sauce.   

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Improvisers Come to Town

Bassist-composer Joe Fonda, former Middletown resident, has organized the 6th Annual Composers & Improvisers Festival taking place this Saturday September 27 from 7 - 11 p.m. in Oddfellows Playhouse, 128 Washington Street.

Fonda, in his inimitable fashion, has dubbed this concert the "6th Annual" but he skipped a year or 2 when funding was low. Thanks to a grant from the Middletown Commission on the Arts, this year is a "go."

He's assembled quite a variety of entertainers. The show begins at 7 with the duo of Ilse Pfeifer (dancer) and George Schuller (percussion.) At 8 p.m., the duo of Napoleon Maddox (rapper, beatbox) and Claire Daly (baritone saxophone) will create some fascinating sound and patter patterns. They call themselves "The Honourable Hustlers." Next up, at 9 p.m., is bassist-composer Mark Helias and he'll play a solo set. Don't be put off by the idea of a solo bass performance because Helias, a graduate of Yale who has worked with Wesleyan Professor Anthony Braxton is one of the most melodic players in creative music.

The final set of the evening (10 p.m) belongs to the cooperative music quartet known as Conference Call. Fonda and Schuller join Gebhard Ullmann (reeds) and Michael Jefry Stevens (piano) to create music moves from genre to genre, soft to loud, cacophonous to melodic, often within the same piece. Together a decade (a long time for most ensembles nowadays), their work has been described by Stef at the blog FreeJazz thusly: "It just illustrates that these four musicians know what music is about - powerful emotional expressiveness combined with musical inventiveness and group interplay."

Suggested donation is $10.00. For more information, call 860-347-6143

Farmer's Market at Wesleyan today

Date: Wednesday, September 24

Time: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Place: Usdan Student Center Courtyard

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's Only Natural

As most of you probably know, It’s Only Natural has moved into the new building up in the north end from its old space in the Main Street Market. Now that it has moved, It’s Only Natural Market has more store space space and parking. Here’s your guide to the all new It’s Only Natural Market!

The old It’s Only Natural had 4500 square feet, but the new building has 6000. Thanks to this increase in space, most of the product lines there have been expanded. I was informed that the new store has some new brands, but mainly they have expanded on what they already stocked. Also, the gluten free section has been increased greatly to several shelves.

Also, there are plans to include a coffee and juice bar, but it is not fully functional at this time.

Also in the Works: A bike rack! I have been assured by authorities at It’s Only Natural that a bike rack somewhere outside the store is in the near future! also, there are plans to have tables outside the store for eating sandwiches and other baked goods that will be sold inside.

The hours have also changed.
Mon-Fri 9-7
Sat 9-6

It’s Only Natural hasn't had an official “grand opening” but I've been informed that there will be one in October, and when I get more information I’ll post the date.

-Pearse Pinch

Monday, September 22, 2008

Referendum Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Modified from the Middletown High School Web site:

Just in case you haven’t heard, voting on an MHS referendum will be held TOMORROW, Tuesday, September 23. Passage of this referendum is absolutely critical to the success of the high school construction project and our city, overall. Passage has NO IMPACT on taxpayers. The increase in the project cost ceiling is needed to allow for over $1.3M in grants awarded to the project by the CT Clean Energy Fund and CT Innovations (Fuel Cell) and state legislature (Area of Assembly Generator) to be spent. Passage also changes the bond language to allow for other potential grants to be accepted. At present, these additional funds cannot increase the bonding for the project and, therefore, the demolition of Woodrow Wilson Middle School and construction of the new high school athletic fields will stop. Here are the three items that have been added to the high school:
  • The hydrogen fuel cell will provide energy savings by generating 20% of the base electrical needs and using waste heat to warm the swimming pool
  • The generator allows the high school to be used as a shelter in times of natural disaster.
  • Football/track & field facilities. This includes additional locker room space to meet the needs of boys and girls athletic teams.

Click here for the Phase II fact sheet for the Middletown High School Building Project.

Voting will be held at only three locations: City Hall, South Fire, and Moody School, from 12 to 8pm.

City Hall, 245 deKoven Drive
Dist. 1 MacDonough School
Dist 2 and 6 Spencer School
Dist 14 Senior Center

South Fire House,445 Randolph Road
Dist 9 Wesley School
Dist 10 South Fire House
Dist 11 Farm Hill School
Dist 12 and 13 Bielefield School

Moody School, 300 Country Club Road
Dist 3 Woodrow Wilson Middle
Dist 4 & 5 Moody School
Dist 7 & 8 Snow School

Planning and Zoning Meeting This Week

Planning and Zoning - Agenda Summary
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 7:00 PM Council Chambers
Public Hearing
- Jackson Street - fifteen (15) multi-family dwellings - Gibraltar Transcontinental Assurance Company
- Update of Chapter 6 Future Residential Growth of the Plan of Conservation and Development
Old Business
- Country Hill Subdivision located off East Street - release of the cash bond for Phase II - Ravenswood Homes/Richard N. Fiske

- off Atkins Street - Request for Final Approval of The Estates at Pistol Creek Subdivision - Pistol Creek Associates, LLC/William G. Krame

New Business
- Scheduling of P.H. for Chapter 9 Promoting Commercial/Industrial Growth of the Plan of Conservation and Development
- 29 Magnolia Avenue - construct a two (2) family dwelling - Chatham Construction, LLC/Ken McGahee
- Higby Road - one (1) lot resubdivision - Andrew Chiaravallo & Bonnie Scheidler, Trustees/Pat Benjamin, Bascom & Benjamin

Another Wesleyan Story in NYTimes Magazine

If you picked up the New York Times yesterday to read about the firing of a professor based on student evaluations, you may have read another Wesleyan-related story, about Unigo, a website which evalutates colleges for prospective students, by other prospective and current students.

The website was created by Jordan Goldman who graduated from Wesleyan in 2004.

Thanksgiving dinner delivered

Middletown still has enough open space that it's not totally surprising when a deer strolls through your center city yard, or, as happened a few years ago, a bear climbs a tree on Main Street.

But out for a stroll, I've bumped into a trio of turkeys who obviously claim High Street, near Loveland, as territory.

Here they are strolling and hunting for food on Mansfield Terrace.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Benefitting from the Bard

William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" may be over 400 years old but it still reverberates with modern audiences. A tale of greed, lust, revenge, deception, madness, lies and love, the play is filled with glorious monologues packed with sentences that go so deep inside the emotions of a human being. There are swordfights, love scenes, pantomimes, and "fools" who speak the truth (the "Gravedigger" scene can be stunning in its simplicity, humor, and common sense.)

Jeffery Allen, Artistic Director at Oddfellows Playhouse, has always wanted to play the lead role. Hamlet is a "bear" of a part, with lengthy soliloquies, rapid emotional changes, and much physicality. But Allen was able to persuade to a number of local actors (including the Honorable Sebastian Giuliano, Mayor of Middletown) ) to help him bring this play to life onstage. Nearly all of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to benefit the many programs that Oddfellows provides for area youth.

Jerry Winters is the director and cast members include Robert Resnikoff (Claudius), Carolyn Kirsch (Gertrude), Jackie Coleman (Ophelia), Tony Palmieri (Horatio), Nat Holmes (Rosenkranz), Jacklyn Hart (Guildenstern), Richard Kamins (Polonious), David McCamish (Laertes) as well as Peter Loffredo, Joey Martell, Myron Gubitz, Daniel Baruch, Naomi Kamins, Reverend John Hall and several others. Performances are 7 p.m. on both Friday October 3 and Saturday October 4. For ticket information and reservations, call 860-347-6143.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

No more teacher's dirty looks

H/T to Wesleying for pointing out that the New York Times Magazine, Sunday, will feature an article about a Wesleyan professor, AnneMarie Bean, who was "fired" by students. In fact, her dismissal was reportedly based upon student ratings that were lower than standards set by her department.

Fire district cost study to be proposed

An ordinance to study the structure, costs and duties of all three fire districts which provide fire and emergency services in Middletown will be offered for debate and vote at the next meeting of Middletown's Common Council.

The ordinance, if passed, will generate a report, written by a Citywide Fire Services Cost Committee which will provide the Council:

... a comprehensive assessment of all costs now and projected over the next five (5) years related to providing for fire safety related services including but not limited to personnel, equipment, department maintenance, the cost per run, the cost of mutual and automatic aid and bonding indebtedness for the next five years; and any recommendations it may suggest regarding controlling such costs; and

At least one councilor, David Bauer, feels that if the Council adopts this ordinance that it will be overstepping its bounds.

According to an email sent to The Eye when asked for comment, Bauer wrote:

It would be great to know the information that the proposed resolution asks for, but neither the Common Council nor the Public Safety Committee can strong-arm our two independent Fire Districts in Middletown. The South Fire and Westfield Fire Districts get their mandate from State Statutes and the Common Council should respect their independence.

The financial challenges for any Fire Department are becoming increasingly difficult. The Fire Department is the First Responder for all 911 Medical calls in Middletown and these calls constitute about 2/3’s of Fire Service calls. With diesel fuel projected to cost $5, the cost of dispatching a 350-450 thousand dollar vehicle for a Medical call may become too expensive. We need to find a balance between answering a great number of EMS calls and having the manpower and equipment we need to fight a smaller number of fires and motor vehicle accidents.

I believe a better approach for the Common Council would be to lead by example and show that we are performing the type of financial cost study on the City functions that are completely under the purview of the Council. As a first step, I intend to introduce a resolution at the next Council meeting that charges the whole Common Council to review the makeup and scope of all Council Committees and Commissions to insure that they effectively carry out the Council’s duties mandated by City Charter. The organization of these Committees and Commissions has not changed for a generation while the technology and process of delivering City Services has changed dramatically in many instances.

The proposed ordinance is scheduled for discussion at the next Council meeting, Monday October 6.

Recycled walks

I won't forgive Wesleyan for pulling up all the ancient bluestone slate walks on High Street and replacing them with pedestrian (pun intended) concrete.

But I am pleased to report that at least some of those sedimentary slabs, or slab fragments, to be precise, are being put to good purpose here in Middletown.

While on a walk today, I bumped into Natt Holmes, a counselor and social worker who works at Middletown High School, as he was building a beautiful stone wall for Izzi and Jeff on Columbus Avenue.

When I asked about his labors, he said, "It's another hobby. I love doing it."

Well, his labor of love will be a complement to the neighborhood. With painstaking work, Natt, along with the resourceful homeowners, have scavenged and carried abandoned fieldstone, granite and brownstone as raw material for the wall from construction sites around the city. Always with permission of course. The wall which adjoins a post and beam structure they have built adjacent to their bungalow-style home.

Wesleyan gave the wallmaker and the homeowners permission to use some of the slab fragments removed from the walk on High Street.

As for Natt, who works 60 hour weeks at the High School, the thought of moving, cutting and shaping stones on a beautiful Saturday is less like work, and more like practicing an age-old art.

Argus story on Wesleyan-Middletown as neighbors

Last May Wesleyan's President Michael Roth appointed a commission to study the Fountain Avenue incident. It recently issued its report. Tuesday's Argus (16 Sep 08) offers some good coverage, including an article on what it's like to live near Wesleyan featuring some neighbors on Brainerd and Miles Avenues.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Benefits for St. Vincent DePaul Place

The 28-year-old Middletown-based Connecticut Gilbert & Sullivan Society will revive "Patience," in October as a benefit for St. Vincent DePaul Place, which served 80,000 meals to the needy and homeless last year. "Patience" is a satire on the aesthetic movement which flourished in Britain between 1870 and 1885, chief proponents of which were Oscar Wilde, Algernon Swinburne and James Whistler. The work pokes fun at affectation and excess in cultural fads and ubiquitous commercialism. Performances are Oct. 24 and 25 at 8pm and Oct. 26 at 2pm in "the old Middletown High School" (now Woodrow Wilson Middle) on Hunting Hill Avenue.

This comic masterpiece premiered in London in 1881; Oscar Wilde was handsomely paid to lecture on the work in the States prior to its tour. "Patience" was moved to the lavish Savoy Hotel and Theatre, built for the presentation of G&S works; it was the first theatre to be lit by electric light. "Patience" is now enjoying revivals, recordings and DVDs made by many international companies.

Featured in the CG&SS revival are Dave Henderson, Katherine Yeager and Jeff Soun Long of Middletown, Allan and Victoria Church of Meriden, Bill Ziegler of Chester, Carol Connolly of New Haven, Kathleen Thompson of Hebron, Caroline Ismail of Waterford, Hal Chernoff of Simsbury, Renee Haines of Southington, and Don Shirer of Westbrook. There are 50 performers, a 23-piece professional orchestra, and a production staff of 25 artists, stage hands, costumers, set designers, painters and administrators. Sue Sweeney is rehearsal accompanist. Robert Cumming will direct and Dr. John Dreslin will conduct.

Fifty percent of profit from "Patience" will be matched 50% by the Mayor of Middletown. Tickets are $25 (adults) and $15 (students) prior to Oct. 19; adult tickets are $30 thereafter and at the door. Checks to CG&SS may be mailed to CG&SS, Box 2152, Middletown, with a small self-addressed, stamped envelope enclosed.

The revival/benefit is aided in part by Pfizer, Bank of America, and the Middletown Foundation for the Arts.

For further information call 1-800-866-1606 or visit www.ctgilbertandsullivan.org.

Press contact: Bob Cumming, 1-800-866-1606 or 860-873-1207.

North End News

Word is, there's a new vintage clothing shop going into the storefront at 534 Main. We saw a nice new wood floor being installed on our evening walk.

And a little birdie told me that the new It's Only Natural market is hoping to open this evening, pending a few last-minute punch list items.

Thought you'd like to know.

Eye M - Shopping

Yesterday, I finally visited the Book Bower, our new used book store on the lower level of the Main Street Market in downtown Middletown.  What fun!  Shopping online pales in comparison to the pleasure of perusing  a book store.  After spending 30 minutes checking out what treasures could be found, I spent the $4 in my pocket on a recent NY Times best seller in paperback.  I saw books for children and young readers priced at $1.50 and hard cover novels for $10.  In general, books are priced at 50% off the cover price.  If you want to get the price of purchase even lower, bring in your gently used books for trade.  The Book Bower will give you credit equal to 25% of the cover price of your books.  You can use that credit to take 50% off the Book Bower labeled price.  In other words, if you have a $5 credit, you can purchase a $10 book for $5.  

Thanks Ed, for writing about this new business in the Middletown Eye when it opened last month.  Look for me next week to be back at the Book Bower with my trade ins in hand.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A good site selection by the army.

News and Commentary.

The army, taking a page from the Middletown Eye, has established a community newsblog. In addition to being a repository of information (via army postings), it is a major mechanism for Middletown community members to provide feedback to the army (via our comments). All comments posted on the blog will automatically go in the report submitted by the Corps to the Army Reserve around October 1st. Project Manager Diane McCartin explained to me this morning that she deliberately turned to a blog hosting service external to the army's domain, because everything posted on the army's internal servers requires extensive moderating and filtering to remove threatening language and to ensure that there are no security risks. Ms. McCartin did not want to filter postings or emails, and she wanted to ensure complete transparency, to assure residents that their comments would be included. This idea, using an external blog hosting server, is not something that has been done before in the Louisville District of the Corps of Engineers.

The comments section is divided into 5 parts, one for each of the possible sites, and one for general comments (clicking on each of the following will take you right to that comment section):
Ms. McCartin emphasized to me that all comments are welcomed, both positive and negative. She suggested that negative comments about Boardman Lane would not be as helpful to the process as positive comments about other sites, saying, "I've heard lots of comments about Boardman Lane. I'm a pretty intuitive person, and I get it that Boardman is not y'all's favorite site." Ms. McCartin acknowledged that there is a danger that unfiltered blog postings might have problems of their own, but she feels that transparency is too important to sacrifice.

The army has finally done something right in the area of site selection. This new website is elegant, intuitive, and transparent, it is an outstanding means for gathering and organizing community input. The Army should take full advantage of this site and greatly expand the information available. They have given themselves an opportunity to show with their actions the openness of the process. On this site should be maps of each parcel, information about environmental, engineering, traffic, etc issues relating to each site, and schematics of how the army would place its buildings. The army should post here all other information that residents have asked for, including information that they have previously denied to us. The links should be expanded, there is a link to
the City's Army information clearinghouse, but they should also link to other Middletown websites that have featured information (the WRA website, and hey Ms. McCartin, how about a nod to THE MIDDLETOWN EYE?).

The open nature of the blog postings has the very important ancillary benefit that Middletown's citizens can learn from and respond to what others in the community are thinking. It will not bring us to the level of democracy and discussion enjoyed by those in Vermont who attend the famous "town meetings", but it can bring us much closer than Middletown has been in a very long time. If the blog postings get out of hand, the Army should ask individuals trusted by the community to apply a minimal filter. All comments should be accessible to anybody who wants to read them, but the on-topic comments should not be made irrelevant by being buried in a swamp of off-topic comments.

Our elected officials should use this forum with us, to make clear their opinions on each of the 4 sites and on the entire site selection process in general. The army has given our Mayor, our Common Council members, and our state and federal elected officials an opportunity for them to show their constituents that they are engaged in the issue of the Military Reserve Center in Middletown. All should take advantage.