Friday, July 31, 2009

Six Proposals for City-owned Open Space

A wide variety of ideas for developing 256 acres of open space in Maromas have been submitted to the Planning Department in response to their Request for Proposals (RFP). Three of these proposals are for the continuation of uses which have been ongoing for many years, while the others propose new uses for the land.

  1. Millane Nurseries proposes to continue farming on a small portion of Parcels 1 to 4. Millane has been raising Pines and Spruces on the land since the 1980s, first under an agreement with the state. They currently farm 34 acres under a 5 year lease from the City, with an option for the City to terminate the lease with 180 days notice. Millane proposes to extend this lease for another 5 years.
  2. The Middlesex Aero Modelers proposes to continue their use of Parcel 3 as a landing strip for model airplanes. They have been using this Parcel also since the 1980s, also under an agreement first with the state and then with the city.
  3. The Hills Farm, on Brooks Road, also proposes to continue farming on the parcels. They have been harvesting hay for over 35 years to feed to animals they keep on their own land.
  4. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association has put in a "placeholder" proposal, pending final approval by their Trails Committee. The CFPA proposes to build a trail on all 5 parcels which would connect to the Mattabessett trail, which passes through several adjoining properties, and is part of the recently designated New England National Scenic Trail.
  5. Artfarm, the non-profit theater group which every year produces Shakespeare in the Grove, proposes to use Parcel 5 to create a center for performing arts classes and small productions, as well as for agriculture. Artform proposes to build two barns, one to support community-based agriculture and the other to support the theater. Their big productions of outdoor theater would continue at Middlesex Community College, which is near to Parcel 5.
  6. Arawana Golf Course, LLC, proposes to develop a 9-hole golf course on portions of Parcels 1, 2, and a small amount of 3. Arawana Golf Course is a company created by Anthony Pioppi, a noted golf journalist living in Middletown. The proposal includes an extensive description of the course, which has been designed by golf course architect Brian Silva. The proposal emphasizes environmental issues in presenting the design and maintenance of the course.
The Middletown Eye will examine several of the proposals in more detail in the coming week. For previous coverage of the city-owned land in question, see the last of a 4-part series on public land in Maromas.

The Economic Development Committee, at their June meeting, anticipated that they would consider these proposals at their August meeting.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Arawana Golf Course would use parcels 1, 2, 3, and a part of 4. It will actually use most of 1 and 2, and a portion of 3. 4 would remain untouched.
Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Advisors for Artfarm. I also played the part of a proofreader and delivery person on portions of the CFPA proposal.

Oddfellows Children's Circus Postponed Until Noon Saturday

The annual Oddfellows Children's Circus, scheduled for a performance tonight at Spencer School has been postponed due to inclement weather.

The show is rescheduled for a performance tomorrow, Saturday August 1, at noon, at Spencer School.

ConnectiCon 2009

Win points with the geeks in your life by suggesting a visit to this weekend's ConnectiCon at the Hartford Convention Center.

Three days of immersion in the world of comic books, Japanese manga & anime, local zines and game-playing. Costumes optional but fabulous.

For my Middletown Eye report on last year's Con, read Flying the Freak Flag. More info on this year's Con at

See you there.

Photo of the Corpse Bride at the 2008 ConnectiCon.

Eye On the Air, July 31

Eye on the Air, WESU 88.1 FM, Friday 1-2 P.M. Listen live online.

Today's guests:

Mark Masselli, President and CEO of the Community Health Center, who will address the issue of health care reform in Connecticut and the nation.

Brian Burness, host of Saturday morning Bluegrass on WWUH 91.3 FM, who will talk about folk and music festivals in the area including this weekend's Podunk Music Festival and the 50th Anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival.

Coffeehouse Studio Celebrates 20 Years on Main Street

You might never have noticed that there's a professional audio recording studio on Main Street in Middletown, but just down an alley at 510 Main Street, Michael Arafeh has been recording music and voice for two decades. Here's a note from Michael:

Just a quick note to mention that this Saturday, August 1st, marks twenty one years to the day that I have been in business as a music recording studio here in Middletown. Nineteen of those years have been at my present North End location.

As I enter my twentieth year on Main Street, I would like to say that I am very proud to be a part of our Middletown community and especially our arts community. To mark the occasion, I will be having an open-house celebration at my studio on Sunday, September 13th, from Noon to 8pm. Please make a note to stop by and say hi, meet some great music artists, and share a few stories and toasts. It will also be a good opportunity to see the studio if you have never visited before. I will be sending out a note the week before the open house as a reminder.

I have been preparing a complete list of all the groups and artists that have recorded at The Coffeehouse over the years, as well as a “101 fun facts about The Coffeehouse” fact sheet. I have also been scanning an assortment of album covers of many of the published projects to emerge from the studio. It has brought back a lot of memories, and it will be fun to share with everyone. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Places to Go, People to See and Hear (7/31-8/02)

Friday July 31:
There are 3 major music festivals going on in Connecticut, each within easy driving range. No specifics here but there will be links to get you to each website.

The Great CT Traditional Jazz Festival takes place from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon at Mountain Ridge on High Hill Road in Wallingford. Scheduled is pianist Jeff Barnhart (pictured), Louis Ford & His New Orleans Flairs, Cornet Chop Suey, Wolverine Jazz Band, Galvanized Jazz Band, Blue Street, Festival favorites Igor's Jazz Cowboys and many other fine purveyors of jazz and swing. For more information including prices, directions and to discover how the Festival aids the Horns 4 Kids program, go

If you like your jazz with a bit more "modern" feel (but not "avant-garde") you could head for the Litchfield hills for the 2009 Litchfield Jazz Festival, to be held Friday through Sunday on the grounds of the Kent School in Kent, CT. This year's lineup ranges from the traditional sounds of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to the brilliant Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto & his Si O Si Quartet to vocalist/pianist Dena DeRose (pictured) to the lush sounds of vocalist Jane Monheit to the "world jazz" guitarist from Benin, Lionel Loueke, to the mainstream saxophone sounds of Houston Person (and much more.) Go to for the complete lineup, directions, and to learn more about the Festival's Jazz Camp. It's also the weekend for the the Connecticut Wine Trail's 2009 Wine Festival, to be held on the nearby Goshen Fairgrounds in Goshen. A good number of the wineries are located in the Litchfield hills - you can check out more at

The Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival actually starts tonight (Thursday) and runs through Sunday. Held on the grounds of the spacious Martin Park in East Hartford, this year's program features Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, the Allison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven, Goldheart, the James King Band, the Lovell Sisters, Natalie MacMaster, the Steep Canyon Rangers and many more. Headlining the show on Friday evening will be the Del McCoury Band (pictured) whose 2008 CD "Moneyland" brought together many different artists for a true social commentary on the foibles of the economic downturn and the culture of greed. Del is celebrating 50 years as a performing artist and is a true bluegrass legend. To find out more about the festivals and the fine lineup, go to

Meanwhile in Middletown, Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. at Spencer School, Westfield Street, the 21st Annual Children's Circus of Middletown, created by Oddfellows Playhouse and sponsored by the Middletown Commission on the Arts, presents "In Your Dreams." From the press release, "The show features over 200 young stilters, jugglers, clowns, unicyclists, dancers, and acrobats. Live music is performed by a 15-piece Circus Band, led by well-known local musician Dirck Westervelt. Come early and enjoy the offerings of the Pre-Show Carnival presented by Middlesex County Non Profit Organizations. Popcorn and pirates, crafts and music will keep you busy before the Circus begins."

For more information, call 347-6143. Rain date in Saturday August 1 at 12noon in the same location.

Saturday August 1:
The Middlesex Academy of the Performing Arts, located on the campus of Independent Day School, Laurel Brook Road in Middlefield, presents "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" at 5 p.m. Based on the characters created by the late Charles Schulz, the musical is light-hearted and features a catchy score by Clark Gesner. Tickets should be available at the door. For more information, go to

The Buttonwood Tree presents a bluegrass show of its own Friday at 8 p.m. 19 Strings, a quartet featuring Rob Blaney (banjo), his brother Jeff (mandolin, bass), Marianne Vogel (violin) and Willie Larsen (guitar), plays country standards, a bit of folk music, waltzes, spirituals, Bob Dylan tunes and even an Irish jig or 2. Call 347-4957 to reserve a seat for this, the last show of the Buttonwood's 2008-09 season.

Boney's Music Lounge welcomes back the very popular Melvin Sparks Trio for an evening of incendiary jazz/funk and r'n'b. Guitarist Sparks, drummer Bill Carbone and organist Matthew O. will play from 8:30 to 12midnight and, no matter, the temperature outside, the Lounge will be "smokin."

Break Dancing and Funky Music tonight

(Click on poster to enlarge it)

Enjoy the pleasure of a summer evening during North End Nights, a free night of for people of all ages.

This weekly series of participatory arts workshops held outdoors the Green Street Arts Center continues tonight, Thursday, July 30th with a FREE Break Dancing led by Bryan Giles at 5:30pm.

Pop, lock, break and stop with Bryan Giles as he teaches you the fundamentals of Break Dancing. At the end of the workshop exhibit your skills in a cypher. Bryan is known regionally in the Break Dancing circuit and teaches at Vinnie's Jump and Jive as well as Green Street's Afterschool Program. Bryan is a member of the break dancing squads Of Shadow and Earth as well as, Losst Unnown, and he is a founder of Battle Royale, a yearly tournament held in Middletown CT. Check out students taught by Bryan performing at Snap, Crackle, Pop!

At 6:45, enjoy the music of the Melvin Sparks Band in the Luis Lopez Herb Garden or stop by the Buttonwood Tree book sale or the MAC650 Gallery to see The As Yet Un_named Show featuring Tracy Lynch, Andre Rochester, James Day, Melissa Williams, Matt Graham, Dan Rubenbauer, Mark Robinson, Corey Pane, Kasia Gawkoska, Anjre Kerr and Caitlyn Nadolny. You can also stop by the Buttonwood Tree from 5:00 on for the book sale. For more information on North End Nights, visit

Also, click here to download your North End Pass for discounts at North End restaurants and retailers.

This Pass is good at any and all participating businesses on any of the four Thursdays in July. Light refreshments will be served; in the event of rain, the 5:30 workshops will take place indoors at the Green Street Arts Center.

These events are Co-sponsored by the North End Action Team, the Green Street Arts Center, the Community Health Center, the Buttonwood Tree and the MAC 650 Gallery with support from the Middletown Commission on the Arts.

A Typical Afternoon in the Russell Library Reading Room

Photos courtesy of Arthur Meyers

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Unity Day on South Green Saturday

From Tawana M. Bourne

This event is FREE and open to the public.

WHEN: Saturday, August 1, 2009

TIME: 11:00 am –6:00 pm

WHERE: South Green-Union Park 14 Old Church Street Middletown, CT 06457

The vision of Unity Day is to embrace our diversity and celebrate togetherness within our community and share a day full of information sharing and messages of peace. Unity Day is intended to be a time of celebration for every member of the community, with fun filled family festivities, educational and reflective moments and performances that will focus on themes of unity and peace and renew our community’s passion to work together.

Food, Speakers, Performances, Family Friendly Entertainment and Much Much More.

For more information, please contact Tawana Bourne @ 860-834-1220 or

Middletown Police Launch Community Information Site

From the Middletown Police Department

The City of Middletown Police Department is proud to launch a new Community Information Service designed to deliver important and timely information to residents in our area using the latest technology.

This service, created by Nixle, LLC delivers trustworthy and important neighborhood-level public safety and community event notifications by web, e-mail, and cell phone.

Residents of Middletown can now take advantage of Nixle, which is a community information service that alerts the public of safety threats and community events via web, e-mail, and cell phone. Nixle’s service connects municipal agencies and community organizations to residents in real time, delivering information to geographically targeted consumers over their cell phones (via text messages), through e-mails and through Web access. Nixle is offered at no cost to all governments, their agencies and organizations, nongovernmental organizations and consumers, although standard text messaging rates apply. Sign up at to register

For now, Middletown residents will be able to receive police-related information and municipal government information via Nixle. Channels providing other kinds of information are expected to be introduced in the future.

Craig Mitnick, the founder and CEO of Nixle, said Nixle differs from current services such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which provide unauthenticated platforms for connections. Nixle solves that problem by providing a single standardized service for consumers to receive immediate and credible neighborhood-level public safety and community information.

“Nixle is a first-of-its-kind tool for communities that need to provide critical information to their residents,” said Craig Mitnick, founder and CEO. “When it comes to public safety information, you have to trust the source. Residents of Middletown can rest easy that the local messages they receive are authentic.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Now you see it, Now you don't!

Anyone recognize the scene in this picture? I was so excited to see this completely blank wall this evening, that I drove back around to take a photo just for you.

Need a hint? Here's what it looked like before.

That's right! After 11 months, the graffiti on Hartford Avenue has been cleaned off. It took the combined actions of the Mayor's office, the Downtown Business District, the Police and the Department of Public Works -- but eventually, the state Department of Transportation came and painted it over.

Perhaps there are cynics among our readers who think it's easy to get rid of graffiti, or that it doesn't matter since it might just get tagged again tomorrow. But -- and you can hum America the Beautiful here -- I'm glad to live in a town where people care enough to stick with the messy, boring work of getting this stuff done. So here's my public thank you to Billy Russo, Mayor Seb, Marie Kalita Leary, Karen Atwell, Police Chief Baldoni and even Mr. Spitola of the D.O.T.

To me, it's a sign that we might just be tenacious to make this whole thing work. We just have to stick with it. There's certainly plenty of other graffiti in town for us to practice on!

Children's Circus of Middletown, Friday

Maromas: Land of Opportunities, Part IV

This is the final installment of a 4-part series on city and state actions which have the potential to affect undeveloped land in Maromas owned by the Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) and by the city. Part I covered the Mayor's action to stop the Department of Environmental Protection from owning conservation easements on the land which protects the CVH water supply. Part II covered a proposal by the city to supply water to CVH. Part III covered the Governor's directive to CVH (and all other state agencies) to identify properties which could be sold to generate revenue. Part IV will cover the city-owned open space land stretching from the shore of the Connecticut River to the other side of watershed land (Thanks to Barrie Robbins-Pianka for two of the photographs).

The state transferred five parcels of land from CVH to the City on June 21, 2005, with the restriction that it would remain open space or revert back to State ownership. This land conveyance has been portrayed by elected city and state officials as a "compensation" for the imposition of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School on other CVH land. The City is currently considering how to use this land, and has released a "Request for Proposals" (RFP) to develop it. The RFP suggested a variety of possible uses for the land, but emphasized "active recreation" possibilities.

The Land
All 5 parcels of land abut state-owned land that is either used for state facilities or for watershed protection. Parcels 1 and 2 wrap around Riverview Hospital, the State's only mental health facility for children and adolescents. Parcels 3, 4 and 5 abut the state land around 4 reservoirs which supply drinking water to CVH and Riverview.
  • Parcel 1, between River Road and the Connecticut River, contains a mixed Larch and Pine forest, and includes a rail line which runs from Middletown to Pratt and Whitney (and further) along the river. There is a long-abandoned mine which provided lead for cannonballs early in the Revolutionary War (helping to defeat British Gen. John Burgoyne), and silver in the mid-1800s. Passing by the mine is a picturesque small stream which empties into a small sand delta in the Connecticut.
  • Parcel 2, wrapping from River Road all the way to Bow Lane, contains open fields and a swath of secondary tree growth. Duck Hill (elevation 221ft) is in the center of this parcel, and contains Native American Holly and Black Cherry trees. Millane's nurseries leases part of this land to grow trees and bushes.
  • Parcel 3 goes from Bow Lane to the top of Indian Hill (elevation 335ft), at Reservoir Road. There is an extensive stand of 20-50 year old cedars with moss and fern glades, and high bush blueberries in the understory.
  • Parcel 4 is the smallest of the parcels, and is composed primarily of fields along Reservoir Road and Cedar Lane.
  • Parcel 5 has a remarkable mature forest of Tulip Trees, Big-Toothed Aspens, and Chestnut Oaks, with an understory of Mountain Laurel, Ironwood, and Striped Maple Trees. Along the eastern border of the property is a breathtakingly beautiful stream which in places flows through a deeply cut ravine. Just before the stream approaches Brooks Road, the stream flows for about a hundred yards in a man-made channel made of cut stone, flowing in places as waterfalls over steps of hand-cut granite. This masonry may have been the handiwork of patients committed to CVH. In addition to the mature forest, there are two large hay-fields in parcel 5.
The Legislation and the Deed restriction
Residents in and around Maromas have long sought to reduce the number of state instututions in the area, or at least to prevent the imposition of new ones. There have been various attempts to wrest control of the CVH land from the State, including a 1995 bill (HB6537) to transfer over 800 acres from CVH to Middletown, which was introduced by Reps. Joe Serra and Susan Bysiewicz, and Sens. Tom Gaffey and Billy Ciotto (their bill did not make it out of committee).

In the late 1990s, activist groups such as Residents Against Institutional Dumping (RAID) unsuccessfully tried to stop the relocation of the Juvenile prison from Long Lane to CVH land. One of the outcomes of the decision to site the CT Juvenile School on CVH land was apparently a commitment by the state to compensate Middletown for the prison by giving the City other parcels of CVH land.

In the 2005 session, the legislature finally approved the transfer of CVH land to Middletown, in bill HB6909 (AN ACT CONCERNING THE CONVEYANCE OF CERTAIN PARCELS OF STATE LAND). Representative Serra, who played a critical role in this, told me that his goal was to remove as much land as possible out of state control, "The more you take out of state hands, the better the city is."

When the State gives land to a municipality, there are usually restrictions on the use of that land (for example some parcels might be required to be used for a municipal building). In this case, HB6909 stated that the land was to be used for "agriculture, parks, natural areas, forests, camping, fishing, wetlands preservation, wildlife habitat, swimming, hiking, other active recreational, educational, and other purposes that further state and municipal policies."

Serra is proud that his efforts went further than just securing the land for the City. He said that when the legislation was being written, he made sure that "Active Recreation" was one of the allowed uses for the land: "I always thought a golf course would be great [on the former CVH land]."

Buzzy Levin and his Dream of Middletown Golf
Efforts to build a municipal golf course in the city go back many years, probably to at least 1940, when the Highland Country Club on Atkins Street closed. The 1965 Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) said, "One city-wide facility which is now lacking in Middletown is a golf course." The 2000 POCD agreed, "The city also needs ... a golf course to bring its recreational facilities up to SCORP [Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan] standards."

One of the most ardent proponents of a municipal golf course in the 1960s and 1970s was Jerome "Buzzy" Levin, owner of Malloves Jewelers on Main Street. Levin was a member of the Common Council from 1963 to 1971, and worked tirelessly first to get authorization and then funding for a course on Newfield Street, and later to get authorization for a course on what was then state-owned land in Maromas. In an article about the Maromas golf course proposal, The Hartford Courant described Levin as "the moving force behind the plans for a golf course."

Levin spoke with me at length about his time on the Common Council and as chair of the Park Board, and his efforts on behalf of a golf course. He reminisced fondly of his early days on the Council, when many of the meetings to discuss city business would take place at the kitchen table in his house, before the enforcement of the right-to-know laws made that impossible, "The first 5 years on Common Council were the most enjoyable." He also said that during this time there was virtually no partisanship, and he worked closely with both Democrats and Republicans.

In the 1967 session of the State Legislature, Levin and Mayor Kenneth Dooley lobbied state officials for the city to be allowed to build a golf course on the CVH land. The Hartford Courant of April 22, 1967, reported:
The Committee on Humane and Welfare Institutions hears the local bill Tuesday morning in Hartford. It will have strong support from city officials and golfing enthusiasts. The proposed golf course would cost an estimated $300,000 if the land were secured.
Levin brought a petition with 1200 signers supporting the golf course, and endorsements from the town committees of both parties, labor unions, the Chamber of Commerce, and a variety of civic groups. The State Board of Mental Health was initially opposed to a proposal for Middletown to purchase the land from CVH, but did not directly oppose an agreement to lease the land. The efforts of Levin and Dooley were successful, and HB 4720 (Authorizing Middletown to enter into lease agreement with trustees of Connecticut Valley Hospital for use of state land for municipal golf course) was passed on May 16, 1967. The total land under consideration was 175 acres.

Levin told me that he was working with the same team that built the Tunxis Plantation golf courses in Farmington, the Tomasso Companies. He lauded their work, saying they were wonderful partners to work with. For the state land in Maromas, the noted local golf course architect Albert Zikorus laid out a 6607 yard, par 72 course (the accompanying photo is Zikorus' plan). The Courant reported that the city would probably apply for Federal open space funds to pay for the construction of the course.

In July of 1967, Levin told the Courant that a target date for opening of the course would be July 4th, 1969. However, Levin's dream of a course on CVH land did not survive another summer. The Board of Mental Health decided in April of 1968 to reject the city's proposal for a golf course, according to The Courant, they "favored the saving of hospital land for future hospital or related mental health needs rather than for golf course use." CVH had also been authorized to give some of its land to the new Middlesex Community College for a campus, when CVH did so, it removed a key piece of land from Levin's proposed golf course.

[Levin told me in great detail, and with pride and regret about the other golf course project that he pushed, in Newfield Meadows. He said that he arranged for the city to purchase 278 acres for $250,000 in about 1963, using Federal and State open space funds. The land was mostly wetlands, but Levin told me a golf course is a permitted use, "When you build a golf course, you increase the beauty of the streams." Some of the city land was used to build Woodrow Wilson Middle School in the 1960s (and Middletown High School this decade). The golf course bond referendum narrowly lost in 1964, "37 votes! That's all we lost by."]

Levin now lives most of the year in Florida, returning to work at Malloves only in the summer and the holiday season, and he said he has no involvement at all in city politics, "The only time I've been to City Hall recently is to pay my taxes." However, he has not lost his passion for the cause he championed for so long, "It's a shame that the City of Middletown doesn't have a golf course."

A Golf Course in 2009?
The pace of golf course construction nationwide has slowed considerably since the 1960s and 1970s. Most of this cannot be attributed to the economic difficulties of the past couple of years--the number of rounds of golf played in the U.S. has consistently fallen since 2000. Joe Perillo, of the Connecticut State Golf Association, told The Eye, "Building a golf course is not a profitable thing right now." Mike Colandro, a PGA tour professional who lives in Cromwell, said that to make it feasible, it needed to be a year-round facility, with indoor practice facilities, "That could be beautiful if done right... It's definitely something that should happen."

Mike Milano, who owns Quarry Ridge Golf Course in Portland, said it would be extremely difficult for anybody to build a new golf course. He had heard that "city hall and the state rep were interested in building a golf course up there," and that there had been a proposal a few years ago. However, Milano said that golf courses are overbuilt right now, and the ownership of the land by the city would be problematic for any developer. He also told me that the Chamber of Commerce is dead set against any municipal golf course because it would be at a competitive advantage over private courses, since it would not pay property tax, "The Chamber and all the other golf courses would fight this to the tooth." Larry McHugh, president of the Chamber of Commerce, did not return my phone calls about the city-owned land.

A Request for Proposals
The RFP issued last month suggests many possible uses which would be appropriate for the city-owned land, including baseball and soccer fields, dog parks, golf courses, playgrounds, and boat ramps. Any proposals are to include extensive financial information, including a business plan and a demonstration of financial capacity. The RFP "is designed for income generating uses which can develop the land," according to City Planner Bill Warner, although he said that other proposals would also be considered.

Warner told me that the RFP was not targeted towards a specific proposed use such as a golf course, but rather, "I thought this was an opportune time to see what interest there is." Deputy Director of Planning Michiel Wackers said the RFP was advertised in the New England Real Estate Journal, the Hartford Courant, and a CT Park & Recreation listserv. Wackers told the Hartford Courant (July 22) that proposed ideas include the creation of a playground, a golf course, agricultural use and continued use by a local airplane club. The agricultural use is likely to be a proposal from Millane Nurseries to continue their lease of land for growing trees.

When I spoke to Mayor Giuliano about the State-owned reservoir land, he mentioned only one of those possible uses, "We're looking at a golf course in that end of town." He confirmed that the city would be receiving a golf course proposal in response to the RFP. During my conversation with Rep. Serra about the conservation easement, he too brought up the RFP, referring to it as an "RFP for a nine-hole golf course." Serra pointed out that when a golf course is built, the value of neighboring properties rises. Neither man could tell me which company might be putting in a proposal, but Giuliano indicated it was not from a group known for building courses in the area.

Councilmen Gerry Daley and David Bauer both serve on the Economic Development Commission, which will be evaluating the proposals. About a golf course, Daley said to me, "Personally I think it would be a challenge to build a course up there... [but] I'm not opposed to a golf course if it's done in an environmentally responsible way." However, both Daley and Bauer said they did not have any preconceptions about what should be done with the land, and both spoke of not only the financial value of using the land, but also the non-financial values.

Bauer was cautious about developing the land, saying that the benchmark for any development should be quite high. He noted, "This is some of the best farmland around." He said he would put a very high value on doing nothing, because "when we do nothing, the potential is for the future." Daley on the other hand, was a proponent of developing the land, "I don't think the best use is to leave it totally undeveloped. You need to find ways to get people to use the land."

Decisions made and decisions to come
Middletown and the State together own an enormous, uninterrupted tract of land that stretches from the banks of the Connecticut River for over two miles. The land abuts Middlesex Community College, CVH, and large tracts of land owned by Connecticut Light and Power; it is in close proximity to lots owned by the Kleen Energy Power Plant and by Pratt and Whitney. This land is valuable by almost any measure: it is a very short distance from downtown, is easily accessible from Route 9, it contains what the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers to be "Prime Farmland", and it has spectacular old forests, ravines with waterfalls, pristine watershed and reservoirs, and beautiful vistas.

The last two fiscal years have been challenging for both Middletown and the State. In Middletown, the Common Council has used sales of city assets to balance the budget each of those years (Remington Rand last year, and Cucia Park this year). It would not surprise me if the Council evaluated proposals for use of the city land primarily on the basis of their ability to maximize city revenue. In Hartford, the state's budget woes are even worse than Middletown's, and both political parties support the sale of state assets to balance the budget. With these pressures, it would not surprise me to see a proposal that the state offer to sell some of its Middletown land holdings.

I have been struck by the way that apparently small decisions by elected officials can have dramatic effects on the value of these city and state lands. These decisions, even when they relate to public legislation, are not always obvious at the time. For example, Rep. Joe Serra's 2005 insertion of the phrase "Active Recreation" into the deed restriction for the city land vastly increased the possible uses to which the land could be put, and led directly to the form which the RFP has taken. As another example, a few interested residents worked with Rep. Gail Hamm to generate conservation protection on the state lands, but even the elected officials of the City were not kept fully informed.

Other important decisions are made administratively, usually with the consultation of elected officials, but also not necessarily noticed by the public. An example of this would be the proposal by the Director of Water and Sewer to sell city water to CVH, so that the State would no longer need to manage its own water supply. Another example, possibly forthcoming, will be the decision by the senior management of CVH about what assets CVH might consider selling. Finally, city administrators can influence decisions by the manner in which they solicit proposals and the manner by which they present them to elected officials.

The other thing that has struck me as odd is the way that some ideas seem to persist for decades, even if virtually everybody first involved in them has moved on. 40 years after Buzzy Levin gave up on a Maromas golf course, the opening of the CJTS gave Middletown the possibility of finally acquiring most of the land that he wanted for it. When the City got the land, the Planning Department's RFP was for developing the land in any sort of manner consistent with the deed. But somehow, despite all the intervening decades, the thoughts of two of the most important elected officials (Serra and Giuliano) turn to an idea that was championed by Buzzy Levin, who last held public office over 30 years ago.

The next decisions on the city lands will be at the August meeting of the Economic Development Committee, when it evaluates the proposals which the Planning Department receives.

The state land is subject to largely administrative decisions, at least in the short term. The first one will be whether any CVH land is listed as a "salable asset."

Rolling with the Rotarians

I spent an enjoyable lunch hour with a group of community memebers who care about Middletown as much as I do.

The Rotarians invited me to be their luncheon speaker on the topic of The Middletown Eye, one topic upon which I am qualified to expound upon.

I recognized several faces, and was gratified at the show of hands of folks who recognized, and had actually read the Middletown Eye.

I think we recruited a few new readers, and a new author or two.

The Middletown Eye thanks Cathy Branch Stebbins for the invite.

Discord at the Republican Town Convention

The Republican Town Committee (RTC) held their nominating convention for this year's municipal elections on Monday evening in City Hall. Ryan Kennedy, representing the candidate Recruitment Committee, read all of the names in nomination, and then the names of those recommended by the Committee. In all cases the recommended candidates were endorsed, but in a rarity, the votes were not all unanimous.

The Candidates
The nomination for Mayor was dispatched quickly, with Sebastian Giuliano receiving unanimous and enthusiastic support for a 3rd term. Giuliano accepted the nomination with brief remarks in which he spoke of the importance of winning over voters who are not Republican, "Fortunately, most of those, Democratic and unaffiliated [voters], share our values." He also spoke of the importance of taking the long view in decisions, "It's our job to look out for those that follow us."

For Planning and Zoning Commission, three seats are open, and the Republicans nominated two incumbents, Ron Borelli and Les Adams. The third nomination went to Nick Fazzino, who currently serves as a P&Z alternate.

Four seats are open on the Board of Education. Incumbents Sheila Daniels and Ryan Kennedy were nominated, together with Stacey Barka and Stephen Gaarder.

The Republicans saved the Common Council for last at their nominating convention. The Recruitment Committee considered 11 names for the 8 positions, recommending incumbents Joseph Bibisi, David Bauer, and Phil Pessina, but passing over incumbent Earle Roberts. They also recommended Deb Kleckowski, the P&Z Commissioner who recently switched her party affiliation to Republican, and nominated Tony Gaunichaux, Michael Marino, Matthew Scarrozzo, and Robert Stefurak.

Roberts was unhappy at being denied a nomination, and rose to make two points. He first asked whether there was any conflict in having another candidate for Common Council nomination (David Bauer) serve on the Recruitment Committee. Kennedy answered that all decisions were by consensus and thus there was no vote in which Bauer cast the deciding ballot. Roberts secondly asked why he was not told of the decision until many days after others had heard from the Committee. Kennedy said that he had phoned Roberts and left a message, so he could tell him the news "man to man" instead of electronically.

The vote for the Common Council slate drew two "Naye" votes, but still passed overwhelmingly.

Afterwards, I asked Roberts if he would be petitioning for a primary. He responded by pointing to the State statutes, which allow him to run as an independent if he gets 70 signatures by August 5th, or to force a Republican primary if he gets a required number of signatures by August 12th. Roberts told me that he was quite upset at being treated this way after all his years of service.

The "Republican Fullfillment Commitment"
The last 10 minutes of the convention were spent discussing two documents that were distributed to all RTC members. Like the work of the great philosophers, the documents discuss the tension between the individual and the party. One delineates in detail the expectations the party has of each candidate, in such areas as fundraising and the number of hours of door to door campaigning. The other discusses what a party member should do when they find themselves in disagreement with the majority of the party:
Disagreements and discord must be reconciled either in the party caucus or at town committee meetings; not on street corners or in the local pubs, and not at public town meetings or in the press.
Should a member, in all good conscience, find that they frequently favor the policy positions of the opposing party, he or she should resign their position recognizing they no longer represent the sentiments of the party that nominated them.
Each of the documents has space for the candidate's signature, the date, and a "Witness". Several of the candidates objected to the rigid expectations of candidates, and questioned whether the documents would be legally enforceable.

After some discussion, most in the room agreed that the documents were really just guidelines, and should serve as internal reminders.

An earlier version of this post mistakenly used Gaarder's middle name as his first. My apologies, this has been corrected above; his first name is a nice one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Simmons Rallies Republicans

Rob Simmons, former Congressman, and current candidate for the 2010 election of the U.S. Senate seat held by Christopher Dodd, gave a fiery speech to about 35 members of the Republican Town Committee on Monday evening. The Republicans were gathered to nominate candidates for the November municipal elections.

Simmons' speech covered a local issue, the Mayor's request for stimulus package money to fund 8 "shovel-ready" projects. He pointed out that only one project in all of Connecticut had received funding, and most of that funding went to a Massachusetts company. He implied that this problem and others were due to Senator Dodd, "We'll solve that problem by getting rid of our senior Senator, Mr. Dodd."

Simmons spoke of America being ready for Republican values, which he identified as varying kinds of "freedom", but in particular "free enterprise."

Simmons closed with an emphasis on party unity, and a pledge to do all he could to help elect Republicans in the municipal elections. He received a prolonged standing ovation for his remarks.

July Goes Out Like a Lion (Arts-wise)

Tuesday July 28:
That's guitarist and vocalist Mark DeAngelis (a member of the faculty of UCONN teaching business law) who performs with the Gallant Sons of Erin, an ensemble that performs music and stories dealing with Irish immigrant soldiers and their experiences in the American Civil War. Joined by his brother Dave (banjo, vocals) and Todd Bryda (vocals, bodhran), he'll be on the South Green at 7 p.m. in a free concert co-sponsored by the Middlesex County Historical Society and the Middletown Commission on the Arts. The band, which (on occasion) also includes other DeAngelis family members and friends, bases its repertoire on the research members have done on Company K of the Irish Brigade's 28th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. In case of rain, the concert moves indoors to South Congregational Church.

"Cinefare in Middletown" comes to the end of its 4-Tuesday run with the last in the series of "Frank Capra Directs Hollywood's Leading Men" at 7:30 p.m. in the Goldsmith Family Cinema in the Center for Flm Studies at Wesleyan. Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker, Carolyn Jones, Keenan Wynn and the ever sardonic Thelma Ritter star in "Hole in the Head", the 1959 Capra comedy about a Miami Beach hotelier (Sinatra) whose wealthy older brother (Robinson) is tired of helping him through his financial and personal issues. There's a subplot about development of a theme park (virtually unheard of in Florida in the days before DisneyWorld) and other issues but, mostly, this is a light comedy and will have you whistling the tune "High Hopes" as you head home. Tom Santopietro, author of "Sinatra in Hollywood", will introduce the movie and also will be available for a Q & A following the screening. For more information about the movie and restaurant discounts/transportation before the showing, go to

Wednesday July 29:
Celebrate the work created the children attending the 2009 Kids Arts programs from 5 - 7 p.m. in The Buttonwood Tree. The different presenters include members of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" class and "Artists of the Future" as well as the staff of Kid Current, the summer newspaper. It's impressive what these young people create during the 5-week daily program. The event is free and open to the public.

The "Music at the Mansion" series, held on the back lawn of the Wadsworth Mansion at the Long Hill Estate concludes with its opening show (originally scheduled for July 1 and postponed due to rain.) Eight to the Bar, the Connecticut-based "swing & blues" sextet, is known for its exciting "live" shows and impeccable musicianship. The grounds open at 5:30 p.m. for those who wish to stake out a good spot and have a leisurely picnic supper. The band "hits" at 6:30 - for more information, call 347-1064. To check out the band, go to

Thursday July 30:
North End Nights concludes its July run with a breakdancing class taught by Byran Giles at 5:30 p.m. in the Green Street Arts Center followed by a 6:45 concert featuring guitarist's Melvin Sparks Trio with Bill Carbone (drums) and Matthew O. (organ) in the Luis Lopez Herb Garden. To find out more about these free events and "discount passes to North End businesses, go to

Middletown Teen Theater, a 4-week "theater camp" experience, comes to an exciting conclusion with a production of Disney's "Beauty & The Beast" Thursday through Sunday August 2 in the Auditorium of the Performing Arts at Middletown High School, LaRosa Lane. Staff members include Marco Gaylord (executive director), Ali Brandt (artistic and program director), Aaron Sinicrope (music director), Stella Demand (choreographer), Spencer Bazzano (assistant director), Jeanine Westbrook (vocal coach), Michael Gosselin (technical director), Larry Gaechter (set designer), Kim Everson (assistant technical director) and Tomas Viragdula (junior counselor.) Cast members range in age from 9 to 17 and, as you will see, there's a whole slew of them (73 children signed on for the summer.) Performances are 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. The final dress rehearsal is open to the public as a "freeview" on Wednesday night. For ticket information, go to

Library Supporters Urged to Contact Governor, Lawmakers

From Arthur Meyers

The state budget discussions continue, so we ask you to speak up.

Please urge Governor Rell, Lt. Governor Fedele ,and the key lawmakers to SUPPORT library programs and to reject the proposed cuts. Even if you have already contacted the budget negotiators, NOW is the time to contact them again.

Contact the key people below, and let them know that school is out, unemployment is high, and Russell Library is packed like never before.

On one day, this past Wednesday, July 22, in a city of 47,000:
  • 1,797 people came into the Library
  • 2,025 books and other materials were checked out
  • 134 children participated in crafts programs in the morning
  • 180 children attended the storytelling program in the evening
  • 227 adults used the public computers
  • 70 questions were asked in Information Services
  • 8 adults attended the evening computer class on Microsoft Word
Ask them: "Please reject cuts to our library programs!"

Here's the list:
--Governor Jodi Rell:
--Lt. Governor Mike Fedele:
--OPM Secretary Robert Genuario:
--House Speaker Christopher Donovan:
--House Majority Leader Denise Merrill:
--House Republican Leader Larry Cafero:
--Senate President Don Williams:
--Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney:
--Senate Republican Leader John McKinney:
--House Appropriations Committee Chair John Geragosian:
--Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Toni Harp:
--House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Craig Miner:
--Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Dan Debicella:

Simmons to Visit Buttonwood Tree Salon

Salon with John Killian and Fred Carroll presents a conversation with Senatorial candidate Rob Simmons, at the Buttonwood Tree, Monday July 27 at 6 PM. Simmons, a former congressman in the 2nd district is a Republican candidate in a race for the seat held by incumbent Chris Dodd.

The Buttonwod Tree is located at 605 Main Street.

Republican Convention Tonight

The Republican Town Committee will be holding their nominating convention tonight, at 7PM in Council Chambers.  Candidates for Mayor, City Treasurer, Common Council, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Assessment Appeals will be nominated to run on the Republican ticket in the November municipal elections.

The executive committee of the Republican Town Committee has evaluated the qualifications of people who expressed an interest in running. Tonight they will recommend a slate to the committee as a whole, who will then vote to nominate a slate for office.  

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Middletown dog in National Geographic

The August issue of National Geographic features a photo of Sidney leaping through his living room when he smells food.

Sidney lives in Middletown with Jason Neely.

NOTE ADDED: Sidney achieved even greater fame when the above image was used for the cover of the latest album of the alt rock group Weezer. Although many refer to him as "The Weezer Dog", he is actually just the famous Sidney, Middletown dog.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Behind Every Great Shrew

(all photos by Matt Kabel)

It's been quite a joy to be part of the ARTFARM family's production of "The Taming of the Shrew." Even though I have acted on stage in various productions over the past 2 decades, I have probably learned more about the craft of theater in the last year, first working with and observing Jeff Allen and Jerry Winters on "Hamlet" in October '08 and this summer with director Joni Weisfeld.

Watching Ms. Weisfeld, one realizes she knows the script as well as (if not better) than her cast. From day one, she had a vision of the play that both worked with and against the misogyny of the story. Finding one's inner animal and allowing it to inform your characterization i.e. Kate (the Shrew) is a wildcat, Petruchio is a gorilla, etc. At first, some of the actors (including this writer) had problems with this concept but the director had patience (and faith) and the results have been quite entertaining.

The cast of 13 includes 4 Equity actors (meaning they belong to the Actors' Union) and many others with years of training and performing experience. It's been quite educational watching Marcella Trowbridge (pictured above) and David McCamish (left) work on their roles. They have consistently been the first on the set every day, working on their (very physical) "fight scene." Marcella literally puts her entire body into this performance - to watch her prepare and perform each night is inspirational. David has spent hours just on swinging from the rope on the sie of one of the platforms, making sure he lands in the right spot and does not hit anyone or hurt himself. He has worked with Lars Selberg (Vincentio) and myself on our short spat (I get bowled over by Lars) to make sure the hit looks convincing, the fall looks right and neither one of us gets hurt. We go over the scene every day to make sure it "plays" correctly - it happens in an instant yet it will ring false if the fight looks "staged." David's list of accomplishments is many and varied and, on top of all of that, he is a fine and gentle person.

Watching Jackie Coleman (Bianca), Brian Jennings (Gremio), Ken O'Brien (Lucentio) is a real treat. They have performed together for ARTFARM in the past and have so much fun on the set that it never looks like a job. Ms. Coleman is now District Artistic Director for the Hartford Public Schools. Jennings has worked in many productions in the area, teaches in Hartford, and has also taught in Cape Town, South Africa. Annie DiMartino (Biondello) has a great amount of experience, working on stages all over the United States and currently is the Director of Education for Long Wharf Theatre. She has truly captured her inner parrot for this part. Jaime Arena (Curtis/Widow) originally only had the role of Curtis, the beleagured servant of a seemingly mad Petruchio and then took over the role of the widow (who only appears in Act V) when someone had to bow out. The transition is seamless and points not only to her extensive theater training but also her abundant talent. Debra Walsh (Grumio) has such a physical role playing Petruchio's servant and "best friend" (think Snoopy but more rugged) - like others in the cast, she teaches acting in Hartford (in the Theater Department of the Greater of the Performing Arts) and also works with the Hartbeat Ensemble. Hartbeat is based in Hartford and its goal is to create new works that challenge the status quo and make theater accessible beyond the barriers of class, race or gender." Kevin Dechello (Hortensio) is an intense actor, having performed in many of the Bard's plays as well as in the forthcoming movie, "idiot Kings." Kyle Minor (Baptista) is a busy actor, director, playwright, free-lance writer and father of 4. His c.v. is long and filled with great roles, such as Sir Toby Belch in "Twelfth Night", and has directed such diverse plays as "The Laramie Project", "Into the Woods" and "H.M.S. Pinafore." The afore-mentioned Lars Selberg spends as much time behind the curtains as in front, working on lighting design. In fact, he and his wife are currently on the Midletown Teen Theater production of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast", to be performed July 31 - August 2 at Middletown High School.

I've saved Mara Lieberman for last (pictured here with Kevin Dechello - she's on the left.) Mara's another member of the cast with great credentials as an actor, director, production assistant and educator. No one has worked harder in this production than Mara. She has such a physical part (Tranio), pretending to be a man for most of the play - Shakespeare loves strong women who can fool people into believing they are men. Tranio is cunning and smart and will do anything for her master (Lucentio) including hustling Bianca's father for her hand in marriage. Tranio does her best to be one of the guys and Mara has great fun playing this role.

Hats off to the great band (Joseph Getter, Mick Bolduc, and the irrepressible Tim Gaylord) and the hard-working sound crew (Chris and Chris, not related, and sound designer Michael Miceli.) The "behind-the scenes" work of Sophie House (stage manager), Taryn Glasser (assistant stage manager), Amanda Klause (administrative intern) and Kristy Johnson (assistant director) has been consistently strong and supportive. Christian Milik's costume designs have been clever, kooky, and, in my case, quite comfortable.

One cannot forget all the work done by Dic Wheeler and Marcella. ARTFARM has been their dream (almost) from the day they met. They are educators, entertainers, environmentalists, activists, and an integral part of the Middletown landscape. Even though he's not in the play, Dic has worked extremely hard behind the scene (imagine how few plays Shakespeare would have written if he also had to write grant proposals) and is always supportive of the cast and crew.

What a treat for me to watch and work with such great people. We appreciate the people who have come out to the Grove at MxCC, even when the weather has been iffy (we have only used the "rain space" once) and love the performers who have opened every night. Sunday's Eco-Festival is fun and informative. Making magic takes a lot of hard work, committed people and community support. All that has come together this summer to create "The Taming of the Shrew."

Pre-show concerts start at 6 p.m. and the play commences at 7. The Eco-Festival runs from 4 - 6 p.m. For more information, go to