Thursday, September 24, 2009

"I am flabbergasted"

Those were the words of a very happy Commissioner Catherine Johnson as the Planning and Zoning Commission finished agreeing on a set of principles to guide the new Plan of Conservation and Development.

The Commission met in a workshop format, facing each other around a table set up on the floor of the Council Chambers. Commissioner Johnson led off the meeting with a 30 minute presentation on Smart Growth, laying out its goals and principles. She said these include creating a range of housing opportunities, fostering neighborhoods which have a strong sense of place, providing a variety of transportation choices, and building compactly to efficiently use land.

Smart Growth planning would relax the zoning of specific regions of the city to allow mixed use, but would tighten restrictions on the design of new developments. This would invert the current land use philosophy, which has tight restrictions on zoning (for example, only residential developments are allowed in an R60 zone), but has few restrictions on the design of a new development. Johnson illustrated her talk with examples which contrasted neighborhood based design and planning with the sprawl that a pure zoning approach has led to.

Johnson echoed many of the points made in a presentation by the town planner of Hamden, Leslie Creane, at a May meeting of the P&Z (New Approach to Zoning Regulations Presented at City Hall). The Commissioners were enthusiastic about Creane's presentation, and responded
very positively to Johnson's as well. Commissioner Deborah Kleckowski commented that she had heard many residents complain about the lack of retail and cultural attractions in Middletown. Commissioners seemed to agree that in the long term, neighborhoods with a mix of different kinds of housing (apartments, duplexes, and detached homes), offices, and retail, would increase the quality of life for residents.

The Commissioners worked on a set of principles from lists provided by City Planner Bill Warner. After a general discussion that revealed only minor differences of opinion on what kind of city Middletown should be, the Commissioners efficiently reached unanimous agreement on preliminary language for the guiding
principles for the POCD. [Note, what follows may not be the final versions of the principles, my notes were less than complete, and the commissioners felt that some of these "principles" might be better as examples or goals, rather than over-arching principles. I include them all to give a sense of the Commissioner's approach to the POCD. The final language will be refined by Warner with input from the Commissioners.]
  • Encourage environmentally responsible and sustainable development
  • Introduce new road standards in rural areas to reduce impacts of impervious pavement
  • Preserve and connect open space, farmland and critical environmental areas.
Urban Design
  • Improve design quality of development with design standards.
  • Encourage compact building design.
  • Promote development compatible with the unique character of neighborhoods to create a strong sense of place
  • Create walkable neighborhoods.
  • Provide a mix of uses in neighborhoods to ensure a city's vitality: commercial, civic, residential, recreation.
  • Encourage transit to provide a variety of transportation choices, including public transit, cars, bicycles, rail, and pedestrian.
  • Invest in sidewalks, road connections, bike paths, and street trees to encourage walking and biking.
  • Invest in infrastructure to increase rail, to provide linkages to neighboring communities.
  • Locate jobs near housing, transit, and services.
Concentrate Development
  • Reinforce downtown as our economic and cultural center.
  • Concentrate development along major transportation corridors already served by water and sewer.
  • Offer incentives to rehab brownfields, preserve historic structures and rehab housing and schools.
  • Encourage compact development.
  • Mix land uses.
  • Create a lively mixed-use downtown, connect to the riverfront.
  • Limit the sprawl of low-density housing.
  • Create a range of housing opportunities and choice.
Economic development
  • Increase the commercial tax base, lowering tax burden on residential property owners.
  • Attract office, light industry, retail, and entertainment.
  • Create partnerships between Education and Industry.
  • Expand on the existing medical infrastructure.
After reaching consensus on these draft guiding principles, the Commissioners enthusiastically agreed to hold another workshop on the POCD at their next meeting, on October 14.

Public Comment About Schools Redistricting.
Under the regular item at the end of the meeting ("Public comment on topics which are not or have not been the subject of a public hearing"), I spoke as a member of the public. I commented that the Board of Education will be making a decision about possibly significant redistricting this year. I urged the Commissioners to work with the Board of Education on this issue, which is impacted by (and has impacts on) neighborhoods, transportation, and development.


Anonymous said...

This would have made my day, except mice are nocturnal.

-A. Nona Mouse

Anonymous said...

This why we elected Catherine Johnson. She deserves a lot of credit for educating P&Z and our community. Getting all us to think about what would make our city a better place to live has bee a fun challenge that in the end will benefit us all.

Stephan Allison said...

"Commissioner Deborah Kleckowski commented that she had heard many residents complain about the lack of retail and cultural attractions in Middletown."
As the Arts Coordinator for the City of Middletown, I must ask through which lens the many residents are looking for cultural attractions in our City and finding us lacking? May I direct them to the City Arts Calendar ( for a sampling of cultural activities taking place in our City in a given month. They will find we are not lacking in cultural attractions. Middletown was the first in CT to receive the status of "100 Best Small Art Towns in America" as compiled by John Villani. I welcome them to add their names/addresses/email addresses to our mailing list so that we can keep them informed of all the great offerings this City features each month (my email address is: While doing so, they might also leave comments on what is missing so that we can find ways to fill any gaps. We appreciate public input and welcome it. Thanks.

Stephen H. Devoto said...

Thanks for the reminder!
I do not want to leave the impression that Deb thought there was nothing to do in Middletown except go out to dinner. Her comment was in the context of wanting to enrich the choices people have for entertainment downtown.
However, it is sadly true that we sometimes seem to overlook and/or take for granted the richness of Middletown's music, theater, and visual arts offerings. It should give us all pride that our city is home to Oddfellows, The Buttonwood Tree, Russell Library, concerts at Wadsworth and the South Green, and all the bars and restaurants downtown which offer entertainment.
When you add in the offerings at Wesleyan, almost all of which are open to the public, Middletown deserves the recognition Stephan highlights.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

While Wesleyan brings top-flight, though sometimes esoteric, talent to town, what Middletown seems to be missing is a club/theater/venue which features consistently high-quality pop, folk, jazz, blues.

Look at what is being booked by Infinity Hall in Norfolk, the Narrows in Fall River, the Iron Horse in Northampton and even the resurrected Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport, and you'll get a sense of what we're missing.

I know it's a matter of budget, but I'd love to see the Summer concerts on the South Green feature something other than the polka and dance bands which seem only to draw a sparse audience of seniors.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am surprised by the comment on lack on cultural events. I find many weeks when I have to pick and choose between events being held at the same time. There are times however, when I can understand the need for a venue other than a bar, restaurant or Wesleyan.

As far as retail is concerned, I see the point. We have plenty of drug stores (saddened to hear of another Walgreen's being built) and restaurants! I would love to see retail expanded in the appropriate areas, so I wouldn't have to make trips to Cromwell, the Berlin Turnpike, etc.

NOBO said...

Things I should be able to do,(but I can't), in a city of almost 50,000 people:
1.) Buy a toaster
2.) Shop for a TV
3.) Buy underwear
4.) Taco Bell
5.) Buy a book
6.) Buy a Pink Floyd CD
7.) Buy a DVD (new)
8.) Shop for a microwave
9.) Buy a Whopper
10.)Buy a 9 iron
11.)Buy ANY kind of iron!

Get the idea?

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed that Walmart/Target/Kohls has not located on Washingtin Street. Anyone remember Palmer Mills?

Anonymous said...

Dear NOBO, I disagree that we would benfit from having a Taco Bell and a Burger King in town. what can you get at Taco Bell that you cant get 5000 times better quality at IguanaRanas? And, There are 2 book stores in town - Broad Street Books and the Book Bower in Main Street Market. Also many small appliances such as toasters, irons and microwaves can probably be purchased at Rite Aid, Walgreens, Stop N Shop, even Staples sells things like that I bellieve for offices. So I really dont understand what your complaining about!

Anonymous said...


ever heard of Genes TV & Appliances...their great.

NOBO said...

Re: Anonymous 2:50-
O.K., I'll take a Iguanaranas.As for the bookstores, I would prefer a store with a LARGE selection to choose from.C'mon, Main St. Market is a joke and is on it's last legs.
Sorry, I don't buy appliances from drug stores.
Re. Anon 12:35-you must be new to Middletown. You see, Middletown's long standing policy was "if you don't build it on Main St., you ain't gonna build it).Our P&Z czar saw to that. We could have had a mall on Saybrook Rd., a Home Depot years ago on Saybrook Rd.,and who knows how many more--but "We can't impact Main St." was the battlecry for years. So, instead of spending 20 minutes looking for a parking space on Main St.,you drive 20 minutes to Westfarms or Meriden Square---WHERE THEY HAVE BARNES & NOBLE!!!

Anonymous said...

Dearest NOBO (have to ask - is that hip slang for "North of Boardman Lane"?),

I was starting to think that you were just one teachable moment after the next, but now I find that we have Iguanas Ranas in common! Maybe the next planning discussion should be held in the North End over tacos. Perhaps there is much that we could agree on in this community we share!


Anonymous said...

I am thankful we at least have a Marshall's and Bob's-down by Stop & Shop--they have saved me from having to make a trip to the mall.

Anonymous said...

So NOBO do you suggest we needed another Home Depot or perhaps we should have let a Home Depot build in the south end while the old Ames plaza sat vacant on Rt. 66?

Also the city's restrictive zoning lead to the complete clean up and revitilization of the burnt out Fenner America complexe by Stop and Shop in the early 1990's. Now were getting a new Price Chopper at the old Shop Rite. Why because we were willing to wait and not zone new areas for grocery stores.

My point, its much better, (but more difficult) to reuse what is already developed than develop open fields, like our neighbotring towns do.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else remember the Burger King that used to be on Main Street in what is now Osaka Japanese restaurant? The smeel of grease was so strong it stank up teh entire block - it was positively nauseating. I am glad its gone and fail to see how a BK back in town would add any value to our town in any way shape or form.

NOBO said...

To Anon. 10:27-Did I say we needed another Home Depot? No.
Ames sat vacant because the owner of the mall property was getting full rent for the building and Shop Rite did not want any competition moving in.
The idea of a Home Depot on Saybrook Rd. was proposed before Ames went out of business.
To Anon. 11:27-The stink of grease still could not cover up the twice a day sludge pumpouts of the treatment plant.

NOBO said...

Dearest Nona-You're not even close.But thanks anyway for believing I could be converted from a "wrong" thinker to a "right" thinker like yourself.How I managed to survive almost 60 years with my misguided thoughts I'll never know.Perhaps with continuing "re-education" (a la Pol Pot),I too will realize that Burger King stinks! ( I personally believe Anon. 11:27's problems go beyond his/her olfactory senses.)

Anonymous said...

NOBO -- your factgs are all wrong.

NOBO said...

Show me what you think are the right facts and I will gladly admit I'm wrong. Was it the 99-year lease Shop Rite had with its exclusionary provisions?

Anonymous said...


Lets start with the fact that Shop Rite didnt have a 99 year lease. Their 40 year lease (the plaza was built in the mid 1960's) expired last year which opended the door for Price Chopper. Ames was fully vacant when Home Depot first came to Middletown. Ames went bankrupt so when they closed their doors the lease payments stopped.

Enough said, conversation over.

NOBO said...

I stand corrected. No need to get an attitude. I will continue to converse, thank you.

Anonymous said...

No attitude NOBO, just don't think the other readers are interested in our back and forth. As a citizen you clearly have a strong understanding of Middletown real estate issues and thats great.

Anonymous said...

Below is a sharp letter from the Selectman of Essex to the State DOT rejecting claims that the Chamber and the enclosed cities support some rail transportation effort/application. Are we involved in someway? Any impact on us? Geen.

From: Linda Krause []
Sent: Thursday, November 12, 2009 3:23 PM
To: Dick Smith; Mike Pace; Noel Bishop; Phil Miller; Ralph Eno; Rich Cabral; Tim Griswold; Tom Marsh; Willie Fritz; Thazhampallath, Geen; Jeremy Shingleton; Jon A. Brayshaw; Laura Francis; Mark Walter; Mayor's Internet Email; Susan Bransfield; Toni Bondi; Town Manager
Subject: FW:

For Your Information: Phil Miller sent this letter on behalf of the nine town Lower Connecticut Valley Selectmen’s Association, acting as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region.

From: Philip Miller []
Sent: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 3:06 PM
To: Linda Krause

Town of Essex, Connecticut
Philip Miller, First Selectman
29 West Avenue, Essex, Ct. 06442
November 9, 2009

Via email to and to

TIGER Discretionary Grant Program James Rediker, Bureau Chief
c/o Robert Mariner Connecticut Department of Transportation
U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Public Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E. W84-224 2800 Berlin Turnpike
Washington, D.C. 20590 P.O. Box 317546
Newington, Ct. 06131-7546

Re: Connecticut Department of Transportation Discretionary Grant
Application: Valley Railroad Company
DUNS Number 807854583
Central Contractor Registration Number: QZX9NA

Dear Mr. Mariner and Mr. Redeker,

I attended a Lower Valley Selectmens Association meeting this morning, and our nine town consortium has asked me to directly petition you to not approve the above application for funding in the amount of $15,500,000 for upgrading the Valley Railroad line for the primary purpose of the freight haulage of solid and liquid waste.

The application falsely speaks for several entities who know nothing of this application, chiefly among them the Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority, also known as CRRA, who has no plans to move incinerated waste whatsoever. The application also falsely claims that the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce is behind this plan, and it further falsely states that this has “long been a stated objective of political and business leaders in the area.” I can factually state to you that there is not one such leader, myself included, who wants this project to proceed.

This application was submitted in the last days before the deadline by the Providence and Worcester Railroad, and while there might be some merit in upgrading these tracks in the future, there is absolutely no consensus among political and business leaders in this region that this application, if realized, would benefit our region. In fact, we feel that it would greatly detract from our way of life.

We would be pleased to participate in planning for any similar possibilities in the future, where we could discuss such options in a comprehensive and fair process. Until and unless local and regional officials can discuss any of these ideas with our constituents, we cannot support this application, and so I respectfully ask you to remove this application for consideration.

Thank you for your consideration.


Philip Miller, First Selectman, Town of Essex