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.Transportation
- 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.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.