Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Public Input Session #1 -- Draft Plan of Conservation & Developtment
Posted by Vijay Pinch

The first public session to solicit input from city residents on the Plan of Conservation and Development was held this evening from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in the Hubbard Room of the Russell Library. I didn't actually do a head count, but I'd say between 30 and 40 people were in attendance. The meeting began with a presentation by Catherine Johnson, P&Z Commissioner (seamlessly assisted by Dave on the powerpoint), on the contrast between "historic" or traditional neighborhood design as opposed to post-1950s suburban "sprawl". Johnson noted that the state wants to see municipal planning policies that offer a sustainable model, and the phrase that is being used at the state level is "responsible growth". (This thinking reflects the work of a Governor-appointed task force, whose February 2008 report may be read here. Appendix B, "Responsible Growth", on pp. 10-12, gives the basic statement of goals, which seem similar in many respects to what is often referred to as "smart growth".)

The main aim of the meeting was to hear ideas from city residents about how Middletown should plan for future development. For the most part, discussion focused on particular areas of concern for distinct neighborhoods. Westfield and Westlake were well represented. Of particular concern to Westlake folks is the fate of the open space or "park" there -- one is unsure what to call the land, and no one seemed to know who currently owns it. All were agreed, however, that it is a nice area and that it should be better maintained. According to one speaker, named Bill (sorry, I didn't catch the last name), the Westlake area contains about 15% of the population of Middletown, yet it is neglected by the city. (The population of Westlake relative to the rest of the city can be seen on the density map in this earlier story; Westlake is represented by the large circles to the north.) Many Westlake residents wish to see the city take charge of the open space and maintain it, especially the paths that run through it.

What was particularly impressive, at least to this writer, was the high rates of owner-occupancy in the Westlake area. Upwards of 85 to 90% in some of the condominium associations, according to those present. (Please forgive me if I'm getting the terminology or numbers wrong.) The associations represented included, if memory serves, Beacon Hill and Trolley Crossing. (Note: Carriage Crossing and Peppermill were present as well) In any case, the residents in attendance wished to correct the impression that Westlake is full of "transients" who don't care about or have a stake in Middletown. The people in the room were evidence that some "Westlakers" (my term, not theirs [at least, I didn't hear it used]) have lived in Middletown for over 40 years. And many feel a loyalty to and love for Middletown, so much so that they regret the convenience of shopping in Cromwell and wish that there were better shopping opportunities nearby. (My comment here was that perhaps one of the auto dealerships could be converted to a grocery store.) Another speaker, John Wilson, noted that Westlake boasts a diverse population, whether in terms of ethnicity, age, or income. And the bike and walking path is heavily used by all. In pleasant weather you would not be surprised to see anywhere from 200 to 400 people out for a stroll. Often one will see three generations of a family walking together -- yes, there are children in Westlake too.

It was a productive meeting, particularly because there were so many new faces -- not "the usual suspects" that show up at Common Council and P&Z meetings. The NEXT meeting will be on 16 April, same time (6:30), same place (Hubbard Room, Russell Library). The special focus will be conservation and open space.

Note: For the whole article visit the Middletowneye web blog.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ruthann 'Rae' Johnson is running for Middletown's Mayor. Below is info on her website's Green Initiatives page:

As mayor, I propose to:

Convert Town Hall to solar panels eliminating the need of reliance on an outside power source and thus decreasing the amount spent on electricity. School buildings and other municipal buildings would follow.

I would explore the options of establishing a trolley or train line between Middletown and Hartford. Encouraging other towns to participate in such a program thus lowering the cost of set-up and maintenance. It would be possible if there was enough interest to have the line run to New Haven or other towns as well.

I would like to establish community gardens and park settings. Our town is fortunate to have a couple of parks but it would be nice to create more green spaces where families can be together.

I would explore expanding the trail begun in the West Lake Area. The town began a wonderful project but never finished the path. The area has a nice path, ponds, walking bridges, tennis and basketball courts but no one can use them due to overgrowth and poor up keep.

I would encourage the community to participate in the maintenance of their neighborhoods through planting days and volunteer programs for our youth.

New development should be required to install solar panels or other energy creating device in their plan - not as an after thought. If a building can not be refurbished then the site should be cleared and reused rather than leaving an abandoned eye sore on a usable piece of property. We should re-use what we already have before we search to build new.