Wednesday, April 23, 2014

World Book Night: Free Books Tonight!

From a press release.
Who is helping give out half a million free books across America on April 23rd? We are!

The Parent Leadership Office of the Middletown Public Schools and the Middletown Schools Association, in partnership with Wesley School PTA, Russell Library and The Book Bower, are proud to be offering a World Book Night Event on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, at Wesley School, 10 Wesleyan Hills Road, from 5:30-7 pm.

St. Vincent de Paul Needs Supporters for Walk Against Hunger

The annual Foodshare Walk Against Hunger which will take place on Sunday, May 4, through Bushnell Park in Hartford has become a crucial initiative for St. Vincent de Paul in our city as they confront the increasing demand for food services.

 Food insecurity is a common problem in our local community, and St. Vincent de Paul provides a vital safety net for local families and individuals in need.

Amazing Grace, the food pantry for St. Vincent de Paul, and the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen provide approximately 1000 meals each day to needy people in our community. These services could not be provided without the help of local organizations, individuals and volunteers who donate food, time, and money. The funds from the Walk Against Hunger will help to keep pace with the demand for food during the summer months when there are fewer food and monetary donations to St. Vincent de Paul.

Last year St. Vincent de Paul’s participation in the Foodshare Walk Against Hunger was most successful. However, this year dollar donations and team formations in our community have been well behind last year. With less than two weeks to go before the walk, we need your help to make the Walk Against Hunger a successful fundraiser for St. Vincent de Paul. If you would like to form a team, join an existing team or walk as an individual, please contact Bob Walsh at or call him at (860) 463-5061. If you can’t walk, you can still support this important fundraiser by sending a check payable to the Walk Against Hunger to Ron Krom, Executive Director, St. Vincent de Paul, P.O. Box 398, Middletown, CT 06457. Any amount will help and be appreciated. Together we can help alleviate hunger in the Middletown area.

Rockfall Foundation Announces 2014 Environmental Grants

The Rockfall Foundation has awarded its 2014 major grant awards to two environmental projects, focused in Middletown, the lower CT River, and along the Middlesex County shoreline.

This spring Rockfall is distributing a total of $25,000 in grants for environmental programs benefitting Middlesex County.  The grants will go to SoundWaters for expansion of its highly successful Coastal Explorers program into the County, and to the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) to bring the Project Learning Tree, GreenSchools! Program into the Middletown school system.

“While SoundWaters has numerous educational programs in Connecticut, Westchester and Long Island, our Rockfall grant will enable us to expand and increase the scale of our work throughout Middlesex County and the state’s eastern portion of the Long Island Sound region,” states Executive Director Leigh Shemitz. “Coastal Explorers will teach hands-on environmental education to increase students’ scientific understanding of the Long Island Sound watershed and the downstream effect of their daily activities.  Over 1,400 students will investigate the science of the Connecticut River.”

CFPA’s grant will help bring the national Project Learning Tree, GreenSchools! program into the Middletown School system, building on the current Department of Public Health (DPH) initiative called, Tools for Schools. “Our objective is to build upon and expand the DPH initiative by implementing a student learning component that can be embedded in the school’s curriculum,” explains Lori Brant, CFPA’s Education Director. “Project Learning Tree CT teaches students how to think, not what to think about the environment and helps schools assess current environmental conditions in and around their school grounds. Students take personal responsibility for improving the environment at their school, at home, and in their community.”

“These two programs will bring environmental awareness to a large number of students and are designed to both sustain themselves and expand to more Middlesex County schools in the future,” states Grants Committee Chair, Marilyn Ozols. “The Committee was impressed with both the hands on quality of the programs and the extent of the impact they will have.”

These are the first major grants to be awarded by Rockfall. The foundation has given smaller grants to organizations and towns throughout the county since 1972, providing critical seed money and support for innovative grassroots environmental education, conservation and planning initiatives. These grants have ranged from $500 to $5,000. The goal of these larger grants – given either as single-year or multi-year disbursements – is to provide worthy groups with the resources to launch or complete a major project or program, and to be more effective in the community.

A list of past grant recipients and project descriptions is available on Rockfall’s website here. Grants are awarded by the foundation annually. Application information is available by calling Claire Rusowicz at (860) 347-0340, or visiting the website. Schedules for the 2014-15 grant cycle will be available in late summer.

The Rockfall Foundation supports environmental education, conservation programs and planning initiatives in Middlesex County. Established in 1935, it is one of Connecticut’s oldest environmental organizations whose mission is to be a catalyst-- bringing people together and supporting organizations to conserve and enhance the county’s natural environment. Rockfall awards grants each year to organizations, schools and municipalities, and sponsors educational forums and symposia.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nicole Castrogiovanni Replaces Quentin Phipps As Downtown Business District Manager

From a DBD press release.
The Downtown Business District has appointed Nicole Castrogiovanni as the new Downtown Manager. Nicole has been working with the district since January and brings experience in international hospitality and arts administration. She replaces Quentin Phipps, who moved on to other opportunities last month.

The DBD Downtown Manager works alongside the City of Middletown and the Chamber of Commerce to make downtown a more vibrant and lively place. "Middletown has wonderful assets - a great arts scene, interesting restaurants, and a classic Main Street,” Castrogiovanni noted.

"Part of my job will be to make sure that everyone who visits downtown is aware of how much is here and to help us look our best for our visitors."

 Castrogiovanni was previously the director of a contemporary art gallery in Manhattan and administrator at Sotheby's Art Auction House in New York. She studied at Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, earning her BFA in 2006.

Originally from Connecticut, she has lived in New York City and Spain, returning to New England last fall. Among her international travel and volunteer experiences, Castrogiovanni assisted the House of Joel Orphanage in Malawi, Africa, and studied folkloric dance in Havana, Cuba. She holds dual citizenship from Italy and the US.

The DBD is a special services tax district which was established in 2001 by local property owners to improve the business climate in downtown Middletown. It is funded by a special tax on properties within the district and is governed by an elected Board of Commissioners, with the goal of beautification and promotion of the district. Initiatives in recent years have included flower planters on Main Street, a visitor's guide, and a gift card which can be used throughout the district, as well as the Downtown Guide program.

Diane Gervais, owner of Amato's Toy and Hobby and one of the commissioners, said “We are very excited to have Nicole join us, her energy and abilities will be a great asset to the district. Main Street, Middletown continues to thrive because of the wonderful spirit of cooperation between the City, the Chamber and the downtown property owners, working together to improve our community.”

The Downtown Business District can be reached at (860) 347-1424 or at the DBD Office at 330 Main

Earth Week Rant

Nothing Says Lanvin Like My Sin Roasted Au Vin -- Popcorn by The Colonel # 93

More on kippers: To be “done up like a kipper” (a kipper is a breakfast fish) can mean to be literally or figuratively wrapped up tightly like a purchase of kippers that the butcher encloses carefully so the smell won’t transmit to your other groceries. A toddler in a snowsuit can be said to be “done up like a kipper.” ☯

The Greeks and Romans were big on naming rhetorical figures and logical steps and missteps. Perhaps the best known is the logical error “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” (“after this, therefore because of this”). A close modern English-language cousin is the statistician's “correlation ain’t causation.” ☯

Updated Posting: P&Z Takes on MX and Floating Zone

Features of  Version 1.2

I have included the following information to help you evaluate the proposed zoning changes in light of existing zones and allowable uses.

- Zoning Code Section 60 identifying all currently allowable uses in MX zones. (Section 60)

- The existing Zoning Map hosted on the City of Middletown website. It was nearly unreadable at the size allowed in this post, but the website will allow you to zoom in. It may be helpful to see the Floating Zone map and MX zone maps included below in the context of their surroundings.(Zoning Map)

- The link to the Planning Departments presentation on the Floating Zone was faulty. The link below the map in this post is now working. Or if you don't want to scroll: (Floating Zone)

While no agenda is posted on the city website for Planning and Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 23 at 7:00 PM, two items (at least) may be worth your time to come out and speak 
about. First, the commission has taken on "cleaning up" the MX zone and the first of their amendments is scheduled for a public hearing. second, most likely under Other Business Affairs the commission will be discussing the adoption of a Floating Zone to be applied over portions of the Riverfront Development area.

MX Special Exceptions on the Chopping Block this Wednesday

The following public hearing notice is posted on the city website:




1 Proposed text amendment to the MX Zone to remove Sections 60.02.01, 60.02.04,
60.02.09, 60.02.17, 60.02.28, 60.02.33. A copy of the existing and proposed text is on
file in the office of the Town Clerk. Applicant/agent City of Middletown/Planning
Conservation and Development Z2014-2

                                                                            Daniel Russo, Chair
                                                                            Planning and Zoning Commission

Although with the turn in the weather, you really should get out and take a walk, if you can't get to the Town Clerk's office in time, below are the Sections as they appear in the Zoning Code. The parenthetical references are to Section 44 Special Exceptions where complete description are located. TD indicates the uses is also allowable under special exception in the Transition Development Zone. The proposal is to remove these uses from the MX Zone only.
  • 60.02.01- Ambulance Service (44.08.01) ZONES:TD, MX
  • 60.02.04- Fraternity and Sorority Houses (44.08.04) ZONES:TD, MX
  • 60.02.09- Neighborhood stores (44.08.09) ZONES:TD, MX
  • 60.02.17- Banking facilities with the drive-up windows (44.08.12) ZONES: TD, MX
  • 60.02.28- Existing Neighborhood Restaurants not to exceed 1800 square feet. Drive-thru permitted by Special Exception. (Amended effective 7/30/04)
  • 60.02.33- Retail Sales and/or Rentals of Used Automobiles (44.08.33)
    ZONES: MX (Added effective 10/25/89)
Clearly, the commissions has gone after the low hanging fruit is this useful but tentative first attempt at pruning the overgrown MX Zone, but just because the fruit is low hanging, doesn't mean it is ripe for the picking. Bill Warner originally offered up the Neighborhood Store claiming, "I think we have enough convenience stores."  However, given that the full description of Neighborhood Store (44.08.09) includes bakeries, barbers, tailoring and more, and urges the commission to consider uses that "serve the immediate neighborhood adequately" such a broad stroke may have unforeseen consequences for the many residential areas in MX zones.

The commission is to be commended for taking on this daunting task despite Bill Warner's initial observation that the MX is "all built out" (despite a pending lawsuit involving an entire block of Washington Street) and that MX zone amendments are not really a priority.  It may be that leaving some of these special exceptions would have no effect on most of the MX zones, but it can't be a bad thing when the Planning and Zoning Commission is, well, planning and zoning.

However, as with all things P&Z, the process has been a little convoluted and contentious. The MX revision process began with some informal discussion, initiated by chairman Russo, among the new commission towards the end of last year. It evolved into a collective decision to propose a 3-month moratorium on any proposals within the MX. After some press coverage about the possibility of a moratorium, not wanting to appear anti-development, but also adding some concerns about the logistics of coordinating and posting more meetings, chairman Russo proposed adding time for MX zone discussion "in full view of the public" to each regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting. Russo successfully defended this proposal despite commissioner Devoto's, assertions that a moratorium would be a "cleaner"approach that would both prevent any proposals coming forward while sections that applied to them were under revision and would also set a clear deadline for the commission. Commissioner Emery also noted that it was perhaps a bad idea to let the press dictate their decisions.

So there they sit, at the bottom of the agenda under Other Commission Affairs, in full view of any member of the public who has sat through all public hearings, new business and everything else on the agenda except motion to adjourn. While chairman Russo has often repeated the importance of conducting these discussions in public, his emphasis seems to be on the public listening, but not speaking -- at least not until amendments are drafted and put under New Business on the agenda.

There are, however, two items on every agenda that allow for public comment: Item 4: "PUBLIC COMMENT ON ITEMS ON THE AGENDA WHICH ARE NOT CURRENTLY SCHEDULED FOR A PUBLIC HEARING" and Item 9:  "PUBLIC COMMENT ON TOPICS WHICH ARE NOT OR HAVE NOT BEEN THE SUBJECT OF A PUBLIC HEARING." Combined with the public comment for current public hearings, that pretty much covers any item on the agenda, including Other Commission Affairs.

Floating Zone Proposed for Riverfront Development

Currently listed under Other Commission Affairs and working its way toward a Public Hearing is the adoption of a Floating Zone for a portion of the proposed Riverfront Development area. This is perhaps the most significant change in the zoning code proposed in a long time and specifically tied to the most significant planning undertaken by the city – the Riverfront Development.

The underling issue is that the Riverfront Development Area cuts through a variety of zones with different allowable uses and land use restrictions which may not allow for the type of development envisioned for the area. The theory is that a Floating Zone would contain zoning codes that would allow for the desired uses in the Riverfront area and would "hover over" existing zones. The Developer would "pull down" the floating zone to a specific site and propose a development that conformed the Floating Zone requirements. The approval process would remain the same for any development.

Bill Warner originally broached the idea of the Floating Zone and sent commissioners an article outlining the basic concept and benefits.A presentation  by his office outlines the existing conditions and proposed changes to the Riverfront Development area. This  concluding slide proposes why the Floating Zone should be applied in this situation.

 Due to limited permitted uses, the Commission is in control and any development proposal will have to seek special exception approval from Commission.The 5 existing zones allow uses by special exception that might occur in the area – office, retail, multi-family, reuse of historic buildings and recreation.Because of differences in zones one use may be allowed in one zone but not across the street in another zone.The zones have all different lot areas, densities, mandatory setbacks, height requirements and mandatory parking requirements which could very well result in an undesirable pattern of development.The varying uses and other requirements will result in a need for cumbersome variance and zone change requests and piecemeal public hearings. The risk of being denied will discourage developers from even looking at the area.The entire area should be zoned in a way that “opens the door” for a developer to submit their very best plan. It should also be zoned in a way that retains the Commissions legislative authority. In this way a developer can propose whatever they think is best and the Commission, after a public hearing, will have broad and liberal discretion to approve, modify and approve or deny any proposal.

While claiming it ensures the commission"broad and liberal discretion" here, the conclusion of the article states, "The zoning board will have very limited discretion at the site-planning stage, and you will be largely protected from any changes." This may very well be the solution that facilitates the best development of the riverfront, but as usual I urge a great deal of caution and transparency on the part of the commission and a great deal of involvement by the public. Please take a look at the full text of the Riverfront Development Floating Zone and attend this Wednesday's meeting.

Rockfall 2014 Youth Leadership Awards Applications Now Available-Deadline June 6

Awards Program to Recognize High-School Student Environmental Leadership
Applications for The Rockfall Foundation’s annual awards program highlighting youth achievement are now available online at the foundation’s website ( ). The Virginia R. Rollefson Youth Environmental Leadership Awards recognize Middlesex County high school students who are presently involved with significant programs and projects in areas of natural resource preservation, conservation, restoration or development.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

CAT TALES Spaghetti Dinner 5/2/14

CAT TALES Spaghetti Dinner 5/2/14

A Cat Tales Fundraiser benefiting homeless, stray 
and feral cats and kittens in the Middletown area!! 

Time - 6:30pm seating / 7:00pm dinner

Place - Fox Parish Center, 10 Elm St., Middletown, CT 06457

Dinner includes pasta, meatballs, bread, salad and dessert

Tickets are on SALE NOW!!  Open to ALL!!  For a great and LOCAL charity!!

Email Cat Tales at or call (860)344-9043. 

Tickets are on sale NOW.  Join in on the Raffle too!!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Help Me Grow Campaign Kicks Off At WWMS

On Saturday, March 29, 2014 Woodrow Wilson Middle School Media Center, eighteen parent leaders and community leaders including Mayor Dan Drew and the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia Charles, gathered to kick off the statewide Help Me Grow Campaign with a Community Cafe. The event was hosted by parent leaders who presented the question “What do babies and young children need to become thriving adults?” The guests offered responses that represented common themes such as engaged community providers, nurturing relationships with caretakers, healthy boundary and limit setting, social skills and access to socializations, quality education, health care supports and safe and stable environments.
Two follow up questions were asked of the group they were:”How well does our community meet the needs of these young children? and Where can our community improve?”
According to the three separate discussions, we have excellent services available to families some appear to overlap. The guests reported the community has great support with regard to health and wellbeing, education support and literacy and opportunities during the day for socialization.
Areas where our community can improve were expansive and covered many topics:
  • Instill an Infant Toddler Education Focus
  • Fight Stigma associated with mental health, race, poverty
  • Fund the programs that work
  • Advertise Programs Better
  • Honest Collaboration Between Agencies
  • Subsidized Housing ( more and better access to)  This topic had strong representation.
  • Improve public transportation so families have access to services
  • Respite time for families with children with mental health issues
  • Fight Financial Inequality
  • Affordable 0-3 childcare available on a busline (strong representation)

  • Outcome
    There are unmet needs for children emphasizing affordable and subsidized housing. Families struggle to find housing they can afford in a safe setting for young children. Other needs focused on access to playgroups at different times of the day and safe environments. The community and parents are engaged. Parents in need of improving their relationships with their children, needing developmental information or understanding children’s mental health can access a host of services through Middlesex Hospital. Inadequate transportation continues to be a barrier for families receiving services as well as quality 0 to 3 care which is affordable and accessible.
    There was consensus in the group for reporting the outcomes to the Family support Committee of Middlesex Coalition for Children in hopes they will be able to use it in planning.
    The event was rounded out with messaging from The Help Me Grow Campaign; emphasizing early developmental screening for children ages 0 to 5.  The philosophy of the campaign stresses parents and caretakers know their children best and all children should be screened developmentally through Ages and Stages Questionnaires. The campaign supports this with free access to ASQ’s  through the Help Me Grow hotline at 1-800-505-7000.
    Special Thanks to:
    United Way, Middlesex County Parent Leadership, Middlesex Hospital Family Advocacy Program, Office of Early Childhood, Help Me Grow Campaign, Middletown Public Schools.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    Music/Movement Residency Comes to a Close with "Living in Song" Showing (April 17)

    CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Claire Marshall ’17, Trouve Ivo '15, Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14, and CFA Programming Intern Francesca Miller ’14 about the "Living in Song" residency workshops in this entry from the Center for the Arts blog. Participants from the workshops will perform song, movement, and sign language in a free celebratory concert on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 7pm in Crowell Concert Hall. 

    Three members of the Grammy Award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock® [currently celebrating their 40th anniversary season] have been in residence at Wesleyan over the past month.  They’ve been teaching three different workshops for 65 Wesleyan students and Connecticut residents. The workshops have been held at the Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church, the Green Street Arts Center, and in the Fayerweather Dance Studio on campus.
    Dr. Shirley Mary Childress
    In “The Vocal Movement Experience” workshops, Dr. Nitanju Bolade Casel shows participants how movement and breath can serve as a catalyst for sound.  Dr. M. Louise Robinson leads “The Rhythm Ring,” workshops designed to spark musical conversation in the oral tradition of call and response.  Those in Dr. Shirley Mary Childress’ “Songs in the Way of Hand” workshops learn to understand and communicate songs visually using the vocabulary of American Sign Language.

    Although each of the “Living in Song” workshops has a unique focus, they all center on ideas of community. Part of the mission of Sweet Honey in the Rock® is to engage with and empower its diverse audience. Dr. Casel, Dr. Robinson, and Dr. Childress have achieved just that with their "Living in Song" workshops.

    “Looking around the room and recognizing our different backgrounds has been really empowering to me,” says Claire Marshall ’17.  “It’s been a chance to drop into a world where people don’t all come from the same place.”

    The workshops provide a unique opportunity for Wesleyan students to learn alongside Middletown residents.  There are participants commuting from other parts of Connecticut as well, including a few women who sing in a choir in Hartford.

    “It’s a lot more about the community than about us Wesleyan students,” says Trouve Ivo '15.
    “The group is incredibly diverse and it has been wonderful to play in this way,” comments Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14.

    A couple adults are participating alongside their home-schooled children, further broadening the age range of the workshops.  “The children are super enthusiastic,” says CFA Programming Intern Francesca Miller ’14.

    Playful and enthusiastic seem to describe the general mood of the workshops.  “Everyone is always super excited to be there,” describes Mr. Ivo.

    The energy cultivated in the workshops is radiant, and participants are bringing what they’ve learned into the community.  Two Wesleyan students are taking the “Songs in the Way of Hand” workshops as a way to become familiar with deaf culture in anticipation of living in Sign House next year.

    The "Living in Song" workshops speak to the power of song to foster community, all the while honoring the voice of the individual.

    “I’ve grown to be more comfortable with using my own voice and using song to bring a group together,” reflects Mr. Ivo.  “Vocal expression should be more present in creative communities because it’s a really incredible, uniting thing.”

    Living in Song Showing
    Thursday April 17, 2014 at 7pm
    Crowell Concert Hall, 50 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown

    Made possible by Wesleyan's Office of Equity and Inclusion.


    Friday, April 18

    8 pm, $10

    Warren Byrd
    Jazz piano

    Warren Byrd, native of Hartford, CT and resident of Amsterdam, NL is a pianist/vocalist/composer. As an American with a heritage rooted in the fertile soil of Black creativity, he explores the universal ideals that connect us all seeking unity in music… he just so happens to really dig Jazz as his main musical springboard.

    Saturday, April 19
    8 pm, $10

    Last Fair Deal
    Americana & bluegrass

    Last Fair Deal is a 3-piece vocal band that plays Americana Roots, Swing and Bluegrass music using Bluegrass instruments (guitar, fiddle, mandolin, bass, banjo, bouzouki, accordion, harmonica), tight harmony vocals and eclectic material ranging from original progressive folk to swing to old timey jazz.