Thursday, July 31, 2008

Army Corps Press Conference: In which the story gets buried by the story


The Army Corp of Engineers held a press conference today at the Inn at Middletown in which they laid out their reasoning for wanting to build an Army Reserve Training Center on Boardman Lane in Westfield. Only press were allowed at the meeting. The Eye will have a full report on that meeting later this evening.

In declaring "press only" the Army Corps of Engineers unintentionally created a secondary story which will be the lead when this "package" is aired on the suppertime news this evening.

The Corps refused to allow Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, State Senator Paul Doyle, residents of the affected are and other political leaders into the room (though they allowed entry to Attorney General Dick Blumenthal), creating a story in which the Army appeared to be keeping something from the local government, and simultaneously angering the local politicians.

I arrived at the meeting just in time to hear Doyle and Giuliano complaining to the assembled press corps.

As I was leaving, Diane McCartin, who has been the public face of the Corps in these meeting climbed the spiral staircase to the hotel mezzanine to find Mayor Giuliano standing at the top.

"I'm sorry I had to keep you out of the meeting," McCartin said to the mayor.

"It's unfortunate," the mayor replied. "Because no one will hear anything about the facts of the meeting. All they'll hear is that you locked us out of the room."

McCartin then invited the mayor to join her, and some Boardman Lane neighbors to view the presentation she had made to the press. Giuliano followed McCartin and the group of residents into the hotel conference room.

Rite Aid Asks Again


Our downtown has sprouted another Zoning notice, this time on the new building going up on the corner of Union and Main. The site of the former Middletown Press building is under construction as a 2-story building that will reportedly house a re-located Rite Aid pharmacy, an unnamed retail or restaurant tenant, and upper floor office space for the developer, Centerplan.

This is not the first time that this property has sought relief from zoning regulations -- prior to construction, they had to get approval for their plans to add a drive-thru window to the back of the pharmacy space, and a variance because they only had 40 ft. for the drive-thru lane instead of the required 200 ft. In the B-1 zone of downtown, drive-thru windows are currently restricted, unless allowed by Special Exception of the Planning and Zoning Commission. This restriction came about in the 1990's, during a round of zoning reforms that were intended to help the downtown capitalize on its assets -- as a walkable, commercial neighborhood of mainly historic buildings. This was controversial at the time, as it meant that we were basically saying no to any new chain restaurants (remember Burger King on Main Street?) and the concern was that downtown could not afford to turn away any potential new tenants. But Main Street has in fact thrived under these regulations, and it can hardly be denied that the zoning restriction within downtown has pushed much of the car-oriented fast food and donut shop development to other areas of town -- with its resulting acres of asphalt and short-term architectural values.

But I digress.

Their upcoming application regards signage. They are applying to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance -- I understand that they would like to add additional signs on the sidewalk, which are not allowed. They are currently scheduled to make their appeal at the August 7th meeting of the ZBA.

New bookstore to open in town

From Chris Hagedorn:

I was walking through Main St. Market the other day and found that a new bookstore is opening! It will be run by Linda Bowers, and it's located under the stairs down and to the left if you're coming from Main St. The store will be named The Book Bower, and their e-mail is info@bookbower.com. They're going to have a website, but there's nothing there yet.

Linda's husband was there putting together bookcases, and he said they will be a general interest bookstore and plan to open by August 18. This is something I've been wishing for in Middletown for a long time, so I think this is a very exciting development!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Final Arts in the Garden




In case you've missed the Arts in the Garden series this year, you can catch the last one on Wednesday, July 30th at 5:30 at the Erin Street Community Garden at the corner of Erin Street and High Street. This week is African Drumming and Dance with Abdoulaye Sylla. These events are open to everyone and are totally free.

We've already had Scarecrow Building, Steel Pan Drumming, Vejigante Mask Making and Jewelry Making.

This workshop is appropriate for all ages and should be a good time...

Thanks to the Middletown Commission on the Arts for funding this program!

Greetings from Nova Scotia

From our friend and neighbor, Vijay Pinch.

Not much to report from New Scotland, save that the weather is lovely and cool, the Bay of Fundy beautiful, and the lobster and scallops and mussels delicious. Here's our local webcam:


Things are pretty quiet. Just heard the noon whistle. Have to head back to the shore soon.

And the town website:


I'm sitting next to the town hall and library, pictured here:


... using the local wifi to do some work.

I'll see if I can work up a good story, like how a mega-quarry proposed for the shore by a New Jersey company (appropriately named 'Bilcon') was defeated last year. See http://www.savedigbyneck.org/

Bilcon wanted to sell stone to the US to build more roads, all to preserve the American Way of Driving.

Or I could write about how Helen and Pearse are taking the Saturday Farmers' Market by storm with their flute and violin playing.

I'm continually impressed by the Eye coverage

Vijay

An Army Press Conference

The army has announced that they will be holding a press conference in Middletown to "discuss planned Middletown Armed Forces Reserve Center preferred site":
Thursday, July 31st
4PM
The Inn Middletown, 70 Main Street.
From the Media Advisory:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will respond to local concerns of citizens and officials of Middletown CT.  Two public meetings, (a third planned for Aug. 27); a public website designed to answer questions from the community (here); emails; telephone calls and face-to-face meetings with community members, have not been adequate to address community concerns. It is the Army's sincerest desire to communicate with Middletown residents regarding how we are proceeding with planning this critical project. We feel the public has a right to know the site selection proces, the reasons behind the Boardman Lane site as the preferred site, and how the Army will hear and address any concerns with the site.  
Present at the meeting will be representatives form the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville, U.S. Army Reserve, Connecticut Army National Guard.

In a press conference on Monday this week, the mayor, several members of Common Council, the Secretary of State, and Representative DeLauro strongly condemned the choice of Boardman Lane for the Army base, as reported by all the media who cover Middletown, including The Middletown Eye, the Hartford Courant, and a cover story in the Middletown Press, and most of the TV stations.  WNPR did story on the meeting, which was arranged by DeLauro.  
Monday's press conference followed a "private meeting" between the politicians and residents.  The army has also held private meetings with elected officials and residents (separately) prior to public statements.  The army has not indicated whether the press conference on Thursday will likewise follow a private meeting with elected officials or Middletown residents.

UPDATE (July 30, 4PM). Diane McCartin, of the Army Corps of Engineers, explained to me that this press conference is NOT open to the public. It will be in a small room on private property at the Middletown Inn. Members of the public will not be allowed to enter the room.  The Westfield Residents Association requested that one of their representatives be part of the press conference, in order that the press would get an alternative viewpoint regarding the Army base.  This request was refused.

The bells of der bingle


The final installment of the Ingrid Bergman film series runs Wednesday evening at the Goldsmith Family Cinema at Wesleyan, featuring Bergman with Bing Crosby in Bells of St. Mary, the sequel to Going My Way.

Historically speaking, the film was made in a time when movies about Catholic priests were big box office - and Crosby's Father Chuck O'Malley wasn't performing any exorcisms. And, oh yeah, Bergman plays a nun (not like any nun who taught me).

The film will be introduced by Crosby historian Martin McQuade, who will hopefully talk about Crosby as one of America's finest singers, an innovative recording pioneer, and of course, as a popular actor.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rosa Delauro convenes a meeting on the Army Reserve Training Center


Representative Rosa Delauro invited Westfield residents, city councilors, and the owners of the property coveted by the Army, to talk about the proposal to build an Army Reserve Training Center on Boardman Lane in the Westfield section of Middletown.

Because it was a private meeting, I agreed not to report on the meeting itself, but only on the press presentation which followed.

Delauro reported that at the meeting Westfield residents, and others from Middletown, council members, the mayor, Sebastian Giuliano and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, discussed and debated the proposed Army Base. Westfield residents oppose the siting of the training center in Westfield for a number of reasons, from environmental and traffic concerns, to questions about the economic impact of the base. New concerns about water, sewer and flood issues surfaced.

At this point Delauro, Giuliano and Bysiewicz are all opposed to building the training center on the site in Westfield. All cited the intractability of the Army, and their lack of communication on the topic, as problems in solving the siting issue. Delauro and Bysiewicz are also amenable to having the training site built outside of Middletown, while Giuliano stills supports building the training center on one of three city-recommended sites, a site adjacent to the Pratt and Whitney plant on Aircraft Road, a site next to the Kleen Energy plant on River Road, and a site behind an auto junkyard on Saybrook Road. All three sites are technically in Maromas.

Delauro has promised to lobby Secretary of the Army Geren, and along with Bysiewicz has authored a letter to Governor Jodi Rell, who is commander-in-chief of the Connecticut National Guard, and may have some influence in determining where the training center is built.

The press conference drew all four local TV stations, two newspapers, the state TV station CTN, and at least three radio reporters. Delauro, Bysiewicz, Giuliano (the three political leaders who are most deeply involved in the issue) and Jennifer Mahr, a representative of the Westfield Residents Association addressed the gathered reporters. Then a parade of less-directly-involved, though concerned, politicians including state representatives Ray Kalinowski, state senator Paul Doyle and state representative Joe Serra (who was not at the meeting with residents because of a dental appointment), took the opportunity to express their opinions for the gathered press. Also in attendance was state representative Brendan Sharkey who represents governor Jodi Rell's push for smart growth.

It's become clear that the Army will have a fight on its hands if it insists on the Boardman Lane site, but it's not clear whether they will abandon Middletown, or reconsider building on brownfield sites.

The Middletown Common Council meets on August 4th to consider a resolution which will oppose the Army Corps of Engineer's choice of the Westfield site.

As Mayor Giuliano indicated, that to make the site buildable, "thousands of tons of trap rock will be shifted into wetlands. If the city had asked the Corps of Engineers to approve the site for the building of the new high school, they would have stopped us."

And, some men have greatness thrust upon them


For their final night of their performance of the bard's Twelfth Night, ArtFarm was forced indoors by a soaking rain, to Chapman Hall at Middlesex Community College.

Though they lacked the advantage of the beautiful set that was constructed in the grove, non of the magic of this wild and hilarious comedy of mistaken identity were lost in the all-purpose room of the college.

The fluorescent lighting was a little less than dramatic, and the floor, a bit less forgiving than the lawn in the grove, but the acting was superb (see Culturecreature's earlier review), bringing Shakespeare's words to life with wit, grace and style.

Kudos to ArtFarm, to Marcella Trowbridge's inventive direction, and to all the actors, musicians and technicians who made this transporting comedy possible.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Catherine Johnson in the Courant on the Army Reserve Training Center

On Sunday morning, in the Commentary section, the Hartford Courant published a piece by noted Middletown architect, city planning expert, Zoning Board commissioner and candidate for the state legislature, Catherine Johnson, on the proposed Army Reserve Training Center.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Video about filming on Main Street

Channel 8 has some nice coverage of the Main Street movie filming. They interview a cheerful pro-Middletown local resident about the nature of Main Street, he articulates some of what makes it a particularly special street that deserves recognition. They also interview local business owners, who, despite losing customers because Main Street was blocked off, were enthusiastic about having a movie filmed downtown.

Because embedded video from Channel 8 plays automatically, we have declined to feature it as an embed, but it can be viewed at the Channel 8 site, here.

David Schulz sends in the clowns


David Schulz, a great painter, and a huge supporter of Oddfellows, and the annual circus, is chagrined, because the opening reception for a show of his new work at the Essex Art Association Gallery, is on the same evening as the circus. Here's a note he's sent to his supporters.

Once more with feeling


(Director Jeff Lipsky directs Drea DeMatteo on Main Street)

The movie crews rolled into town early this morning, and Main Street from Washington to College was shut down to accommodate the shooting of Once More With Feeling, directed by Jeff Lipsky.



(Mayor Sebastian Giuliano on set)

The crews, mostly from New York City, all t-shirts and tattoos, set up for two hours before cameras rolled for the first time. The initial shot involved shooting from the corner of Main and Washington, on the North of Main, from a dolly. This was not something town officials anticipated, and the mayor was not completely happy that the result was a Route 66 traffic jam which was stopped all the way West to Middlefield. Beachgoes honked their horns in frustration over the delay for shooting. Even after the first scene was shot, traffic, on a perfect beach day, was slow for hours.


(Councilman Ron Klattenberg speaks with producer Paul Jarret)


The first scene involved the character played by Drea DeMatteo being stopped by a policeman for a traffic violation, and then roaring off in her car in anger. It was shot from several angles before the cast and crew broke for lunch and a company move down the block for the shooting of a second scene, involving a tour bus. While there was a lot of excitement having four grip trucks, a generator truck, lights, camera equipment, crew and actors on the street, most observers found that watching a film being made is like watching paint dry, only slower, and with more assistants.

Shooting was expected to be completed by 4 p.m. at which time Main Street will be reopened once again for traffic.

A report from Channel 8 will appear on the 6 p.m. news.


UPDATE: Shooting continued until at least 6:00 pm on the corner of Main and Washington. Merchants along Main Street expressed distress that section of Main, unused for the shoot, were kept closed all day long, with one merchant promising to compose an angry letter to the mayor.

The Present Day Composer

Tuesday July 29 at 12:10 p.m., the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan welcomes the prolific composer and author David Amram. He will deliver a talk in Crowell Concert Hall with the title "Global Folkloric Roots: Source of Inspiration for Classical Composers." There is no admission charge.

In a country that tends to categorize its composers, Amram, born in 1930, has had a long career defying categorization. He's composed soundtracks ("Splendor in the Grass", "The Manchurian Candidate"), operas, Broadway scores, religious works, jazz oratorios, concertos, and symphonies. He's appeared onstage with Dizzy Gillespie playing jazz and with Willie Nelson at FarmAid playing country music. He has collaborated with artists such as the poet Langston Hughes and playwright Arthur Miller. His latest work, "Symphonic Variations on a Work by Woody Guthrie", was auditioned in February 2007 (prior to its World Premiere last September) when Amram came to Wesleyan to conduct the University Orchestra.

The composer is also an accomplished musician (French horn, piano, flutes), an author of 3 autobiographies (including one that details his working relationship with Jack Kerouac), a farmer, and performer. He's currently collaborating with author Frank McCourt ("Angela's Ashes") on a musical history of New York City.

As you can see, David Amram does not sit still. If you can, take time out from your busy day to meet this most fascinating person.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Downtown is looking up!


Middletown was well represented at Friday's "Upstairs Downtown" seminar in Hartford. Eight of us who work or live in our downtown road-tripped up to the Lyceum Center for the session presented by the Connecticut Main Street Program.

The topic of the day was how to help traditional downtowns revitalize the upper floors of historic Main Street buildings, particularly for market-rate housing. In Middletown, for example, there are several buildings where the storefront is active (or open for lease) but the upper floors have been shuttered for decades (for example, the old Bob's building.)

To invoke Jane Jacobs and the need to have "eyes on the street", I'll note that it's important for both residences and businesses to share the downtown, or it becomes a ghost town after business hours. But the transformation of an empty building to market-rate apartments or condominiums is complicated: bankers won't make loans if they can't find comparable buildings on which to base their appraisal; building and fire codes and the requirements of the ADA can limit rehab projects; and there are typically gaps between the market value of the housing units and the cost to develop them, especially when it's the first project on the block.

Dan Carmody and Mike Jackson shared their experience in developing housing in various towns across Illinois, using grants and tax-credits for historic preservation, tax-incremental-financing (TIF), and other alternative funding sources.
Personally, my favorite part was all the before and after shots of building facades and apartment floor plans, with photos of high, tin ceilings, exposed beams and brick walls. They've seen a return of an old-fashioned idea, with owners living above their stores, and they've had success in spurring private development after some public/private partnership projects have paved the way. One of their methods of converting people to the notion of moving downtown is to sponsor "house tours" of renovated apartments, as well as buildings under renovation, and even available property, in case someone gets inspired to take on a project (the Village District did a house tour last year for the same reason!) And we also heard from a group of folks from Greenfield, Mass. about a wide-scale redevelopment of their downtown, which involves purchasing multiple buildings and rehab-ing them for mixed-use.

Here is my "take-away" from the day: According to Dan, four things have to be in place before downtown residential can take off. First, there have to be things to walk to -- whether work or entertainment or shopping. Second, the area has to be clean and safe, and with evidence of community leadership. Third, there have to be unique architectural features. Fourth, there has to be a view. Though they weren't on Dan's list, Mike added that unless you are in SoHo, you also have to offer a parking space for their car and an elevator!

Equally interesting was the opportunity to gather with others from Middletown to talk about what we need to do to attract market-rate housing to our Main Street. One idea that emerged is to study a few likely buildings, and prepare a profile of the property and a projection of what kinds of improvements (i.e. sprinkler system, elevator) would make the building viable for either apartments or condos. That kind of profile might help local real estate agents attract buyers for those buildings, or encourage the current owners to make the investment.

The Middletown contingent included Trevor Davis representing the Central Business Bureau of the Chamber, Catherine Johnson in her capacity as a Planning and Zoning Commissioner, myself (as chair of the Downtown Business District), Jeff Bianco as Chair of the Design Review and Preservation Board, and Bill Vasiliou from the Middletown Housing Authority -- also, from City Hall, we had Chief Building Official John Parker, Fire Marshal Al Santostefano, and Economic Development Specialist Rick Kearney. Thanks to all who attended and to the DBD and the City for sending us!

The army training facility, where will it stop?

Commentary, by fishmuscle:
The military base is on a tour through Middletown, stopping to visit the most beautiful, unspoiled land it can find in our city.  During the spring it meandered in Maromas, apparently savoring the clean air and water of a beautiful meadow on Freeman Road.  This summer it decided to wander in Westfield, drawn by the solitude of small country lanes, the beauty of a farm in continuous operation since 1750, and the extensive wetlands on Boardman Lane. At first, few of Middletown's residents seemed to notice the military base, but this has been changing.  At each of the stops on its tour, the military base has been joined by others who also cherish the treasures of Middletown.  Some came because they wanted to know if the training facility was going to destroy the beautiful, unspoiled land that is one part of Middletown's treasure.  Others came because they wanted to know whether the economic costs to the City would destroy the financial part of Middletown's treasure.  At each stop, the military base has had more and more of Middletown's citizens following along.  Many of those who at first treasured only the meadows of Maromas now also appreciate the wetlands of Westfield.  All of those who treasure the financial strength of our city have followed along.  Now the mayor and common council may join other city residents in questioning whether the military base should stay at its current stop in Middletown.  The citizens of Middletown will rightly applaud this effort by our elected officials to protect the natural beauty and financial strength of our city.  However, this effort is not enough if the mayor and council members become tour guides who steer the military base to another site in Middletown. It is long past time for the mayor and council to guide the military base out of Middletown. It is long past time for the mayor and council to recognize that at every stop on the tour, opposition has grown; if there is another stop on the tour, the opposition will dwarf what has happened at previous stops.  Our city has indulged the military base in a tour of our precious resources for long enough.  

WRA on the radio

Stephen Devoto, from the Westfield Residents Association appeared on WTIC-AM this morning to talk about the planned Army Reserve Training Center in Westfield.

You can listen to it here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One Great "Night"

At 2 p.m. on the afternoon of Thursday July 24, the rain was coming down so hard one could hardly see across the street. We were convinced by Mother Nature's show of force that ARTFARM'S 2nd week of shows was going to begin on the 2nd floor of Chapman Hall at Middlesex Community Hall.

The rain subsided at 3: 30 p.m. and, by the time guitarists Banning Eyre and Dirck Westervelt were 3 songs into their lovely set of West African melodies and rhythms (approximately 6:15), the sun was shining. The assembled multitude, much smaller yet just as enthusiastic, cheered the musicians on.

At 7:15, director Marcella Trowbridge stood in front of the audience, talked a bit about the play and then warned of an impending storm. This time, the tempest was man-made and very clever at that. We were soon introduced to the young heroine Viola, separated from her twin brother Sebastian by the storm, and now alone in the land of Illyria. With the help of the ship's captain, the only other survivor (that they know of), she disguises herself as a man and takes a job in the court of Duke Orsino.

Along the way, the audience meets the Duke, his love interest Lady Olivia, her kinsman Sir Toby Belch, her gentlewoman (and Sir Toby's love interest) Maria, Feste her jester, Sir Toby's foppish friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (a character as ridiculous as his name), and Lady Olivia's steward, the puritanical, self-obsessed Malvolio.

Near the end of the play, Viola's brother Sebastian returns and the love story in the play is humourously but happily resolved. Yet, it's the extremely broad and somewhat tasteless prank pulled on Malvolio by Maria, Sir Toby and the Feste that creates the biggest laughs.

There is much to like in this production, from the ingenious set design to the uniformly fine acting. There is not a weak link in the major parts and even the minor parts are dispatched with aplomb. Jackie Coleman plays Viola who pretends to be Cesario and she has a lot of fun with the part. Nicki Poer also portrays a man as she plays the sniveling wuss Aguecheek. The director's paramour, Dic Wheeler, makes Sir Toby despicable but lovable while Brian Jennings (pictured above) makes Malvolio despicable and, especially, pitiable. Jennings has a booming voice and eats up the stage on his every appearance. Maria, played by Mariah Sage, looks like she's having the time of her life (considering that Sage was also directing "The Taming of the Shrew" for the Oddfellows Playhouse Summer Shakespeare Academy opening the same time she was on the stage, it looks being on stage suited her just fine.) Kudos go to everyone in the cast.

Credit must also go to the "pit band", music director Joseph Getter (flute, percussion, keyboard), Mick Bolduc (guitars) and Max Wareham (guitar, mandolin, woodwinds, percussion.) They added plenty of aural color to the various scenes until they were undone by a faulty sound system. The "sound"was much better than in previous years and the glitches may have been caused by the fact that the sound system had been dismantled for use inside only to be patched together quickly when the decision to stay outside was made.

I understand there's a lot going on in the area this weekend but do go see this show. Everybody worked hard to make it look easy and the setting really is lovely. It's free and, yes, they do ask for donations but, trust me, you'll forget your troubles and downpours for the better part of the evening.

For more information and directions, go to www.art-farm.org or call 860-346-4390.

Draft Common Council resolution opposing Army Reserve Training Center on Boardman Lane


It appears that the Middletown Common Council is preparing to propose, debate and vote on a resolution to oppose building an Army Reserve Training Center on Boardman Lane, in the Westfield section of Middletown.

In a draft of the resolution obtained by the Middletown Eye, the town is calling the Boardman Lane site "completely unsuitable," and supports the use of city resources to assist in preventing the use of Boardman Lane.

Citing concerns about wetlands, water pressure, site grading of the property, traffic, destruction of protected species, loss of historic farm property, the Army's rejection of alternative "suitable sites," and National Environmental regulations, the resolution will be offered for debate at the next meeting of the Common Council on Monday August 4.

The mayor, council members, and concerned residents will be meeting on Monday July 28 with Representative Rosa Delauro to discuss opposition to the plans of the Army Reserve and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Army Reserve Training Base to be subject of radio interview

Stephen Devoto, acting secretary of the Westfield Residents Association will appear on the Ray and Diane morning talk show Friday, on WTIC AM (1080 AM), at 8:20 a.m.

Devoto will be discussing the WRA opposition to building an Army Reserve Training Center on Boardman Lane in Westfield.

The Hartford Courant is also expected to publish an article on the topic on Friday.

Last Chance To See Shakespeare at MXCC (despite the rain!)



ARTFARM's Shakespeare in the Grove is quickly approaching its final weekend. Today "Twelfth Night" will be performed at Middlesex Community College at 7 pm, with live music (Banning Eyre and Dirck Westervelt) playing at 6 pm.

Granted, this is all supposed to be outside. This worked beautifully for last weekend's shows, but if the gray skies and rain aren't enough to spoil an outdoor event, the other problematic things ARTFARM has had to tackle are. I'll give you the inside scoop (as administrative intern, a lot goes on that I find myself in the middle of).

The bad weather today is the biggest issue. Just today we got notice that a large light fixture in the space outdoors fell (and broke a bit)! We've been getting calls from prospective audience members about whether the show will go on or not. Luckily it will! We have an indoor rain location on campus at Middlesex Community College.

Unfortunately, there's no way we can transport the beautiful set the the designer, crew, and countless volunteers have tirelessly worked on to get it ready in time. So this is where the real magic of theater must come in. It'll just be the audience and the actors in an intimate space. Both parties will have to imagine the gloriously feminine and ornate chambers of Lady Olivia and the rich, marbled walls of Duke Orsino's estate.

There is no doubt that this will be a very new and unforgettable experience, however. An age-old form of storytelling, theater didn't always have wondrous sets and lighting. So hopefully the audience will let their imaginations run wild and make the best of the weather.

In addition to tonight's show, "Twelfth Night" will also be performed at 7 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Live music will also be performed at 6 pm before every show. We're hoping for better weather so bring a picnic blanket and some chairs for those other days!

And to any people curious about the musical talents of the weekend, the musical headliners will be: Friday - Mixashawn, Saturday - Dave Downs, and Sunday - Dadon and Peter Moore.

Don't miss out on ARTFARM's EcoFestival being held on Sunday at 4 pm until right before the performance begins. Last week's was fabulous and this upcoming one is sure to please. There will be bread bakers (free bread samples!), craftspeople, face painting, live music (a Bluegrass band featuring Todd & Brian Stevens and also 45 Rpm who are Phil & Ken Faraci), a circus performance by ARTFARM's Circus For a Fragile Planet, and various eco-vendors.

So, please don't miss out on "Twelfth Night" and all of the other exciting events we offer this weekend! I thoroughly enjoyed this show, which is filled with so much great acting and laughter. There is so much to be said about Shakespeare and his universal appeal. And this, by far, is one of the most stellar performance of "Twelfth Night" that you will ever see. This is a free event but there is a suggested (and greatly appreciated!) donation of $10.00. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to visit www.art-farm.org or give ARTFARM a call at 346-4390. (All pictures taken by John Giamatteo)

The army digs its heels in

(The Army's Diane McCartin- Pearce Pinch, file photo)

And so it begins.

Residents of Westfield have voiced their opposition to siting an Army Reserve Training Center in Westfield on Boardman Lane.

According to a report in the Middletown Press today, the Army Corps of Engineers is "adamant" about building the center in the Westfield section, despite a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro which cites several reasons why the location is undesirable.

The Corp's Diane McCartin addressed the objections, but her responses, as reported by the Press are less than convincing. The Army "promises" traffic studies (and we are to believe the results of a traffic study conducted by the army?). The Army is convinced the center will be an economic boon to Middletown (though it will take the property off the tax base, be located closer to commercial districts in Cromwell and Meriden, and only concedes that local businesses will be "allowed to bid" on services needed at the Center).

McCartin also insists that the law requires the center to be built in Middletown, though as several knowledgeable people have pointed out, that's true only if a "suitable site" is found. When a townspeople agrees that the chosen site is not suitable, I would think it's not suitable.

DeLauro is upset at the inflexibility of the Army. If you think the Army is inflexible now, consider what will happen once they acquire a site.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Board of Education TV Program to Air Tonight

From The Hartford Courant:

The Middletown school district's cable program "Spotlight on Education" will air today at 8 p.m. on Comcast Channel 15.

The show will focus on the operations of the board of education and its committees. Joining host and board member Corinne Gill will be the new first-term board Chairman Ted Raczka, along with Judith Russo, a second-term member of the board, and new member Renee Johnson Thornton.

The show will be rebroadcast Sunday at 5 p.m.

To submit questions or ideas, the public may send e-mail to spotlighttv@mps1.org.

Special Exception for a New Nightclub

UPDATE ON THURSDAY, JULY 24: Last night, the PZC voted to approve the special exception to open a nightclub, with the conditions that were recommended by the Planning department (see below).


Tonight the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider an application for a Special Exception to create a nightclub on the second floor at 106-110 Court Street, between Main Street and DeKoven Drive. The applicant, Ted Tine, is planning to operate a seafood restaurant on the first floor, and is proposing what he calls a "jazz lounge" on the second floor.

Students of our local zoning code will know that "restaurants" are permitted outright in our downtown (the B-1 zone). Some of our downtown restaurants also have a lively bar and have musical entertainment -- but as long as they offer a full menu, they still count as restaurants. But when there is more focus on the alcohol & entertainment than on the food, that becomes a "nightclub". Middletown used to permit nightclubs in the downtown without any restrictions. But, the PZC changed that in 1994, and they now require any new nightclubs to receive a "Special Exception" before they can open. This process allows the Commission to consider the neighboring uses and any potential disturbances before they permit the new business to open (of course, any business that serves alcohol has to receive a state permit as well). Personally, I think this was an excellent step for downtown, and contributed to our development as a restaurant destination, instead of a bar destination, which was more the case in the 1980's (Anyone remember Sal's?)

In this case, the PZC will hear from Mr. Tine that he plans to attract an older, after-dinner crowd that wants to sit and have a glass of wine or cognac while listening to jazz or blues music. He's renovating a building that has been vacant for a long time, and clearly has made a significant investment. I toured the space and he seems to be making nice use of the high exposed ceilings and brick walls. This new use has the support of the Chamber and the Downtown Business District. Mr. Tine apparently has a long history of running similar establishments in Provincetown, Massachusetts, most recently the Euro Island Grill.

Tonight, the PZC may decide to approve or deny the Special Exception, or they can approve it with conditions -- which would allow the new business to move forward while protecting the City's interests at the same time. The conditions which have been proposed by the Planning Department would state that the "Special Exception" approval of the new nightclub would be rescinded if there were violations regarding public health or fire codes, or issues regarding under-age drinking, and that a change in ownership or concept would require a new Special Exception.

I think these conditions are wise, as we try to balance the interests of all the components of downtown, and should not interfere at all with Mr. Tine's plans to open his club. If you'd like to comment or watch the proceedings, come to the Planning and Zoning Meeting at 7 pm tonight at City Hall.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eye M - Shopping


Fresh Connecticut corn is in!!!  Lucky for me my husband stopped today at my favorite farm stand, the one with no name on Rt. 68 - just a corn sign --- he brought me home my first taste of local sweet and tender corn this year.  This farmer keeps his corn refrigerated and only puts out what he can sell in a short period of time. When picking out corn at a farm stand - be sure to feel around for the coldest ones, as the sugar in the corn turns to starch if it is out in the warm weather for very long.  Of course you can always check with Ted at the Fruitery to see if he has a supply of cold sweet corn.  And one more reminder - the farmers market on the South Green is up and running on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  Buy local and keep our farmers in business. 

Eye on Dining - A Gaslight Movie Dinner


In conjunction with the Summer Film Series honoring Ingrid Bergman, hosted by Wesleyan's Center for Film Studies, several downtown restaurants are offering "CineFare" or Pre-Fix menus before each Wednesday night showing, from 5:00 PM to 7:30 PM (show time is at 8:00 PM). Though little information is provided regarding exactly what menu choices are available, as a Middletown dining scene aficionado I feel compelled to suggest a dining experience for each screening, related in someway (I may have to stretch it a bit!) to the theme, setting, or plot of the movie.

Tomorrow’s film showing is Gaslight, a mystery-thriller in which Bergman stars as a young opera singer sent to Italy to study after her world-famous aunt, also an opera singer, is murdered during a failed jewelry robbery. She marries and returns to her aunt’s vacant home in London, only to endure several strange occurrences and the eventual resolution of her aunt’s thereunto unsolved murder.

In Middletown, of course, it is not a hard feat to find Italian cuisine. This week’s featured movie menu can be found at Tuscany Grill, a CineFare participating restaurant, offering an Italian-American fusion befitting of the movie’s dual settings in both Italy and England. It’s dark, sleek atmosphere makes Tuscany Grill the perfect place to sneak in and hide out, especially if one is an undercover jewel thief. Just be sure to keep a look out for Scotland Yard.

Gaslight-Inspired Dinner Menu
Tuscany Grill


Appetizer
EGGPLANT TOWER (of London) - layered with roasted peppers, seasoned spinach, Asiago and mozzarella cheeses, in a plum tomato sauce

The sweetness of the roasted peppers and salty, gooey cheeses compliment the mild flavor of the eggplant perfectly.

Salad
TUSCAN CAESAR with GRILLED SHRIMP - with marinated tomatoes, calamata olives and garlic croutons

Though caesar salad aficionados would claim that adding tomatoes evokes this classic salad’s title, Tuscan cuisine is much more Mediterranean than its counterparts from the north, which is why the addition of the savory olives and charred grilled shrimp to this salad makes it truly a “Tuscany grill.”

Entrée
BROCCOLI “Rob” & HOUSEMADE CHICKEN SAUSAGE - sautéed in virgin olive oil, Marsala wine and garlic with white beans and plum tomatoes tossed with orecchiette.

Creamy, mild white beans and orcchiette and fresh plum tomatoes balance the spicy chicken sausage and strong broccoli flavors in this very original dish. Ok, I replaced the “rabe” in “broccoli rabe.” You didn’t think these things just fall into my lap, did you?

Tuscany Grill is located at 120 College Street, Middletown.
For reservations call: (860) 346-7096.



Stay tuned for next week's movie menu for The Bells of St. Mary's!

The Summer of the Bard

I wonder if there is ever a time in this country when a play by William Shakespeare isn't being performed. As I write this, ARTFARM is in the midst of presenting "Twelfth Night" in the Grove at Middlesex Community College and there is a production of "Hamlet" in its 3rd and final week at St. Joseph's College in West Hartford. In August, another production featuring the "Melancholy Dane" will be presented by the Elm Shakespeare Company of New Haven (Aug. 14 - 31 in Edgerton Park.)

The Oddfellows Playhouse Summer Shakespeare Academy has been very busy preparing since late June for this week. They have decided to take the comedic route this year. On Wednesday July 21 and Friday July 23, the 18 young thespians present "Measure for Measure", one of the Bard of Avon's funnier plays, filled with witticisms,mistaken identities,and outrageous behavior. On Thursday and Saturday (July 22 and 24)), the troupe digs into one of Shakespeare's earlier comedies, "The Taming of the Shrew." Like so many other of his comedies, the Bard creates a fiery, independent,woman who ends up being subdued by a wily young man. Though these portrayals won't earn him any points with feminists, the female characters still get great dialogue (up until the end.)

Directors Mariah Sage ("The Taming..) and Jeffery Allen ("Measure..), as well as the actors and stage crews, have worked very hard on these shows. I get the feeling that audiences stay away from youth theater because of the "youth" aspect but they really shouldn't. Over the past several years, the level of acting has gotten impressively stronger because the actors and directors work so hard on understanding the text.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. each evening and reservations can be made by calling 347-6143.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Eye M- Cooking


My neighbor asked this past weekend for the recipe for my Ginger Cilantro Sauce to serve with grilled chicken.  It's not mine, but from the July issue of Real Simple Magazine.  The recipe is shown in the magazine as a dip for shrimp - that works too.  In fact this sauce/dip would be good on so many things; shrimp, chicken, fish, beef, and even vegies.  So go ahead and make some for dinner soon - all you need is a small bunch of cilantro (stems discarded), 1/4 cup peeled and sliced ginger, 1/4 cup canola oil, 1 teaspoon  soy sauce (light soy or tamari works as well), 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar.  Puree all this up in a blender or food processor and you get a great sauce that will keep several days refrigerated.  Enjoy!

An epitaph for Record Express


Submitted by Karen Swartz.


Guerilla Filmmaker, Brendan Toller, unleashed
“I NEED THAT RECORD! THE DEATH (OR POSSIBLE SURVIVAL) OF THE INDEPENDENT RECORD STORE,” a documentary film examining why over 3000 independent record stores have closed across the U.S. in the past decade. This film prominently features Record Express of Middletown which closed its doors permanently in June of 2006. Also featured were Trash American Style of Waterbury which also recently closed, as well as an impressive ensemble from Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to activist/author Noam Chomsky of MIT and many many more musicians and independent record stores across the U.S. of A!

The film had its Connecticut premier to a packed house on July 13th at the Wallingford American Legion Hall The premier was sponsored by Red Scroll Records of Wallingford, a newly opened independent record store which proves out to be the potential happy ending of the film. Malcolm Tent formerly of Trash American Style opened with an all-aggressive-acoustic rock set which resonated with the crowd as much as the film itself, which garnered a long standing ovation.

The film will be making the festival circuit later this summer. Check the websites for future showings or to see the trailers.


http://www.redscrollrecords.com/

http://www.ineedthatrecord.com

MAC650: An art space

My name is Justin Liberman, I am a member of the North End Artist Cooperative located at 650 Main St. We own and operate MAC650: An Art Space. We are working hard at broadening our exposure throughout the community and would love to join forces with the Middletown Eye to help spread the word. We renovated the art space over the winter and are working hard on bringing a wide variety of programming to the gallery starting in Sept. We have lined up for the fall, an open forum art show titled “Art Without Judges”, several photography exhibits, film screenings, and acting workshops. We will keep you informed on all of our events. We also recently started the MAC650 Blog Spot at http://mac650.blogspot.com/. I contribute a weekly blog dedicated to cinema related musings called The Celluloid Roll. (I am a film director) If you could please post a link or an article about us, that would be really great. Also, I did read a week or so ago about me screening my films at the Green Street Art Center. It was a cool posting, thank you for supporting both myself and green Street. I also wanted to let you know that I was interviewed by NPR’s Where We Live with John Dankovsky about the budding film industry in CT. A nice topic to look at in preparation for the upcoming film shoot on main St. You can hear the interview here. http://www.cpbn.org/files/audio/Where%20We%20Live%2007-10-2008%20Y%20NAda.mp3

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Environmental Protection from Commuter Rail


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the Bush administration utterly supine to nearly every extractive, Superfund site-creating and/or polluting industry, has suddenly gotten religion.
They have decided to save us from the environmental dangers of ... commuter rail!
Governor Rell, with bipartisan support, has endorsed a plan to link New Haven and Springfield with a commuter train, proposed to begin in 2010 or 2011. It would run on existing tracks, and would complement the Amtrak trains that run from Springfield to New Haven 8 times a day. There would be 12 stops, near Middletown the train would stop in Wallingford, Meriden, and Berlin. Now the EPA has expressed concern about the environmental impact of a commuter train line on existing tracks already being used.

A regular, reliable commuter rail between New Haven and Springfield would provide an enormous, immediate benefit to Middletown. The Meriden Train Station is a very easy drive, only minutes from most of Middletown. If there were regular train service from there to points north and south, it would connect Middletown to other vibrant towns in Connecticut and beyond, while simultaneously reducing traffic on I91 and Rte 9. If Middetown could develop a regular bus or rail service between our downtown and the Meriden Rail Station, it would bring in more people to Middletown for commerce and culture, while simultaneously reducing traffic on Rte 66.

Free rides from Rell

Governor Rell announced this week (press release with lots of web links here) that the state would provide free bus rides and vanpooling options to state commuters, to encourage alternative transportation. 10 free bus tickets are available for use on state-sponsored bus lines. 3 free vanpooling vouchers are also available, for programs such as Easy Street (which already has some vans coming to workplaces in Middletown), NuRide, and Telecommute Connecticut.

From Middletown, call 1-800-972-EASY to sign up for your free commutes.

As If We Needed More Evidence

Here's the trailer for a new documentary that has just been finished. "Stop The Presses" is the work of reporter Manny Mendoza and filmmaker Mark Birnbaum. I understand the movie probably doesn't tell readers of the "EYE" anything we don't already know (or, at least, suspect) but, perhaps, it will provide the more puzzled "news" consumer a blueprint for the future.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ode to the Blueberry



Lyman Orchards in Middlefield celebrated the almighty blueberry today at it’s summer Berry Fest! Area residents and out-of-towners a alike gathered in the sweltering 94 degree weather at the Apple Barrel market and patio restaurant for a delicious blueberry-themed “Breakfast on the Deck,” berry picking in the orchards, pony and horse drawn wagon rides to the Homestead, frisbee golf and live music by the Remember September band. The highlight of the day was, without a doubt, the blueberry pie eating contest. These pictures say it all. Congrats to Garret and Cameron, winners of the child and adult pie-eating contests, respectively. And, kudos for all of the spectators who sat out in the blazing sun to cheer on the competitors!


The events at Lyman Orchards are fun, nearby and gas-economic ways to get the whole family outdoors enjoying the summer weather and delicious local produce. Visit Lyman Orchards Events for information the upcoming Peach Fest! and other great events taking place year-round.

And now, an original haiku inspired by the days events:

Blueberry pie's great
But sometimes it turns my face
and t-shirt purple.

Eye M - Shopping


Check out the new South Side Market on South Main Street.  Many of you will recognize this building as the former Mazzotta's restaurant.  You might also recognize many the friendly staff from the former South End Market.  Stop in for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, pick up a grinder for lunch, or talk to the butcher and get exactly what you want for dinner.

Main Street to be transformed into back lot for moviemaking


On Saturday July 26th, Middletown's Main Street will be used as the set for an independent film, Once More With Feeling, being shot in New York and Connecticut. The film is "about a father, grandfather and respected psychiatrist who grabs hold of a microphone and can’t let go." I'm not sure exactly what that means.


While the film is being pitched as "Hollywood comes to Middletown" the posted NY crew calls describe it as a "low budget, independent feature," being produced by PHC Productions.

It'll be fun to have a movie shot here, low budget or no, but we shouldn't overplay the economic benefits to Middletown or Connecticut. As for public relations for our Main Street, one never knows. Remember Mystic Pizza was also a low-budget, independent film with then-unknown actors.

Recognizable actors include Chazz Palminteri and Drea de Mateo.

Main Street from Washington to Court will be shut down for production between 8 am t0 noon, and from Court to College from noon to 4 pm. Residents are invited to watch the production as long as they cooperate with filmmakers and the local constabulary.

Appreciation for the Eye

I am a five-year resident of Middletown and I wanted to thank you for the gift of The Middletown Eye. I am so grateful that there is a new, fresh way to deliver cultural and political news to Middletown residents. I hardly knew of anything that went on in town before a friend of mine told me about your blog. For this, I thank you again.
Secondly, I wanted to mention that the Farmer's Market has returned to the green on Old Church Street. It's open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 AM till 1 PM, and the vendors only accept cash. This may be something that Eye readers may be interested in. I myself would volunteer to report this on the blog, but sadly, my schedule does not allow enough time for that.
So thanks again for the gift of the Middletown Eye. I am happy to add it to my collection of bookmarks.
Sincerely,
Lisa Urso

News on improvements for City website



This from Michiel Wackers at Middletown City Hall:

Thanks for the input from your Monday July 7, 2008 Middletown Eye piece, "Recruiting Citizen Reporters". I was able to put the helpful critique at the end of the article to use on our department website. I would have commented sooner, but I was in the hospital with double pneumonia.

Improving the entire website has been an on going effort, by all departments. The Mayor's Office has recent had an analysis of the all the City's websites and the functions that they current serve the public and what departments would like to do for the public via the website. The City has a proposal for a complete redesign, but funding is the big question this year. I'd be happy to pass on a hardcopy for a citizen review of the proposal, just send me an address to mail you copy.

I will be trying to implement some of your recommendations. I've currently redone the meetings of the week to be centrally located on the department webpage with agenda and public hearing notices. This past spring our department has purchased a digital audio recorder and will be seeing if posting audio files is feasible. The big thing that may preventing posting to the website is the size of the files generated from meetings.

Minutes will be posted 7 days after the meeting starting on or before October 1, 2008, to comply with the new Public Act 08-3. In the past some committees wanted only official minutes to be posted, which happens only after they are approved by motion of the committee.

I would love to post applications, maps and other information to the website concerning applications before committees. Currently, we only have the capacity to scan documents no larger that 8.5"x11". We only have that capacity now, because I brought a digial scanner from home that I was no longer using.

I will admit that our department website is far from perfect and myself and staff our all self taught. We have through our limited abilities produced a website with agendas, minutes, legal notices and other documents going back to 2003. I been working on uploading all the digital versions of agendas and minutes that we have. Some committees now have documents going back to 1999. I would love to digitize agendas and minutes that we have in storage, possibly allowing people to look back decades. I've also have at various times tried to set up an access database that would allow the public to search applications, but linking the data to our offline database has been where my expertise has shown its limits.

The fact that departments have independent websites has happened out of individual efforts trying to better serve the public with timely information. Since the City does not have full-time web staff, updating the website can be cumbersome and is not done on the regular basis that we would like. Our department website is updated multiple times through out the week and we have posted over 3,000 digital files to the web.

For a history of how the City's website has evolved and our department's website has eveolved go to http://www.archive.org/index.php

Keep up the good work in providing the public another source of news and opinion.

Feel free to contact me on any issues that you and your readers are interested in. I'd be happy to provide whatever input that I may be able to.

Michiel Wackers, AICP
Deputy Director of Planning, Conservation and Development
City of Middletown

Friday, July 18, 2008

What's the score?

The Connecticut State Mastery Test scores came out today, giving us a snapshot of the performance of kids in grades 3 to 8. Leaving aside the debate on whether all this testing is the savior or the curse of modern education, it's now possible to find out exactly how each Middletown school is rated.

There is a website that allows you to compare the results by individual school, by grade and by year. A quick glance tells me that compared to last year, the 4th graders at Macdonough School in the North End gained in writing, were flat in reading and lost in math [Update: closer inspection shows that the third and fifth grades at Macdonough had much better performance, with an astounding 97.5% of 5th graders achieving proficiency in writing]

Let the number crunching begin.

Technical Tip: The website with the CMT data is a little confusing for laymen! Click on "State by District/School Report". Use the third category to choose "schools" rather than "districts" and then it will let you view each Middletown school.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kids Farming at Erin Street Garden




On Tuesday, the Erin Street Community Garden was buzzing with young North End farmers as the Community Health Center's Kids Camp, run by the Homeroom program, hosted its closing party. Camp is over, and families were invited to celebrate the season's harvest.

The campers made party food from their garden plot, slicing squash and sharing blueberries. It was a great event, and all who attended were amazed at what the kids had learned.

Though camp is over, the kids will continue to harvest their plot all throughout the summer.