Friday, October 31, 2008

Young, Gifted and Free

Sorry for the late notice but here's a free concert one should really try and get to. Saturday November 2, the Russell Library presents the Carducci Quartet at 2 p.m. in the Hubbard Room.

Based in Great Britain, the group has been playing together since the turn of the 21st Century and have built a repertoire from likely sources as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Ravel. In recent years, they have become champions of "newer" composers such as Joseph Horowitz, Graham Whettam, Joby Talbot and Michael Zev Gordon. They are also involved in education of young students in Ireland and France.

Composed of violinists Matthew Denton and Michelle Fleming, violist Eoin Schmidt-Martin and cellist Emma Denton, the Carduccis are in the midst of a US tour that began in California and ends up here in the Northeast.

Take a break from raking leaves or tossing out political flyers and spend 75 minutes with this fine up-and-coming ensemble - you won't regret it. Seating is limited so be there a bit early (20-30 minutes.)

For a generous sample of the Carducci String Quartet's varied repertoire, go to

A candidate's letter to the editor

October 30, 2008

Dear Editor:

I want to thank everyone who supported my run for state representative. I had a great time meeting people. I especially enjoyed going door-to-door. I met many intelligent and informed residents who I would encourage to serve on city committees or work on the city Plan of Development. I hope more people participate to make our city even nicer.

Thank you to the 191 Middletown contributors and 47 other who enabled me to qualify for the Citizens’ election funding program. Lots of people contributed money who’ve never made a
contribution to anything political before, including relatives.

Thank you to everyone who fed and watered me these past few weeks, to those who made phone calls, created the Website, agreed to be photographed, and gave me the memorable campaign
headquarters. Lots of kids got involved which I believe bodes well for the future.

Thank you to my treasurer, Beth Emery who filed the mountain of hideous paperwork. She is the most dedicated, patient person alive. She alone made it possible for me to run.

Thank you to my mom, Adele, who walked with me for miles, addressed envelopes, and bothered all her friends for contributions. I realized along the way it was she who should have been the candidate years ago. I am a lucky daughter.

Last, a special thanks to my unwavering aide, Bethany Burns, who will be looking for new job after Tuesday. I recommend her highly. She is brilliant and will make your life easier if
you hire her.


Catherine Johnson
Candidate for State Representative (District 33), Middletown

The Buttonwood Offers Treats and Information

The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street, is known for its eclectic programming and this weekend is no exception.

Saturday night, join Julie Riccio and a host of performers for "Uke Night." No, it's not a tribute to the Boston Red Sox's first baseman (third baseman when needed); instead, it's an evening of music featuring the 4-stringed Hawaiian guitar. Some people may think of Do Ho, Tiny Tim or Arthur Godfrey (showing my age there) but the diminutive instrument has never fallen out of favor. George Harrison was an aficionado of the ukulele as is the modern "pop" group Magnetic Field's enigmatic front man Stephen Merrit.

At The Buttonwood, Riccio has enlisted her husband Peter (her musical partner in The Sawtelles) to open and close the show with 2 distinct duos. First up is The Poptelles and the name tells you that the music is bright and..well, "poppy." Also on the bill is singer-songwriter-baritone uke player Brian Skidmore & Trio, actor-singer-satirist Moose Karloff (great name for this weekend), Rich "Amazing Dick" Leufstedt, the duo of "Hot Time" Harv & J-Boy Shyne, and singer-songwriter Eric Paradine. Closing the show willLink the Riccio's "punk-rock" duo known as School Safety Patrol. The fun starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to

Sunday is a very busy day for the performance space. At 12:45 p.m., come meet Keith McHenry, co-founder of the FOOD NOT BOMBS social activist movement. In existence since 1980, the all-volunteer organization has provided vegetarian meals for people around the world. The group has not only been involved with major disasters such as the Asian Tsunami, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina but also works in war-torn areas in Africa.the Middle East and Eastern Europe. For more information, go to

At 3 p.m., join John Basinger as he enacts another chapter in his ongoing presentation of John Milton's "Paradise Lost." Basinger has memorized every word of Milton's epic and he brings the piece to life, helping one grasp the poet's message. It's a monumental task but, in Basinger's performance, one sees and hears the universal message, the brilliance of the writing and the great emotion encased in the stanzas.

At 7 p.m., the sounds of K.Page & Sleepwalker's Parade will fill the performance space. Based in Brooklyn, the quartet blurs the lines between rock, jazz, classical and avant-garde. Lead singer Page is a dramatic performer,with a voice and style that hearkens back to Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), folk chanteuses, blues belters, and punk-rock singers of the late 1970s. The lyrics glide between poetry and declamatory statements, surrealistic imagery and the blunt truth. In person, the band stretches out the material with long, jazz-inflected improvisations. To get a feel for the music, go to

To find out more about this weekend and the schedule for the upcoming weeks, go to or call 860-347-4957.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Learn Something New Every Day

As a 20-year veteran of the local political scene, I thought I'd seen everything. But that's because I'd never been to a meeting of the Finance and Government Operations Committee, where a select group of Common Council members and the Mayor go over all the upcoming City expenditures with Finance Director Carl Erlacher.

C'mon now, Middletown Eye readers, wake up!
This is your government in action!

Okay, so I admit it's not exactly visionary stuff. The meeting started with a review of whether the Police Department should lease or buy a new copy machine, which can also serve as a printer and fax. Then it moved to a discussion on the necessity of spending Public Works and Health Department funds in cleaning up a blighted property on River Road which has become an illegal dump and habitat for rodents -- even though those funds would have to be formally approved at a later date (and then charged back to the land-owner). That part was kind of exciting because there were photos of the garbage from different angles, which had me humming Alice's Restaurant until the next topic came up.

Should Middletown follow Bloomfield's lead and set up a program where retired seniors could be part of a workfare program in the City? Or should it be like Torrington, and extend a state Senior Tax Freeze to local households, as long as they make less than $36,500 per couple and don't have assets of more than $125,000 other than their primary residence? Alas, those questions will have to wait until next month since they were tabled pending further analysis. The Westfield Fire Department will have to wait for an answer too, since their request for funds to fix their roof was delayed until more data is produced.

At one point, it looked as though a surge of decisiveness would result in the recommendation to hire new staff in Information Technology -- several Council members noted that we are dependent on just a few staff people who actually understand how all those computers work. The Mayor spoke eloquently about the pitfalls of treating your I.T. staff as maintenance workers. He even quoted David Bauer as saying that every City employee is a content provider for the City's internet...and maybe it was inTRAnet too...okay, okay, so I'm not sure I totally followed that part. But the point is that we have to stop treating technology like something that breaks and start thinking of it as the way that we do our job. Unfortunately, in spite of the shared sense of purpose, the action was dashed on the rocks of realization: the item had been postponed until a "date certain" at the Common Council and could not be addressed until January. But when that time comes, the I.T. department can be sure that this committee is on their side!

Now, it's unusual enough that I was spending my Wednesday evening at this meeting, when I could have been out shopping and supporting the local economy. But more unusual was the presence of about a dozen Middletown High upperclassmen, who were attentive throughout the proceedings. As it happens, they were all students in the MHS American Politics class, taught by a Ms. Adams. She requires each student to spend 7 hours in the civic realm, typically 4 hours volunteering for a political campaign of their choice, and 3 hours attending City meetings. Their presence lent an atmosphere of festivity to the meeting, as extra chairs had to be brought in. As Chair Ron Klattenberg noted: in terms of public attendance, it was a record turn-out for the Finance and Government Operations Committee!

Finally, as business came to a close, I went to the table accompanied by Rick Kearney, the City's Economic Development Specialist. We presented our petition that the City implement one of the recommendations of the Parking Study, namely the formation of a parking department. Neither defeat nor victory was ours, as the issue was forwarded to the Ordinance Committee. The Ordinance Committee?! Wonder when they meet?

I left the meeting with a feeling of gratitude for the Common Council members who spend their evenings at the F&GO. It's a thankless job, but one of the many necessary tasks which make things run in this little slice of participatory democracy that we call Middletown.

Harvest Festival in Middletown

All are welcome. There will be music, information on Transportation Alternatives in Middletown, local vendors, and the leaves will be raked high enough for jumping into.

Brewing up with Paul, part 2

A few weeks ago, on my personal blog Caterwauled, I posted about a Friday night visit from my friend Paul Rousseau who is a hobbyist brewer of amazing beers.

He promised to demonstrate to me how he made those beers, and to help me brew a batch of my own. It's a special invitation that he extends to only a few of his friends, one at a time (because his kitchen, where he brews the beer, is relatively compact). Last night I got my chance at the barley and the hops.

Paul already had the water boiling when I arrived at his Plumb Road home at 5:30 pm. He handed me my pre-packaged kit and told me to read the instructions, which I did. I had several questions and he answered some immediately, but told me the other answers would be revealed in the brewing.

He had chosen a double-IPA (India Pale Ale) kit for me. He was going to use his own recipe with some leftover grain, some malt he had purchase on sale at It's Only Natural, a few bottles of Agave nectar, and some yeast he'd been nurturing for a few weeks.

We steeped our grain mixture for fifteen minutes, and the strong steamy brewery scent filled the tiny kitchen. I was assigned the task of making sure that the pots didn't boil over while Paul assembled the vats and tubing needed for later steps in the brewing, and sanitized each one to prevent any beer spoilage (a tearful disaster when it happens).

After the grain is steeped, the grain is removed, and the sugars (or malt) is added, stirred until it's dissolved, then boiled, at a rolling boil, for an hour, during which time hops are added at intervals, for flavor. There is an intermittent danger of overboiling, and my task again was to watch the pots.

Paul assembled bottles and siphon to bottle a brew he had made weeks earlier. He poured five gallons of a beer which had been fermenting for weeks from a glass container to a plastic "ale pale" with a convenient spout, and we took turns bottling and capping.

We managed to prevent any boilovers, and after an hour, the wort (the brewed beer), was taken from the fire and submerged in an ice bath to rapidly cool it so that when the yeast is added, it will not be killed. After the wort is cooled, it's diluted to fill a five gallon container, tested for it's original gravity (which indicates sugar content, and ability to yield alcohol), and capped with an airlock which allows the fermentation to take place.

It would take three months for my double IPA to ferment in the cask and the bottle before it was ready to drink.

At the end, the kitchen was a mess, the floor damp, brewing implements everywhere, but Paul showed mercy. He knew I had risen at 4 a.m. for my radio show, and while I offered to stay to clean up, he handed me a sixpack of the beer we had bottled, advised me to give it three more weeks in the bottle before I drank it, and sent me on my way.

I came away with an appreciation for the attention to detail it takes to make good beer, and with the notion that it was not something I would try to do with one of those starter kits people put under the tree at Christmas.

Shop Local, Get Global

One of the best things about Middletown is the eccentric nature of its commerce. Perhaps you already know about Harriet Amanda Chapman. If not, you are in for a treat.

The two proprietresses -- sisters Harriet and Amanda -- have lost count of how many decades they've been running their import shop filled with objects from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway & Iceland.

Their store is nearly impossible to find (more on that later) but once you have arrived, you are likely to be greeted with a cup of coffee and the invitation to just holler if you decide you'd like company or need any help. And then you are left to wander through their amazing collection of Scandinavian crafts and toys, all of which put you in the mood for "Christmas in the Northland". I make a yearly pilgrimage to their shop to add a few of their carved ornaments to our tree, and fill my kids stockings with tiny playthings that don't have a tv-show tie-in.

So what do they sell? Tin toys. Painted clogs. A whole wall of red palm-sized Santas. Spinning cut-paper mobiles. Hand-painted glittery greeting cards. Wooden puppets. Glass ornaments. Imported kitchen tools. Swedish treats and jars of Ligonberries. Icelandic sweaters. And "Reserved for Danes" parking signs.

It's like being inside of IKEA's childhood memories.

I've pasted a google map in this post -- but my best advice is to turn down Boston Road from Washington Street, take the second left, and park in front of the factory that looks empty. If you're lucky, Harriet Amanda Chapman's neighbor will have her door open and you can peer inside at artist Robin Price's letterpress studio.

View Larger Map

This post is hopefully the first in a series on what you can buy locally -- please email me with your suggestions and favorite shops at Thanks!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catherine Johnson - Response to Eye Election Questionnaire

Candidate: Catherine Johnson, challenger state representative 33th district.
Opponent: Joe Serra, incumbent Democratic state representative, 33th district.

The economy is the most important, and most frightening issue facing the voting populace. What will you do to help individuals, and municipalities deal with the realities of a failing economy?

Building a commuter rail line along the CT River could be the economic
generator we need. A train from Middletown to Hartford could give our cities greater access and appeal. A train could access underutilized urban land along these lines, which would be ideal locations for new industry and housing. New development not only would grow the tax base in each of these cities, it would attract more people to central CT, where many towns actually suffer from population deficits.

Elected officials are famous for talking about the value of a good education? How would you address issues in education like equity across municipal lines, student achievement, teacher compensation, student opportunity. What practical and realistic steps would you take?

I support state funding to make pre-K programs universal, which research has demonstrated are effective at giving kids a solid head start on education. I favor K-12 state education
standards and testing requirements. Increasing teacher salaries (via a step-pay system) is one positive step in attaining these standards. I believe establishing and then funding state standards is more effective than federal standards and testing requirements (per No Child...).

I favor state funded incentives for financial aid to make college more affordable for everyone, and favor permitting illegal immigrants who graduated from CT high schools to pay in-state

Giving students choices must include the full range of academic and non-academic opportunities. This would include exposure to music and art, two programs often to be the first cut in curricula.

This state has spent billions building highways, but precious little developing a mass transit infrastructure. How will you redirect state goals away from more and bigger roads and towards energy-efficient mass transit?

Here are the suggestions that I submitted to the legislative Smart Growth Economic Dev’t committee for inclusion in the 2009 session for what we can do right away:

• Remove subsidies to companies for travel by car: gasoline, parking, insurance. Substitute a Transit subsidy instead: pre-tax transit passes. Provide incentives for all state and municipal employees to commute ($2,000 tax credit)

• Fund and create immediately a CT Transit Website that shows all bus routes, rail, etc in the whole state plus NY and MA connections. Website would be overseen by a top-notch communication firm and be graphically based (not word-based). Information telephone 20/7 with human beings answering the calls.

• Sponsor classes educating the general public about transit-oriented development and anti-sprawl development (traditional neighborhoods).

• Hold a state-wide transit & design study with best US experts to identify best transit corridors. DOT can't do this (too entrenched). Must have community planning approach involving public planning workshops.

• Install streetcars into the 10 major cities within 5 years. Pay for installation with tax-increment financing (TIFF).

Currently Middletown does not receive it's full promised PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) allotment. What will you do to remedy that?

26% of the land in the city cannot be taxed, and falls under this program. The burden of paying for services with all the vicissitudes of the economy and market is being borne by residential
taxpayers. Perhaps the answer is a regional sales tax sharing to offset this burden, or setting up a credit bank where every town pays into (or extracts from) as needed.

Our governments spend millions in a futile war on drugs which consumes the time and attention of police, courts, counselors, correctional institutions. What is your opinion on the decriminalization of marijuana?

I believe we should legalize it. Two members of my family in their 80’s support this idea, much to my amazement, for use as a pain reliever. Among the benefits for changing things, I think it would reduce a certain segment on the prison population and we can spend our money on better things.

All government, but particularly state government is confusing and out-of-reach for most citizens. What can you do toward promoting open government and assuring the voting populace that they can know about legislation, and have a say in the laws that are passed? What will you do towards promoting an atmosphere of open government?

In this electronic age, there is little excuse to not be transparent and share information. I will host a weekly journal, have informational cable spots, hold round table and town hall discussions, and conduct on-line surveys (Survey to cull opinions about issues before us.

The state currently spends millions in an attempt to get film business to work in Connecticut. How will you create a program to encourage new, green permanent manufacturers to locate in Connecticut?

You can’t create jobs, but you can create the environment that fosters an ideal setting for them. Building upon the idea that transit can play a primary role, I would favor a competition for
the first building sites along the new transit lines, so the Dept of Economic Dev’t can pick the cream of the crop. Read more in this week’s Place: “Connecting Central CT by Rail.”

What is your position on preserving a clean and viable environment in Connecticut? How will you help preserve open space and farmland? What will you do revive the Connecticut River?

River? How can we prevent further suburban sprawl? Build compact, walk-able, mixed-use neighborhoods with well-defined neighborhood centers. Offer within each a wide range of housing types and sizes in order to promote diversity and keep the neighborhood vital.
Create an interconnected network of streets. Offer a range of park and other natural land for recreation and the enjoyment of the human habitat.
Offer transportation options like rail, bus, bikepaths, sidewalks.
Set aside land with prime soil for agricultural use.
Explore options for growing industry. Every city has unique traits no other has: let’s exploit them through job creation.
River clean-up: we need to change how we treat our trash, and start a pick-litter-up-when-you-see it-approach.
River education for the public and industry alike.

Middletown has experienced a renaissance in the past 10 years. What will you do to help promote and extend that renaissance?

First: let’s discover what is physically possible. I would first develop a (graphic) Master Plan illustrating the development potential for the many empty spaces downtown. I would hold a competition for the 5 top sites and advertise the winning entries. I would invite the most
talented classicist architects to design one typical building and offer the designs for free to builders (lots 50’ wide or less). I would create incentives for the renovation of upper stories over
the stores for housing and offices. I would buy sexier buses and promote bus travel.

Second: what can downtown be like as a place of activity? How can we make it a more livable neighborhood?
I think we need to demonstrate that our social capital is as valued as monetary capital.
We have a lot of talent in this city, but no nexus. Small-scale groups are looking into ways to connect better, but I would like to see this taking place at a more significant scale. We need to
encourage innovation and collaboration so Middletown truly blossoms, as many of us know it could.

Does a two party political system still work?

In order to offer wider options for voters, we need a THIRD party. I salute the several parties attempting to establish themselves in Connecticut. I am among those who seek something other than Republican or Democrat. Democracy is thwarted because each of the two established parties works hard to keep the status quo for themselves instead of creating ways to find the best candidate.

Party on Fountain

I found this on Aural Wes. It's a historical, geographical, sociological, sarcastical, hysterical account of the party life on the Wesleyan campus, and nearby neighborhoods.

I would have embedded it here, but there's some inappropriate language and images.

WARNING: The video contains curse words, and sexual imagery.

But if you're open-minded, and not easily offended, you can find it here.

Paul Doyle gets tagged by Jon Lender

At the center of a contentious race for State Senator for the 9th district is a complaint by Republican challenger Ralph Capenera that incumbent Paul Doyle (D) manipulated fees he's received from the CRRA so that it would prevent him from being declared an official "state contractor."

The Hartford Courant's Jon Lender explains the ramifications in an article this morning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Macdonough School and NEAT start Pilot XO Program

A few weeks ago a bunch of new XO laptop computers were delivered to Middletown's Macdonough School. The laptops are spillproof, dustproof and drop-proof. They weigh just three pounds and have an incredible assortment of capabilities. And they were free.

These computers are provided by the North End Action Team (NEAT), giving Macdonough School's students access to one of the newest and coolest educational tools out there, the XO laptop computer. This project, he North End Children's Project is one of the first of its kind in the country.

These laptops were devleoped by the One Laptop Per Child organization at MIT to develop a low-cost, high-potential computer for educationally underserved children. These computers are mainly used in third-world countries, and are intended to provide access to technology to students who may not have it. While they are amazing in areas without power, or where children may not have had any exposure to computers, they can also be used as an innovative learning tool for students in the U.S. Birmingham, Alabama is purchasing these for every child in their district to enhance classroom and home use. While the North End does not yet have every child covered, this initial introduction has been a great success.

The laptops, donated to NEAT (a registered non-profit) go straight to use in the after-school program run collaboratively with Macdonough School. By providing kids in the program with a learning tool that is so flexible, students are able to expand the way that they think and learn. AND, because the computers are available for students to take home, students can share their learning with their families, increasing parental involvement in learning, one of the main goals of the school and NEAT. These laptops give students a way to interact with their parents in a learning environment that is disarming and approachable, and allows the children an opportunity to teach their parents, developing confidence and empowerment. Since these machines are in the home, it also allows access for the other members of the family, and provides the tools of connectivity and familiarity, enhancing the personal potential of each member of the family.

Access to technology is limited by income for many families, creating barriers to jobs, opportunities and education. The goals of the program are to create an educational tool for the children involved, but also to help the community become empowered.

For those who may be fooled by their appearance, be assured that these computers are not toys. They have a built in video camera, word processor, calculator, PDF textbook reader, a few games, music programs, a painting application, a chat program, and yes, they can access the internet too. There are also tons of programs that can be downloaded from the wiki site. What they are really good at, though, is teaching kids how to learn. They are meant for kids 2-11 (mostly) and even the youngest learners can explore the principals of basic programming. Instead of just practicing fraction facts, for instance, a student can create a program to teach fraction facts to their friends, changing the dynamic of learning entirely.

Two of Macdonough's teachers have taken on the challenge of introducing the XO laptops in an after school program for the school's third, four, and fifth grade students. Sarah Claffey and Teresa Morello have been providing an overview of the laptops to get children started. Once oriented, the students have the option of taking the computers home for a few days to share new learning with their families. The laptops are also making their way into classrooms to support a variety of learning activities.

About two dozen computers have been donated to NEAT to date, although Izzi Greenberg, NEAT’s Executive Director, is actively seeking donations through the One Laptop Per Child Foundation's Give One Get One Program. For more information, please contact NEAT at 346-4845 or You can learn more at:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Candidates meet at Westfield Forum

The Westfield Residents Association held a Meet the Candidates Forum Monday Night at the Third Congregational Church in Westfield for at least the 10th election season.

US Congressional and State Senate and Representative candidates were invited and all but 3rd Congressional District US Representative Republican candidate Bo Itshaky, attended.

The format, opening statements followed by questions from Westfield residents, made for a lively discussion, in fact much more lively than the candidate forum conducted by the League of Women Voters.

Westfield resident Stephen Devoto hosted.

US Congressional Candidates, Democratic incumbent Rosa DeLauro, and Green candidate Ralph Ferruci opened the session.

Rosa DeLauro began her presentation with a suggestion that served as backdrop for all speakers – a worldwide economic crisis that has come to haunt the neighborhoods of every American town.

DeLauro emphasized her record and accomplishments in health care for children, agricultural bill improvements, FDA regulations, equal pay and breast health care legislation. She sees her responsibility to address the economic crisis by investing in clean alternative energy, health care for all, and strong regulation of financial markets.

In answers to questions from the audience DeLauro indicated that greed and deregulation caused the current financial crisis, and that the people responsible should be prosecuted. She also noted that if the British can prevent rogue financiers from walking away with bonuses, that we ought to be able to do the same in this country.

As regards health insurance, she bridled at the suggestion that Congress people do not pay for their health insurance, and suggested that the country should build on the success of Medicare by making it stronger. She also suggested that the way to improved health care is through preventive medicine, lowering drug prices and improving medical technology.

Finally in response to a question about Barack Obama’s tax plan, DeLauro reaffirmed her alignment with Obama, saying that, “when it comes to providing a tax break, that tax break ought to go to middle class America. Middle class families ought to be able to sustain themselves”

Ralph Ferruci, of the Green Party pinned most of the nation’s woes on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He called for the impeachment and prosecution of George Bush, and made a plea for real universal health care in a single payer system.

While Ferruci displayed an idealogical earnestness, his answers seemed to indicate in their tone, and delivery, that he feels his candidacy is an uphill battle.

Ferruci indicated that the $700 billion tax bailout would amount to $27,000 for every taxpayer in Connecticut, and that the bailout would have been better structured if aid was given to taxpayers, and not to financial institutions. He also pinned the lack of substantial healthcare legislation on the 1000 healthcare lobbyists for every representative in Congress.

He also noted that, in his opinion, the promised Obama tax break promise is impossible to keep in the current economic climate.

In the debate between 9th district State Senate candidates, incumbent Democrat Paul Doyle and Republican challenger Ralph Capenera, the contentious tone of their campaign continued.

Senator Paul Doyle claimed that the campaign had been difficult for him because, as he characterized it, “this is a race of personal destruction.” He made a plea to his challenger to return to the issues.

“It’s not about me, or about you Ralph,” he said. “It’s about the issues. I’m not embarrassed to stand in this church and talk about anything I’ve talked about in this campaign. I wish my opponent could talk in this church, but he’s embarrassed” Doyle asked his opponent to make a pledge to end negative campaigning, but it was a challenge his opponent refused to acknowledge.

In answers to questions, Doyle acknowledged that Middletown bore more than its fair share of large state facilities, but that he would fight any expansion of the Connecticut Juvenile Training Center. He also indicated that he would attempt to shift emphasis in the legislature from industrial incentives away from things like the film industry and toward clean energy incentives, and green industry.

Republican Senate challenger Ralph Capenera, claimed that his campaign was not an attack campaign, but one which was addressing the record of his challenger.

His major legislation is a 3% cap on property tax.

Capenera agreed with a questioner that Middletown was unfairly burdened with more than its share of large mental health, correctional institutions, half-way houses and transitional housing , and that he was not afraid to fight to keep additional institutions from being located in Middletown.

Democratic challenger for the 100th State Representaive District Matt Lesser opened his statements with a plea for change. He emphasize that the tax system needs an overhaul, small business needs incentive, health care costs need to be addressed, and the state needs to focus on renewable energy, education and a new course for government.

Lesser believes the state, and municipalities need to find a happy medium between development and preservation of open space. He said he would have opposed a big box store (Price Chopper) in Durham.

With a ten percent rise in property taxes, Lesser believes that those on a fixed income, particularly seniors and young people hoping to buy homes, are most affected. He noted that if there was a silver lining in the economic crisis, it was the impetus to find new answers and new ideas, including regional cooperation.

Incumbent Republican Representative Ray Kalinowski also acknowledged the economic problems which has put state and local government in dire straits. He believes in controlling spending, creating an environment that’s friendly to business, and boosting cost sharing in his district for education.

Kalinowski feels that strengthened planning and zoning commissions combined with regional planning will help create better balanced development. He believes strongly in regionalism as a means to find savings in many areas including public works, schools and economic development.

Republican challenger for State Representative in the 33rd District Catherine Johnson continued to press her contention that solving transit problems is the key to solving many problems on a state and local level. She sees trains and express buses as economic generators which could revive business, communities and neighborhoods, while shifting priorities from a steady diet of petroleum.

She emphasized her experience in the movement toward Smart Growth for communities in the district and throughout the state. She added that regional planning for many of these issues can help speed changes.

Democratic incumbent for the seat, Joseph Serra, insists that any cuts in government must be done judiciously so as not to hurt vulnerable citizens. His ideas is to cut big ticket items like school building and out-of-control DOT projects.

Serra is vehemently opposed to county government which he noted, was done away with in 1959. But he does see some advantage in regional cooperation in areas like education and water supply and distribution. As an example where he thinks regional planning can work is fire departments.

"We have 330 fire departments in 169 towns," he said. "Each spending money to buy the best equipment."

Middletown mayor Sebastian Giuliano ended the evening with an explanation of three city referendum items. Giuliano said that a water and sewer question would provide needed increased water pressure for the West side of town, to address current pressure shortages, and to address future development. He explained that the bond, a general obligation bond, will be paid through water and sewer revenue.

The other two referendum questions are asking for approval of City Charter revisions, which the mayor characterized as “housekeeping.” The housekeeping includes language which assures that any agreement of financial impact needs Common Council approval, that referendum petitions must be approved as “legal” by the town attorney and, finally, that the mayor will issue a report at the end of every fiscal year.

The mayor was questioned about the effect that the credit crunch will have on the city’s search for bonding for the sewer referendum. Giuliano said that his worry was less about the credit crunch and more about the bond rating as a result of a fund balance weakened by costs from the recently negotiated police contract and the long-pending sale of the Remington-Rand building, which puts a $3million dent in the fund.

Israeli Theater at Wesleyan

Lizzie Doron is an Israeli author and playwright and a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Despite the fact that most people believe that Israel only exists as a result of the Shoah, Holocaust survivors have never had an easy time of it in the Promised Land. Her works illustrate not only how attitudes towards those who cames to Israel after the War have changed over the decades but also how survivors and their offspring have affected the political and social atmosphere of the country

As a teenager, Doron moved to the Golan Heights (after Israel reclaimed the area from Syria) and worked to build the agricultural movement in the area (the Syrians had only planted gun emplacements and the soil there, in spots, is extremely fertile. During the 1973 war, Syria conducted an extensive bombing campaign of the area and many soldiers were killed and crops destroyed. Doron was, at the time, in the Army and had the sad task of informing parents that their children had died. By the end of the war, Doron helped to create a peace movement.

In an interview published this March in Ha'aretz, the author discussed why she so much of her writing is informed by the Holocaust (4 books since 1998.)

"The Holocaust is always there in my stories, because it is the only event that connects all the people here, including the Mizrahim (immigrants from North Africa and the Arab countries). It is a memory that connects to a common past and a common threat."

"The problem is that Israeli society often uses the Holocaust for political purposes, claiming human suffering for itself and becoming insensitive to the suffering of others. This indicates that we have not recovered properly. We are still suffering and miserable and licking our wounds. When a person is sick he cannot see his neighbor is hurting."

The Jewish & Israel Studies Program at Wesleyan presents "Why Didn't You Come Before the War?", a one-woman show adapted from Doron's first book (of the same name) this Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. Starring Fabiana Meyuhas, the play is a series of short monologues that reveal the life of Holocaust survivor and her family. Click here to see a YouTube excerpt of the show.

While this is not a cheerful subject, Israeli theater (and literature) is notable for how it tackles the country's major issues. The event is free and open to the public.

One other theater note - the Tony Kushner talk, scheduled for this Thursday night (10/30) on campus, has been postponed until further notice.

Paul Doyle: Response to Eye Election Questionnaire

A few weeks ago, The Middletown Eye emailed several questions to candidate for office representing Middletown.

Today, we feature the first response.

Candidate: Paul Doyle, incumbent State Senator (Democratic, 9th District)
Opponent: Ralph Capenera (Republican)

The economy is the most important, and most frightening issue facing the voting populace. What will you do to help individuals, and municipalities deal with the realities of a failing economy?

After my extensive campaigning these past few months, I agree that the state of our economy is the most pressing issue facing the voters. At the state level, we are heading into a very difficult time concerning our state budget because the current projected state budget deficit of $302 million does not include the reduced income tax and capital gain revenues resulting from the meltdown of Wall Street. Recognizing that, I believe that my prior experience at the State Capitol during the downturn in the 1990s will make me best suited to make the difficult budget decisions necessary to get us through this difficult period. Rather than across the board budget cuts, I believe we must scrutinize the state budget to limit cuts to programs that will directly impact our citizens and our towns during this difficult time. In addition and where possible recognizing our limited state resources, we need to continue to provide assistance to individuals who are victims of this financial crisis.

Elected officials are famous for talking about the value of a good education. How would you address issues in education like equity across municipal lines, student achievement, teacher compensation, student opportunity. What practical and realistic steps would you take?

I think the best approach for the State Legislature to take to improve Connecticut’s education is to increase state aid to its towns. For the past two years as the State Senator from the 9th District, I am proud to have fought for increasing state aid for education in the 9th District Towns. Over the past two years, the 9th District received an increase in state aid of 18% or $10 million dollars. For Middletown specifically, I fought to increase state aid 11% or over $3 million dollars.

This state has spent billions building highways, but precious little developing a mass transit infrastructure. How will you redirect state goals away from more and bigger roads and towards energy-efficient mass transit?

In the past several years, the State of Connecticut has invested significant monies into the reconstruction and construction of its roadways. However, the State of Connecticut has also invested significant monies into mass transit such as the upgrading of the existing transit system Metro North and plans are underway for a new transit system along I-91 from New Haven to the Massachusetts border. In the short term, fewer monies will be available from state government because of the severe economic downturn but we must keep focused on the importance of the creation of mass transit.

Currently Middletown does not receive it's full promised PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) allotment. What will you do to remedy that?

I will continue to fight to increase all state aid for Middletown, including PILOT. I oppose the expansion of CJTS. However, if such an expansion of the CJTS proceeds over my legislative objections, we should fight to increase PILOT payments if Middletown is to receive another burden from the State of Connecticut.

Our governments spend millions in a futile war on drugs which consumes the time and attention of police, courts, counselors, correctional institutions. What is your opinion on the decriminalization of marijuana?

I do not support the decriminalization of marijuana. It is clear that drugs are a major problem in our society and drugs are the root cause of our high crime rate and large incarceration rate. If we were to legalize marijuana, I believe other more dangerous and illegal drugs would become the drug of choice and harm our citizens. It must also be pointed out that federal law prohibits the use of marijuana and the passage of such a state law in Connecticut would provide a false sense of legitimacy to the use of marijuana because our citizens could still be prosecuted under federal law. If marijuana were legalized without the legislative approval of the federal government, then the FDA would not regulate the use of marijuana as a legitimate drug and therefore the unregulated use of marijuana as a drug would put our citizens at risk.

All government, but particularly state government is confusing and out-of-reach for most citizens. What can you do toward promoting open government and assuring the voting populace that they can know about legislation, and have a say in the laws that are passed? What will you do towards promoting an atmosphere of open government?

Over the past several years, I have supported legislation that promoted open government by creating a user friendly legislative website [] and by supporting the creation of the Connecticut Television Network (CTN) [] that provides extensive cable television coverage of Connecticut state government at work. In these difficult economic times, I will strive the maintain funding for both these worthy open government causes.
The state currently spends millions in an attempt to get film business to work in Connecticut. How will you create a program to encourage new, green permanent manufacturers to locate in Connecticut?

The state currently spends millions in an attempt to get film business to work in Connecticut. How will you create a program to encourage new, green permanent manufacturers to locate in Connecticut?

It is clear in these difficult economic times that we will have limited economic development dollars. I think we need to redirect our economic development dollars that support the film industry to the green alternative energy industries. Unlike the film industry, the creation of green alternative energy industries through the use of state incentives will reduce Connecticut’s reliance on foreign oil and will also create manufacturing jobs that remain permanently in Connecticut and truly benefit the citizens of Connecticut.

What is your position on preserving a clean and viable environment in Connecticut? How will you help preserve open space and farmland? What will you do revive the Connecticut River?

In the past, I have supported the allocation of state monies for the environment including open space, farmland preservation, and the cleanup of the Connecticut River. Although I will continue to fight to fund these worthy causes, the current economic crisis may make it difficult for me to provide as much funding as I would like for these worthy causes.

How can we prevent further suburban sprawl?

Utilizing the principals of Smart Growth, state government needs to provide voluntary incentives to its municipalities so they redevelop existing industrial sites rather than developing the ever shrinking open space of Connecticut. However, I do not support the state legislature imposing mandatory principles of Smart Growth on its municipalities.

Middletown has experienced a renaissance in the past 10 years. What will you do to help promote and extend that renaissance?

Working with the elected officials of Middletown, I will continue to advocate at the state level to seek state assistance, whether financial or otherwise, that the foregoing elected officials ask me to pursue for their economic development goals for Middletown.

Does a two party political system still work? Why? Why not?

Although it is not perfect, I believe the two party system still works well. If people are unhappy with either or both political parties, I would urge them to get involved with whichever party fits their political philosophy and personally work to make their party of choice better and more responsive. Rather than simply complain, it is always better to become invested and make a difference.

Please list all organizations which have endorsed your campaign.

• Local 478, International Union of Operating Engineers;
• Connecticut State Building Trades Council;
• International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 35;
• Sheet Metal Worker’s Local Union # 40;
• Association of Retired Teachers of Connecticut, Inc.;
• Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA); and
• Carpenters Local Union 43.

Meet 'n Greet

Catherine Johnson, who is running against Joe Serra for State Represent-ative in Middle-town (District 33), held a "meet 'n greet" in front of her "world headquarters" across the street from Russell Library on Saturday. Lots of curious folks showed up, the most charming of whom are pictured here.

Topics ranged from Alexis de Tocqueville, to the steady climb in taxes, to the economy, to transit options (or the lack thereof) in Connecticut, to local businesses in the downtown. And the cookies (from Fusion) were delectable.

Candidate Johnson reports that she will be holding another such event this coming Saturday, 1 November, in the same location, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone who wishes to learn more about her positions on the range of issues and challenges facing Middletown and the state of Connecticut should attend.

If you click on the second picture, you can just make out the map in the background showing the 1920 streetcar routes in Connecticut.

News on the “North End Peninsula”

Back in 2004, The Jonah Center for Earth and Art adopted the North End Peninsula, site of the city’s recycling center and closed landfill as a location ripe for dramatic transformation. At the confluence of the Coginchaug and Mattabesset Rivers, the 100 foot landfill offers spectacular views over the surrounding “Floating Meadows,” wildlife viewing (especially hawks) and many other resources for education on the environment and renewable energy. Many students from Wesleyan and nearby high schools have toured the North End Peninsula as part of their academic programs.

On November 13, 2008, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund will decide whether to grant a $100,000 non-recourse loan to support the Jonah Center’s Landfill Gas to Energy Project. We are hopeful that test wells will soon be installed to collect methane to determine the amount and quality of the methane emerging from the old “dump.”

A Video Tour of the Landfill

In May 2008, Wesleyan students Eric Bissell, Lesley Chapman, Zev Frank, and Amanda Herrera made a video tour of the landfill as part of the “Feet to the Fire” program. View it here.

DeLauro and Ferrucci to appear in Middletown

There will be a rare chance in Middletown on Monday evening to see the incumbent Democratic congresswoman Rosa DeLauro with one of her challengers, the Green Party candidate, Ralph Ferrucci. Congresswoman DeLauro represents District 3 (which encompasses most of Middletown) in the United States House of Representatives, and has done so since 1990. Ferrucci ran for this seat as the Green Party candidate in 2004, and for the Senate seat against Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman in 2006.
They will both be appearing at the Westfield Residents Association annual meeting, which has for many years featured a Meet the Candidates event. The third candidate on the ballot, Bo Itshaky (Republican) was unable to make it.
WRA Meet the Candidates Night
October 27th, 7:30PM
Fellowship Hall, 3rd Congregational Church
94 Miner Street, Middletown.
The WRA annual meeting will begin at 7:00. The meet the candidates portion will begin promptly at 7:30, with the two candidates for the 3rd US congressional district (DeLauro and Ferrucci). When they are finished, it will continue with candidates for the 9th state senatorial district (Doyle and Capenera), the 100th state legislative district (Kalinowski and Lesser), and the 33rd state legislative district (Serra and Johnson).

Mayor Sebastian Giuliano will also appear, to discuss the city-wide referenda on the ballot.

The annual meeting is open to the public.

Walls and bridges, or the things we do to drive-thru


A few contested decisions of town zoning commissions over the past year resulted in approvals for special, some would say "creative," design solutions to allow drive-thru pharmacy windows for two chain pharmacies which are nearing completion.

Sometimes those architectural sketches are a little hard to interpret, and it's worth it to revisit the proposals to see what happens when brick and mortar take the place of paper and ink.

In the case of the new CVS (because Middletown desperately needs another CVS), on Washington Street, developers proposed building a new bridge over the Cochingchaug River and a curb cut and entrance on West Street because entrance and exit on Washington Street was considered too precarious. After much debate, especially by environmental experts who believe that stretch of the Cochinchaug is already threatened, the new entrance and bridge was approved.

Here's what it looks like today. The bridge might be considered handsome, if it didn't point directly to the destination - a drive-thru window.

On Main Street, zoning officials allowed another chain pharmacy, Rite-Aid (because Middletown desperately needs another Rite-Aid), an exception to a regulation which prohibits drive-thru windows on Main Street. Again, after considerable argument from the public, the zoning officials granted the exception, which included some extreme grading, and a large retaining wall on Union Street, across from the YMCA. The builders promise some ameliorating plantings to make up for the fact that you've got to drive to the second floor to get to the parking lot, and the drive-thru.

It's some wall, nearly a half a block long, and about 15 feet high at its highest point.

Believe me, I'm not opposed to development, nor to drive-thru windows - I actually use them occasionally (but I prefer chatting to the barristas at the Starbucks inside the store where I buy my latte), we need, simply to consider that a wall or a bridge on paper is something else again when built.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sharing the road

You might have noticed a line of cyclists, all appropriately attired, and giving the clearest of turn signals yesterday on Main Street.

It was a gathering of Connecticut cyclists, all hoping to earn "certified safety trainer" status from the US Cycling Federation. Councilman David Bauer, and the city's public works department made the empty City Hall parking lot available for intitial training, then the cyclist took to the street for a safety workout.

The goal is to train at least 15 certified trainers to pass the word about safe practices in cycling, especially when riding in urban settings.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ethnomusicology conference at Wesleyan

I was walking on Main Street and saw a poster I hadn't seen a few days before, for a conference on ethnomusicology at Wesleyan.

I turned to find a man carrying a red bag emblazoned with the conference logo walking by. I stopped him and introduced myself, and he in turn told me he was David Harnish, from Bowling Green University, a gamelan master.

He explained that the annual Society for Ethnomusicology conference had just begun, and that there would be concerts through the evening at the University.

Find more details here.

Casting my thoughts to Louisiana

For the past two years on this weekend, I've been in Lafayette Louisiana at the annual Blackpot Festival, where the natural connection between cooking in seasoned cast iron pots, and Louisiana (and Appalachian) roots music is celebrated.

I'm not there, but Ragtime Annie (Anna Roberts-Gevalt), WESU radio host, banjo fantatic, fiddler and Wesleyan student is. We hope she'll phone in a report sometime this weekend.

Oui On Peut

But I was happily surprised to see that some of my Louisiana friends have gotten together to create some support for Barack Obama (whom I personally support). Dirk Powell, husband of Christine Balfa (both of the band Balfa Toujours), wrote a song called "Oui, On Peut," (Yes, we can), in the style of a zydeco two-step, and with musician friends (some like fiddler and vocalist Linzay Young of the Redstick Ramblers have been regular visitors to Middletown), recorded, filmed (last weekend) and released the video to Youtube, where, as of this morning, it's had 50,000 hits. It's also been on network TV, and the Obama campaign has asked to use it.


The video was directed by Johanna Divine, edited by my good friend Wilson Savoy (also a frequent visitor to Middletown), and mixed by his brother Joel Savoy, proprietor of Valcour Records.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Welcome to the Weekend

Lots to do in the area this weekend so here's a quick rundown.

The Connecticut Gilbert & Sullivan Society presents its annual production from Friday through Sunday in the auditorium of Woodrow Wilson Junior High School, 370Hunting Hill Avenue in Middletown. "Patience" is a satire of the "aesthetes", most notably Oscar Wilde, that was one of the duo's longest running shows. Much of the bite is lost on contemporary audiences but the music is excellent and, as always, CG&SS does a fine job of recreating the "scene" at London's Savoy Theater. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday as well as 2 p.m. on Sunday. For ticket information, call 1-800-866-1606. 50% of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to St. Vincent dePaul Place of Middletown (and Mayor Giuliano has pledged matching monies from the City.)

Phoenix Theater, a troupe based in East Hartford, presents "The Rocky Horror Show" over the next 2 weekends at Lidia's Reception Hall, 54 Washington Street, in Middletown. It's a marvelously goofy and campy show that combines science fiction with an improbable love story and does so with tongue placed firmly in cheek (but not in check.) Performances are 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday October 24 and 25 as well as Halloween Friday night (10/31) and Saturday November. There are 12midnight shows planned for all but Opening Night. For ticket information, call 860-291-2988 or go to

Auror Borealis Duo

The duo of Tiffany Du Mouchelle (soprano) and Stephen Solook (percussion, voice), otherwise known as Aurora Borealis, plays a free concert at 2 p.m. in the Hubbard Room of The Russell Library, 123 Broad Street. Their music encompasses Broadway, World music, classical standards, folk songs and more. Both have impressive resumes and their work together and alone has been acclaimed by audiences and critics throughout the country. Seating is limited but the music is worth seeing and hearing. For more information, call 347-2528, extension 135.

The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street, presents Vange Durst & EV3 at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Vocalist-lead guitarist Durst writes the majority of the material and is ably abetted by Deb Piccolo (drums, percussion) and Michael Kurjan (keyboards.) Their music has touches of folk, rock, world fusion and more than a hint of funk. The lyrics are, at times, sassy and biting but always emotionally "real." The intimate performance space is a great way to hear this music. For more information, call 860-347-4957.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Middletown at the center of a musical movement

I've loved music all my popular life, and I'm old enough to have lived through all sorts of musical geographical movements, from the hotbeds of folk in the Village and Harvard Square, through the Mersey-beat British invasion, through the California sound, the influence of Motown, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans. I envied those who could hear the Replacements, the Jayhawks or Prince on any given night in Minneapolis (where an active music scene still rages). I consumed the rage of London punks, and the raw power of New York ruffians gathered at a small club in the Bowery. I ignored the influence of disco in every city where it sprung up like a fungus. But I adored the grunge of Seattle, the of Chicago and the cross-platform weirdness of Austin, and the anthems and jigs of Dublin and Camden. I've travelled regularly to the outback of Lafayette and Eunice Louisiana to get my fill of roots music that begins on the back porch.

And now I find I live across the freakin' street from the lava flow of one of the hottest musical spots in the world, Wesleyan University.

If you don't believe it, check out this month's Spin Magazine which features a cover story on MGMT, who got their start at Wesco, or read what the hip young things are reading this week in London when they pick up the musical inkie, NME.

And if that doesn't convince you, then check AuralWes regularly, where you'll find weekly listening for some of the hippest shows this side of Brooklyn. Or listen to WESU, where some of the musical freakiness begins.

How is it, that we don't have a single club on Main Street that acknowledges just how cool we are?

H/T to Wesleying for pointing all of this out.

Workshop: Publicity and beyond

On Wednesday October 29 and November 5, the Middletown Commission on the Arts and the Middlesex Community College Continuing Education program present a " Workshop" from 5 p.m. - 9 p.m. in MxCC's Chapman Hall, Room 612, 100 Training Hill Road in Middletown.

This is an opportunity for artists and arts organizations to gain a foothold or create a greater presence on the Internet. By the end of the second session, participants should have a live page on Best of all, this is free and open to all.

Call the MCA office at 860-343-6620, extension 201, to register.

Last Chance for Fresh Local Corn

I wrote in August about my favorite place to purchase fresh corn, on Rt. 68 in Durham. Usually to find this stand you just look for this corn sign - the corn sign is not there anymore as the supply of corn is limited this time of year.  Yesterday my husband stopped at the farm stand and they told him the last day for fresh local corn this year will be Sunday, October 26.  

Planning and Zoning October 22

The Planning and Zoning Commission met Wednesday evening to consider several applications for subdivision or special exceptions to the Zoning Code. There was extensive discussion over two of the properties during the public hearing portion of the meeting. There was also extensive discussion regarding a property on Higby Road that has been found in the past to be in violation of the city's zoning regulations.

29 Magnolia Avenue, near Farm Hill Road. In an application whose public hearing was continued from the October 8th meeting, Chatham Construction represented the lot owner, who has applied to put in a two family dwelling on a lot with less than the minimum 100 feet of street frontage. Several neighbors raised objections to this plan, because they feel that the two-family rental nature of the house would adversely affect their property values, and they are concerned about traffic. Several commissioners were skeptical of the neighbors, pointing out that usually a big fancy house raises the value of surrounding properties. Commissioner Catherine Johnson tried to get Sal, one of the neighbors to clarify whether he was afraid of the unknown, or whether it was renters in general that he was opposed to, Ms. Johnson asked him, "If Michelangelo designed the house, and Mother Theresa lived in one and (Commissioner) Les Adams lived in the other, would that be an eacceptable use?" Sal assured her that even if he knew who the designer and the renters would be, he would still oppose the construction of a two family house on the lot. Commioner Matt Lesser said that with the concerns he heard from the neighbors about their property values, he would not support the special exception. The design for this house included a horse-shoe shaped driveway at the front of the house, and both Johnson and a member of the public (Jennifer Saines) spoke in opposition to this feature of the plan. Ms. Johnson also raised the spectre of a citizen's proposed ordinance which would ban parking between the house and the street. Commissioner Ron Borelli said he felt uncomfortable holding somebody to an ordinance that does not yet exist, and pointed out that the Police Department had approved the traffic implications of this plan. Borelli proposed a friendly amendment that approval be subject to the condition that the semi-circular driveway be eliminated in favor of a traditional driveway. With this amendment, the special exception was approved, 5 - 2 (nay votes were Lesser and Johnson).

32 Coe Avenue. Attorney Ralph Wilson, engineer Pat Gorman, and architect Steve Rocko presented plans for construction of a new building to house the Shiloh Christian Church, and an associated 70 parking spaces, to be placed on 1.6 acres between Coe Ave and Saybrook Road. The development had received approval from the Inland Wetlands Commission, which is required because part of the property contains wetlands. It had also been reviewed and approved by the Greater Middletown Historical Preservation Board, because the new building would move the congregation from their original church built in 1872. This original church, on East Main street near Stop and Shop, is too small, has no parking, and lacks many of the features common in modern churches. The new construction would not only leave the old church with no further reason to exist, the plans call for the incorporation of the belfry, all the stained glass windows, and perhaps the facade of the old church in the new church. Johnson criticized the architect and the engineer for their design, which she claimed "embodies everything about what people consider urban sprawl." She challenged the assumptions underlying the need for 70 parking spaces, but Pastor Paul Hylton (shown in photo with the plans for the new church) assured her that with 130 members this was if anything too small a number. Johnson offered several new designs to the engineer and architect, and expressed her regret that they had not consulted her earlier in the process.
In the end, all of the commissioners supported the church's plans and the subdivision and Site Plan were approved unanimously. 30 parishioners of the church were at the meeting, an ethnically diverse group of all ages, almost entirely from Middletown. When the vote was taken, they burst out in joyful clapping and cheering.

106-110 Court Street, construction of an outside deck and bar. This was tabled.
Plan of Conservation and Development updates to Chapter 6 (Future Residential Growth) and to Chapter 9 (Promoting Commercial/Industrial Growth). Tabled until public hearings on all chapters have been held.

17 North Main Street. Robert Carlson requested zoning approval for a used car lot. He is a new owner of an existing company and needs P&Z approval to continue use of the property to sell used cars. 4-5 cars will be on the lot at a time. Approval was granted.
496 Saybrook Road. Medical spa consulting and development, special exception for business and professional offices. A public hearing was scheduled for the November 12th meeting.
Plan of Conservation and Development update. Public hearings for Chapter 7 and Chapter 10, which deal with Natural Resource Protection and Maromas, were scheduled for the December 10th meeting.

The other topic of discussion, brought up both under the Zoning Enforcement Officer's report and in the discussion with the public, was the use of land on Higby Road which is bisected by the border between Middletown and Middlefield. Trucks from throughout the area are bringing in asphalt, bricks, and construction debris to mix together on site into an aggregate that can be used in road construction. The owner of the property has been served with a cease and desist order to stop infilling. The site is also the target of a Department of Environmental Protection investigation for filling without a permit. Bruce Driska, the Middletown Zoning Enforcement Officer, stated that the owner is complying with the cease and desist order, and is now solely filling on the Middlefield side of the border. A member of the public, Eleanor Kelsey, told the commission of her woes with rodents this year in her garden (only 6 turnips to show for a 60 feet row, and one of those was hollowed out). After discussing all the possible reasons for the rodent infestation in her garden, she pointed her finger squarely at the same property. It appears that the City of Middletown has contracted with the owner of this Higby Road property on the Middlefield/Middletown border to compost all of the city's leaves. The resulting piles of leaves and wood chips are, according to Ms. Kelsey, the root of her rodent problem. She asked that the city do something about it. The commissioners agreed to review the permit which allowed leaf composting to be done on the property, to ensure that the permit was being followed. None of the commissioners had any suggestions for how Ms. Kelsey could get through the winter without her expected number of turnips.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Report on Redevelopment

The Redevelopment Agency met last night -- that's the citizen committee, appointed by the mayor, which is in charge of the official redevelopment projects of the City.

There are two primary projects we are working on.

There's nothing new to report about the Miller & Bridge neighborhood, which I wrote about here and here. Relief for this neighborhood will have to wait until the City can convince the State (through our legislators) to supply the approx. $3 million to implement either Plan A or Plan B. And now you'll just have to click on my old posts to see what those options are.

The other issue is the North End home-ownership initiative. The developers are Nehemiah Housing of Middletown and Broad Park Development Corp of Hartford -- I'll call this partnership "N-BP". The plan is for N-BP to create 17 home-ownership condos on Ferry, Green & Rapallo by doing rehab on a few historic houses, and demolishing two others and building new construction. The condos would be sold to people who fit certain income categories, and not on the open market (2 of the units would be developed by Habitat for Humanity). The City appointed N-BP as the developer on this project, which is intended to compliment the 96 subsidized rental apartments which have already been constructed on Ferry Street by the Richman Group.

It's been a long time in coming, but it seems that N-BP is getting closer to completing their financing for the project. I'll bore you with the details.

There are 5 sources of income for the $7 million project (this project costs more than $400,000 per unit.)
-There's a proposed grant from the state's Department of Economic Development, for about $3 million in HOME funds. It is in the final stages of approval and is supposed to be implemented within 90 days or so.
-There are proposed Housing Tax Credits from the State for about $500,000. The N-BP application for these credits was denied last August. They will have another opportunity to apply next August.
-The City has already committed $720,000 to the project. Most of that was done through the purchase of 2 properties, which the City gave to N-BP, along with the relocation of those tenants and various other items. The last 10% of the City's committment will be transfered to N-BP through Community Development Block Funding at the November Common Council meeting. I should note that CDBG funds come from the Federal government through HUD, and they are awarded to Middletown and other cities based on the number of low-income residents.
-The Federal Home Loan Bank in Boston is listed as a source for about $400,000,and a decision on this funding is expected in November.

-The developer is anticipating that these condos, when complete, will sell for about 2.5 million. Since those funds won't be realized until the end of the project, N-BP has applied to Liberty Bank for a construction loan, which is awaiting an "after-rehab" appraisal of the likely selling prices of the future condos, which is expected within the next 3 months.

Of these five sources, the City's portion is the only fully committed source, but the others are moving closer to reality and the next 3 months are critical to the future of this project. For cash-flow purposes, N-BP has also taken out some loans so that they could get to this point with the project, and those loans will be paid back through some of the above sources. N-BP has noted that if one of their funding sources ultimately denies them, they will look for other sources. (Note: all this data comes from the reports by Michael Taylor of Nehemiah during the Redevelopment meeting, and if I've got it wrong, I hope someone will correct me!)

One unusual event at the meeting last night was the appearance of four of the landlords in this neighborhood (in spite of all the publicly-financed properties, there are still some independent homes and small rental properties on these streets.) These landlords, with Connie Piacenta as their spokesperson, were making the rounds of various city committees concerning planning, health, safety and anywhere they could find an ear. They wanted to express their concerns about how long it is taking for the N-BP project to move forward, and about the condition of these buildings in the meantime. They also had a long list of issues about parking, garbage and the condition of the small City playground which has been vandalized. And they voiced concerns about the maintenance of the new Wharfside Commons (the Richman Group apartments).

Although the Redevelopment Agency is not in charge of some of the issues that they raised, I was very glad that they came and expressed their opinions so that we can monitor the situation more closely. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and their approach of appearing before multiple committees is already working - they noted that some clean-up had already begun. As a volunteer on the Redevelopment Agency, it is always helpful to hear from citizens -- not just from the professional developers, City officials and other "regulars".

If you are still reading, then you must have an unusual tolerance for City business! Consider offering your services to the Mayor the next time an opening occurs on Redevelopment, or just come down, on the 3rd Tuesday of every month (time TBA) to watch the proceedings.