Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hope for Change in Food Distribution Law Not Dead

To Senator Paul Doyle's credit, he was as good as his word when he promised members of Middletown's faith-based community that he would push for a change in a statute that prevents charitable distribution of food, not prepared in licensed kitchens, to those in need.

While Democratic leaders were too embroiled in a struggle to implement a budget, Doyle took the idea for a change in law to the governor's office.

Today, in a letter from the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, representing the governor's office, Robert Genuario listed specific items in the implementer bill which the governor objects to.

At the end of the list, the letter concludes:

Finally, we have been informed that there is a need for a statutory revision to allow charitable organizations to provide to needy people, meals which have not been prepared in licensed kitchens. For example, many churches provide pot-luck dinners of the homeless which consist of dishes prepared by members of the congregation in their homes. This charitable practice technically violates section 19a-36 of the Connecticut General Statutes. Although not necessary, strictly speaking, to implement the budget, the Governor would support including in the implementer bill a revision to section 19a-36(a)(4) of the Connecticut General Statutes to allow this practice to legally continue.

"The key, and the blessing is that this indicates the governor will support the change," said Common Council Vinnie Loffredo Wednesday night. "The governor is on board to get something done."

Loffredo urged all those in support of the bill to contact State Senate and House Leaders, and all members of the Middletown legislative delegation to make sure language to change the statute is included in the implementer bill which will likely be submitted Friday.

Many members of the faith-based community addressed letters to Common Council members and the mayor urging them to forward the correspondence to the entire Common Council so that it may be part of their discussions at Monday's meeting.

CHC Receives Grant to Improve Electronic Health Record

From the Community Health Center

CHC has received one of five grants awarded nationwide for Electronic Health Record Quality Improvement grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The $400,000 grant will build on the pioneering work that CHC has done with Electronic Health Records. The focus of this grant is to build a national model for hypertension control with a focus on minority groups.

(CHC operates the Community Health Center at 635 Main St. in Middletown.)

Included in the work will be a patient’s ability to monitor his or her blood pressure from home, using a new Internet link to his or her health records.

“Broad use of health information technology has the potential to improve health-care quality, prevent medical errors, and increase the efficiency of care provision,” said David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health information technology for HHS. “This program supports the Department’s overall efforts to assist physicians and hospitals in adopting and becoming meaningful users of health information technology.”

The department released a total of $27.8 million to 27 agencies. CHC was one of only five agencies to receive funding in its category of quality improvement based on existing use of electronic health records.

The grant was announced today by Congresswomen Rosa Delauro “The award is an important recognition of CHC’s leadership in the field of electronic health records,” said Mark Masselli, CHC’s president and CEO. “ We are very appreciative of Rosa’s support as she understands the intersection of quality care , chronic disease and electronic health records - with these funds we will be able to engage our patients directly in the use of these records to improve their health and to correct a long-time health disparity in our health-care system – the large proportion of minority group members with high blood pressure.”

Founded in 1972 as a small, free clinic in Middletown, CHC is now one of the largest health centers of its kind in the nation, serving more than 70,000 underserved patients in 12 sites and 180 locations across Connecticut. The agency offers core services of medical care, dentistry and behavioral health care to patients with little or no health insurance.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of illness and death among the population at large, but particularly among members of minority groups. Controlling high blood pressure will reduce the incidents of strokes, heart attacks, and heart and kidney failures. Because of historic disparities in our health-care delivery system,, CHC with this grant will focus on minority groups, particularly African-American patients.

For CHC, the electronic health record in this case will improve provider behavior and practice, and patient engagement through self-
management. For the patient’s part, he or she will be able to do home monitoring of blood pressure readings, and download other blood pressure readings for integration into his or her electronic health record.

In its annual survey of patients, CHC has found a growing trend of Internet access of one kind or another by its patients. That number now stands at 70 percent. (CHC saw 56,000 patients in 2008.) Most of CHC patients desire to use the Internet to contact their providers, request prescription refills, or receive lab results. More than 55 percent said they would use a web link to get that information.

The expanded use of electronic health records by CHC will help improve the outcome of patients with high blood pressure. CHC was one of the early pioneers to embrace electronic health records and now is introducing a new patient link.


Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 37

deKoven House and the Rockfall Foundation
27 Washington Street

Today "little Phileas" went to the deKoven House. This community building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The deKoven House as built by West Indies trader Captain Benjamin Williams between 1791 and 1797, when Middletown was Connecticut's leading shipping port.

The home was later given to Colonel Clarenence Wadsworth (the same Colonel Wadsworth who built the fine mansion on the Long Hill Estate and purchased the land that is now Wadsworth Falls State Park) by his in-laws. Colonel Wadsworth bequeathed the house to the Rockfall Foundation in 1941.

The deKoven house is now the home of the Rockfall Foundation, and many other ecologic and conservation focused organizations, including the connecticut River Coastal Conservation District, the Connecticut office of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, and The Girl Scouts of America. Ginny Rollefson took Phileas on a tour of the historic building and its many tenants. Phileas certainly learned a lot about the conservation efforts in and around Middletown, as well as some other excellent locations to visit.

The 23rd Annual Rockfall Symposium is coming up as well:
Green Light for Our Economy
Jobs, Energy & Education for a Sustainable Future
Friday October 9, 2009 8:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Middlesex Community College

Visit for more information.

Jane Brawerman, Executive Director, explains to Phileas the dangers of invasive plants in our own backyard.
Ginny Rollefson, Executive Director, introduces Phileas to the Great White Oak which once stood at the corner of Wadsworth St. and Forest St. in Middletown.

Woodrow Wilson High School Class of 1980

Attention all Woodrow Wilson Wildcat Alumni the Class of 1980 will be holding its 30th class reunion on July 17, 2010 and is seeking out names and addresses of its classmates, anyone having information on 1980 graduates are asked to please visit our Facebook page or e-mail us at the following links.

The reunion committee would like to thank you in advance for any information that you can share.

Go Wildcats ! !

Progress Made in Sewer Department Crisis

Under pointed questioning by members of the Common Council, Water and Sewer Department director Guy Russo explained the history of a financial "perfect storm" which drained nearly all revenue from the Sewer department, and the steps already taken to bring the department back into financial health.

The special workshop meeting of the Common Council was called at the end of the regular September Common Council meeting to allow time for Russo to analyze the problem, and answer questions submitted by Council members. At that time, the Sewer Department was broke, and did not have the funds to meet expenses.

Russo blamed deliquent accounts and conservation as the main culprits in the Sewer Department shortfall.

"If bills had been paid as they regularly are," Russo explained. "We wouldn't be where we are today.

In the past month, with an agressive second billing, and lien notice program, the department has collected 38% of it's goal of $500,000 in revenue from these billings, and that's with two days left in the month, with a plentitude of late-payers who wait for month's end to settle up.

The meeting got off to a rocky start as Mayor Sebastian Giuliano designated the workshop as a sole function of the Common Council, and handed chairmanship for the meeting to deputy mayor and Council member Joe Bibisi.

Bibisi attempted to hold Council members to a preliminary recitation of submitted questions, which Russo would be asked to answer.

Instead, Russo made a lengthy opening statement, and then the Council members asked submitted questions and follow-ups.

Along with the nearly $200,000 collected against delinquent accounts, Russo explained that his department had applied for a $200,000 refund from the State Department of Environmental Protection and was preparing thousands of dollars in cuts in the deparment in areas from open jobs, to scheduled maintenance.

Council members peppered Russo, and city Finance Director Carl Erlacher with questions about bugeting process, audits and collections. They also quizzed Russo, and city attorney Tim Lynch about how the WPCA (Water Pollution Control Authority) operated, and where authority and responsibility for financial decisions rested. Both Russo and Erlacher admitted that procedures were not perfect at the WPCA or the Sewer department, but when revenue was good, the department remained out of financial trouble. When the economy forced individuals into financial binds, paying the sewer bill was often the last thing residents would consider.

"They pay their mortgage so they don't get thrown out of their house," Russo said. "They pay their car payment so they can drive to work. They pay their credit card bill so their rate won't increase. Our 18% interest fee was once considered punitive, and that's no longer true. And if you don't pay your sewer bill, it doesn't get reported on your credit report."

However Russo indicated that a collections agency is being interviewed to go after delinquents, and that property liens will be issued. He also suggested that turning off water to delinquent accounts is being considered, as is the publication of the names of delinquents.

Russo explained that the economy and conservation have also taken tolls on other water and sewer departments, and other utilities. Middletown has seen a 12% reduction in use of water and sewer.

The WPCA meets Thursday afternoon, and Russo intends to present his cost-savings and revenue-increasing measures to the authority for a vote.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Editorial: Clearing up a name while cleaning up at the Keating Wheel factory; AKA: Remington Rand!

I was delighted to read that the long over due cleanup of this property’s brownfields has a confirmed funding source and a chance at a new lease on life. With it should come a recognition of the buildings historical significance and a return to it’s given name, the Keating Wheel Company, which was originally built as a bicycling manufacturing plant in 1896. The design/layout of the factory was considered to be state of the art, and was noted for it’s considerable innovations. It is understandable how the name Remington Rand came into use, as it is a well-known name, and rolls easily off the tongue. I suspect there was no conscious intent on anyone’s part to permanently name the property Remington Rand, it just got used often enough and the name stuck. This building has not been listed on the Design Review and Preservation (DR&P) Board’s list of historic properties, which includes only a dozen, or so buildings of this type still standing in the city. A request that is an easy ask away.
Returning to the historical name of the building, the Keating Wheel Company will show consistency, as so many other historical buildings in the city have retained their original name in our city’s common usage. More importantly it will bring a hint of recognition to one of the remaining U.S. turn-of-the-century bicycling manufacturing buildings still standing—out of an estimated 1400 that existed between 1880-1900—and also honor the city’s rich industrial and manufacturing history.

A special thanks goes out to Professor Robert McCullough at the University of Vermont’s Historic Preservation Program, who has done considerable research on turn on the century bicycle factories, including the Keating Wheel Company's bicycle manufacturing factory here in Middletown.

Remington Rand Brownfield Cleanup to get EPA Funds

Governor Rell announced today that the City will receive $200,000 to help the city remediate environmental contamination at the Remington Rand site on Johnson Street. The funding is part of stimulus package dollars disbursed through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The state applied for $2.3M on May 1st, including $300,000 for Remington Rand, and was awarded a total of $600,000 in August. The State Department of Economic and Community Development selected the Remington Rand site, as well as a site in Montville and a site in Willimantic, for funding.

Almost all of the environmental contamination at Remington Rand is the legal responsibility of the Unisys Corporation, which bought Remington Rand. A remedial action plan submitted by Unisys to the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), with a total cost of $6M, was approved this summer, according to City Planner Bill Warner.

In their remediation plan, Unisys claimed and the DEP agreed, that a portion of the contamination occurred subsequent to 1974, when Remington Rand ceased to exist. Unisys estimates that this portion of the remediation will cost about $300,000. Rell, in a press release, said, "This latest funding will be used to actually do the environmental remediation that is needed at the former Remington Rand site." Warner said the City is also applying directly to the EPA for the additional funding.

Rell praised the conversion of a brownfield into land that can be used, "We are taking property that is not 'working' at its full potential and converting it into a community resource that reduces sprawl, preserves natural resources and creates economic opportunity for all."

The city hopes to sell the Remington Rand property to a private owner who would use it for a business. The city had a preliminary deal to sell the property for $1M in 2008, and the Common Council budgeted and spent the anticipated revenue in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Mayor Giuliano said that the deal fell through when the buyer became concerned about whether Unisys would follow through on its portion of the environmental remediation (Remington Rand Deal DOA?). Movement towards cleanup should make the city-owned property much more valuable.

Another Busy Week in the Arts, Part 1 (9/30-10/02)

The 33rd Annual Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan begins its 5-day run with a Colloquium on Wednesday September 30. The program blends music and dance from different traditions of Indian culture plus movies, a dance party and a worship service.

Wednesday's event features Matthew Allen (Wesleyan Ph.D 1986), Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Asian Studies at Wheaton College. He'll give a talk at at 4:15 p.m. in the CFA Hall (the old Cinema) putting the Festival and its different components into perspective. Allen received both his M.A. and Ph.D from Wesleyan and went on to co-author a book with his musical mentor T. Viswanathan titled "Music in South India: The Karnatak Concert Tradition and Beyond" (Oxford University Press.) This event is free and open to the public.

Other events include "Vocal Music of South India" on Thursday (October 1) at 8 p.m. in the World Music Hall featuring Wesleyan faculty members B. Balasubrahmaniyan (vocals), David Nelson (mridangnam) and guest artist K.V.S. Vinay (violin).
On Friday, there will be an "Indian Dance Party" at 6 p.m.. in the World Music Hall. According to the press release, "You will be treated to a Bollywood style group dance by several youngsters, Kolattam (dance with sticks from South India), Dandiya (dance from the North Indian state of Gujarat using sticks performed during Navaratri) and Bhangra (Spring dance from the North Indian state of Punjab)."
Following the dance, head over to Crowell Concert Hall for a duo concert featuring the fine young sarod player Alam Khan (pictured above) and the world-famous tabla player Samir Chatterjee. Khan, son of the late Swara Samrat Ali Akbar Khan, has established his credentials as a master player in the past few years while Chatterjee has worked with a diverse group of artists including Ravi Coltrane, Branford Marsalis, the Dance Theater of Harlem, Boston Philharmonic and the Ethos Percussion Group as well as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. For ticket information about the events above, go to or call 685-3355.

Other events this week- Thursday Oct 1:
The Buttonwood Tree presents its monthly Open Mic at 7 p.m. Hosted by Bob Gotta, it's an opportunity for local artists to be "heard" in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

"Common Ground: Middletown International Film Festival" continues with a screening of "Offside", the 2006 film from Iran, at 7 p.m. at Middlesex Community College, 100 Training Hill Road. The story, inspired by director Jafar Panahi's daughter's attempt to attend a World Cup Soccer match in Iran (female attendance at sporting events is forbidden under current Iranian rule), tells of young girl flaunts the rules but not because she is such a big soccer fan. The screening is free and open to the public and is the result of a collaboration between the Middletown Commission on the Arts, MxCC, the Green Street Arts Center and Wesleyan University with the aid of Russell Library.

The Elia Kazan Centennial Celebration film series continues at Weseyan with an 8 p.m. showing of the 1951 classic, "A Streetcar Named Desire." Adapted from Tennessee William's 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film stars Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh (who won the Academy Award for her performace), Karl Malden and Kim Hunter. Joan Miller, Head Archivist, Elia Kazan Collection at Wesleyan, will introduce the film. The event, which takes place at the Goldsmith Family Cinema on Washington Terrace, is free and open to the public. For more information, call 685-2220.

The Middle City Stage Company, a new troupe headed by Kelly DiMauro, debuts with "TheWoolgatherer." The play, written by William Mastrosimone and first premiered in 1979, stars Anita Vlad and Michael Eck and is the story of 2 very different people who come together and manage to overcome their issues. Performances take place at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday and take place on the Main Stage of Oddfellows Playhouse. For more information, call 681-2141 or email

Friday October 2:
MAC 650, the cooperative gallery located at 650 Main Street, celebrates the opening of "The Addams Family Gathering: A Collection of Macabre Artistry and Eclectic Oddities" at from 7 - 10 p.m. Finger foods, spirits and dirge melodies will be provided and you'll get the opportunity to meet the artists involved in the exhibition - they include Joseph Dinunzio, Joseph Galluccio, John McCormack, Shannon Gagne, Shelley & Katie Oswiecki, Jason May, Carrie Swider and Joey Marsocci. For more information, go to

The Free-at-Last Players
, a theater troupe organized by Connecticut Heritage Productions "dedicated to dispelling the myths and misconceptions that surround mental illness", is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The group starts its new season with a performance at 8 p.m. in The Buttonwood Tree. For more information, call 347-4957.

At 10 p.m., The Buttonwood presents Tommy Monaghan and Sean Frenette for a late evening of improvisational music. Monaghan (percussion) and Frenette (guitar), both graduates of the New England Conservatory of Music, have studies and worked with numerous musicians (including Joe Maneri, Billy Hart, Bob Moses, Zakir Hussein, Frank Carlberg, and Hankus Netsky) and bring an intensity to their duet explorations. Call the number above for more information.

The Frank Varela Project provides the music at 8:30 p.m. in Boney's Music Lounge - call 346-6000 for more information.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 36

Puerto Vallarta
200 Main Street, Metro Square

Amigos de Oddfellows! Join us in enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine at Puerto Vallarta and help support the Playhouse. For every order of Fajitas tonight, Puerto Vallarta will donate $5 to Oddfellows Playhouse Scholarship Fund. Not only are you supporting OP, you are supporting a local business.

A family owned restaurant since 1991, Puerto Vallarta recreates a true Mexican experience with a festively painted interior, a live mariachi band, and award winning Mexican food made from only the freshest ingredients. In addition to experiencing a mini escape to Mexico, by attending this event diners will be entered into a raffle for a chance to win prizes such as gift certificates to local restaurants, art and theater tickets, and even a weekend getaway! Prizes will be drawn on November 13 during the intermission of opening night of Around the World in 80 Days. The more events you go to, the more raffle tickets you’ll have and the greater your chances of winning. Anyone can participate, and you don’t have to be present at the drawing to win.

Middletown Press Going Gatefold

While the Middletown Press is currently without a full-time reporter covering Middletown, word is out that long time plans to return the daily to a gate-fold layout are nearing completion. The daily is currently a tabloid format. The gate fold press is scheduled to hit the street on October 5, but current honor boxes are not designed to display the new paper elegantly in that format.

Army Base Wetlands Permit Process Proceeds

Residents of Boardman Lane were alarmed last week to see engineers examining the wetlands on the 88-acre parcel which they thought had been rejected by the US Army Corps of Engineers for a Military Training Facility to be built in Middletown. However, the activity turned out to be part of the normal process for the Corps to gain a wetlands permit for the site that the Army ultimately selected, Cucia Park.

Debbie Terrell, who rents and farms the property originally selected by the Army, told me that on Thursday, "there were 8 people, women and men, taking pictures." At least one resident was concerned enough to contact the City Planner, Bill Warner. Responding to a comment from another neighbor on The Eye, Bill Warner wrote, "The Boardman Lane site was not evaluated in the environmental assesment. I dont see how the Army could jump to that site." Warner was referring to the environmental assessment released April 13th, which did not evaluate the Boardman Lane site, but instead evaluated a site on Ken Dooley Drive which does not include the Boardman Lane land. That environmental assessment selected Cucia Park as the military's preferred site. The City agreed to sell the Park to the Army for $2M, this sale is dependent upon the Army obtaining all necessary permits for construction.

The construction at Cucia Park will require filling of some wetlands, and the Corps of Engineers team, led by project manager Diane McCartin, needs to have a permit from the Corps of Engineers Regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do this. Part of the environmental review, according to an article by Sloan Brewster in the Middletown Press, requires a determination that the preferred site is the "least damaging practicable alternative." Thus, the review often includes an evaluation of other possible sites for the facility.

McCartin confirmed this in a phone interview with The Eye, saying that the EPA was doing "due diligence to determine if Cucia Park is the least environmentally damaging site. Visiting previously considered sites is something they decided to do before they would issue a permit." In addition to Boardman Lane, the regulators wanted to tour a site off of Ken Dooley Drive (this property abuts the rear of the Boardman Lane property), Cucia Park, a property owned by Walter Manthay at Middle and Bell Street, and a property owned by Krane Development on Atkins Street. In an email to Warner, McCartin indicated that regulators asked them to delineate the wetlands on the Boardman Lane site "because the regulators believe there are more wetlands there than originally delineated and they want this information for their records."

Larry Rosenberg, corps chief of public affairs for the New England District, told The Press that 99 percent of wetlands permit applications are approved with conditions. These conditions might include a mitigation plan, wherein the Corps would enhance or protect other wetlands within the same watershed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Does State Health Statute Make Communion Illegal?

"On a regular basis, every Sunday, we have communion," said Reverend Joel Neubauer, pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church on Washington Street, at a meeting of the faith-based community concerned with state laws regulating charitable food distribution. "People bring wine from home. They bake bread at home and bring it to church for communion. We drink out of the same cup. Now I'm hearing that it's an illegal act?"

Attorney Dan Livingston, part of the law firm defending Food Not Bombs against a citation for distributing food without a license, confirmed the worse.

"Technically, it's illegal," Livingston said. "But whether the health department would cite you is another question."

"We're basically not being able to practice our faith because or what they're saying," Reverend R. Maureen Hawksley of St. Paul Lutheran Church said.

"You could make that argument," Livingston agreed.

The group included concerned members of the Middletown clergy, members of the health care community, and other concerned residents. They gathered because they are alarmed by a recent strict adherence by the city Health Department to a state statute prohibiting any food not prepared in a licensed kitchen from being served to the public.

The meeting was held Monday night at the St. Vincent dePaul Soup Kitchen on Main Street where director Ron Krom served as host, and provided a historical context for the meeting. He explained that indeed, state statute prohibits any food not prepared in a licensed kitchen, from being served to the public on a regular basis.

This statute was cited by city health department officials when they arrested Food Not Bombs members for sharing food with the public in a regular Sunday meal on the corner of Main and Liberty Streets.

Krom noted the similarity between what Food Not Bombs was doing and what his organization did every Sunday at dinner when they served food prepared and donated by community members. And when he testified to the fact at a state hearing, he found himself the subject of a Health Department citation.

"If I don't comply," he explained. "They have threatened to take away my license."

Krom explained that the citation did not come when the city first learned of the distribution of food from unlicensed kitchens at his soup kitchen, but only after he made public testimony at the State Department of Health in defense of Food Not Bombs.

"We serve sandwiches that are made by some of the schools, by some of the Catholic classes, Boy and Girl Scouts," Krom said. "And now we're being told we cannot receive these sandwiches."

As many pointed out, the irony of the current law is that it provides an exception for charitable organizations who cook food in unlicensed kitchens, and sell it to raise funds. So a bake sale is legal, but a church after-service social, at which baked goods are shared, is technically illegal.

"What if we sold the food at Sunday meals for a penny," suggested Middletown YMCA director Bob Spencer, who is also on the board of directors at St. Vincent dePaul.

"The law is rarely this blatantly stupid," Livingston explained noting that the state legislature, which is currently in special session, has been urged to address the flaw in the law (CT State Statute 19A-36). "Technically this is not a budget issue," he said. "But they could hook this change onto an implementer bill, which is a budget bill."

State Senator Paul Doyle, who represents Middletown, was the only state or city elected official at the meeting.

"I guarantee I will try to get it in," Doyle promised. "But I can't promise that it will make it in or that it will pass. I will certainly push and I will speak to the rest of the delegation. The cause is so broad that it affects everyone. The truth of the matter is that sometimes the legislature merely reacts, and there are unintended consequences."

Many at the meeting expressed disbelief that the Middletown Health Department was so determined to uphold the statute, in an across-the-board consistent manner, and they were alternately angry and saddened by this enforcement.

"If they're going to try to be consistent about it," said Reverend John Hall of First Church. "Then they're going to have to shut down all the church coffee hours, the Shepard Home, the Christmas dinners served by the churches."

The Reverend Cocomo Rock explained that at low point in his life, he sought out sustenance from a charitable organization.

"Had it not been for a local church I wouldn't have been able to eat," he said passionately. "Unless I ate in a jail, or a hospital, or I ate something I stole. Or from a garbage can."

"There are no licensed dumpsters," Livingston said. "We don't want people to eat from unlicensed kitchens, but they can eat from dumpsters. Everyone of us who is lucky enough to have a home eats out of an unlicensed kitchen every day."

"I think it's ironic that the policy over the past several years has been to cut back on the state and city sponsored projects, and rely on churches and people of faith to take up these programs, and now we've come to this," said Juan Figueroa, of the Universal Health Project.

Much of the meeting was given over to a discussion of strategies to change the law, and simultaneously prevent any organization which helps to feed the hungry from being prevented from doing so.

"We must remember that winter is coming and that the economy is getting further depressed, and that means more hunger, so we can't stop," said Bishop William McKissick of the New Jerusalem Church. "I'd love to lead the charge and serve people food and say 'Come and arrest me," but it's the hungry kid that worries me. There will be hunger. This is not about that, it's about a law that's stupid."

"It's absurd," said real estate developer and former director of St. Vincent dePaul Soup Kitchen Peter Harding. "We're going to hesitate to feed people? That's bull."

The group agreed to address the problem by immediately contacting state legislators to push through the change during this special session. In addition, Community Health Center CEO, Mark Masselli urged the group to approach the mayor, the majority leader and the Common Council of Middletown to make adjustment to the ordinance and the enforcement. Republican Council member David Bauer has drafted a Council resolution, but it is still being considered by the city's Health Commission

No Blah Bras For Cancer Fundraiser

There are probably a lot of bad puns that could be made about a fundraiser for breast cancer which features creative designs for bras, but I will refrain.

The Polish Falcon lodge in town is holding such a fundraiser, and the details are below.

If you are Polish Falcon, you may submit your design by October 18. Non-Falcons have to wait until October 25.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 35

Tschudin Chocolates
Corner of Main Street and Court Street
(860) 759-2222

From Phileas's Journal:
As a person quite partial to sweets, I was more than delighted to catch sight of Tschudin Chocolates, a quiant chocolatier on Main Street. As soon as I popped in, I was greeted with the brilliant smile of owner Robert Tschudin Lucheme and his enthusiastic staff. Lucheme immediately began to show off his shop, bringing me on a behind-the-counter "Willy Wonka" tour to witness the art of creating chocolates. Lucheme explained that his delightful treats are made with only the finest chocolates imported from France and white chocolate imported from Belgium, and that each piece of his eclectic collection of chocolates is handmade! And how eclectic his collection is! Lucheme crafts not only simple milk and dark chocolates, but also unique creations such as Ras el Hanut (an exotic mix of Moroccan spices) chocolates, crepe-filled chocolates, and gingerbread dark chocolates (just to name a few).
But there was more! In addition to chocolates, the shop also offers a featured baked good daily (not necessarily made with chocolate) and chocolate sculptures that can be made to order (I was flabberghasted to view a lifesize chocolate skateboad displayed in their window!). Lucheme also whispered that his team was currently developing a line of asian confections, which I will most certainly be travelling back to Middletown to experience. With such a large and unique collection of confections, I am confident in saying that this shop will please any admirer of sweets!

Special Food Day Farmers Market at Wesleyan

From Sarah Jeffrey

The Wesleyan Farmers Market is normally on the first and third Wednesdays each month, but this week we will be having a special Tuesday market in honor of local food day. The markets are held at the Usdan center which is at 45 Wyllys Avenue.

As always: beautiful fresh produce, goat cheese, baked goods, pesto, eggs, honey, handmade jams, spices, yarn, coffee, cookies, soaps, bread, and more! Come see our wonderful vendors, among others, White Gate Farm, Merianos Bakery, Wave Hill Breads, Beltane Farm, Killam and Bassette, Linda's Sweet Memories Bakery, and Four Mile River Farm will be in attendance. Bon Appetit will be preparing a festive lunch made from all local ingredients.

Bon Appetit with be serving food made with local ingredients from our vendors, so you can use your meal points for a tasty fresh lunch!

Check out the market's blog( for more information.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Eye on the Air, September 25

Eye on the Air, as broadcast September 25 on WESU, 88.1 FM from Wesleyan University.

Host Karen Swartz talks with longtime U.S. Postal Service Mitch Dingle about his years delivering mail to Middletown residents. Announcer: Mary Longley. Produced by Mary Longley.

From 1969: Wesleyan Hills advertisement

The following advertisement appeared in the Hartford Courant exactly 40 years ago today, on September 27, 1969.

A Spooky Showing at MAC650

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 34

Indian Hill Cemetary

Originally known as "Mattabeseck" to the Wangunk Indians who inhabited the area, Indian Hill was sold to English settlers during the 1700s and was eventually converted into a cemetary in 1850. The cemetary became the burial ground for numerous politicians and upperclass citizens of Middletown during the 19th century, providing a resting spot for the likes of former state governors, Connecticut state representatives, U.S. representatives from Connecticut, former mayors and more. For a complete listing of famous individuals buried in the cemetery, visit
More than just a historical site, the cemetary is a quiet, scenic spot, enjoyed by walkers, joggers, and those looking for a peaceful spot to picnic.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jason, J.S., John H. & a short work by Augusta Read Thomas

The document on the left is the first page of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007" composed for the cello in the second decade of the 18th Century. It is but 1 of 6 that Bach composed, a work that defines classical players. There are many recordings of the pieces, from Pablo Casals' first 78 rpm disks from 1925 to Mstislav Rostopovich to Yo-Yo Ma (he's done 2 brilliant sessions, separated by 15 years) to transcriptions for many other instruments including violin, double bass, piano, mandolin, guitar, saxophone, tuba (!) and trumpet.

Today, Saturday September 26, cellist Jason Duckles, Middletown resident, teacher and member of the Amelia Piano Trio, played a solo concert in the Hubbard Room of the Russell Library. His program included Bach's "Suite No. 2 in D-minor, BMV 2008", John Harbison's "Suite for Solo Cello" (1993), "Bells Ring Summer" by New Haven Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-residence Augusta Read Thomas, and Bach's "Suite No. 3 in C-Major, BWV 1009."

Now you know what music you missed. What isn't visible from the listing is Mr. Duckles' informative introductions, the view from the windows behind him of the leaves falling in the Library Courtyard (pictured left), the fingers of his left hand articulating the notes as they moved easily and swiftly around the neck of the cello, the overtones when he plucked a string, and the decay of the deep, sonorous, low notes on the slower movements. You should know that Duckles played the Bach "Suites "from memory and that this was one of the first times he had played Ms. Thomas' short but demanding composition in public. The Harbison "suite", influenced by Bach but much starker and a bit frenetic, contains a "Fuga-Burletta" that is tricky to play, a thorny and virtuousic short section of a work that looks both back and forward.

After a short break, Mr. Duckles returned to tell us about Augusta Read Thomas (picture) and perform "Bells Ringing Summer." A challenging piece for both listener and performer, with drawn-out tones, quick plucked notes, the short work has great urgency and its shivering, keening, melody prayer-like.

In comparison, "Suite No. 3" is often light-hearted, sprightly, with pretty melodies (such as the stately "Sarabande" section) while the "minuets" section display bold melodies but are never brash, always tuneful. The wondrous "Prelude" section that opens the work is built upon beautiful, thick, rich chords with low notes that reverberate deeply with one's body.

What the audience could see and hear was Jason Duckles' passion for music and his boundless desire to inform, educate and entertain. One often encounters musicians who are aloof, unwilling to engage with the audience because they are shy or in a state that does not allow for interaction. Jason and his wife, violist Anthea Kreston, are a big part of the Middletown "arts" community. They embrace their roles as educators and love to share their knowledge and talents. They never talk or "play" down to an audience.

Jason Duckles is a world-class musician, with a tone and articulation of melody that speaks of many hours of perfecting his craft. He is, also, a world-class person, with a smile and demeanor that makes one realize that, while music is a passion and his life's work, being alive, involved, and "in the moment", is equally important

Environmental Grant Proposals being solicited by Rockfall Foundation - Info Workshop 10/20

The Rockfall Foundation invites grant proposals from nonprofit organizations, towns, libraries and schools to support environmental education, conservation and planning projects in Middlesex County. The deadline for receipt of completed applications is November 12, 2009 and awards will be announced in mid-February, 2010.

"Rockfall grants often serve as catalysts for imaginative ways to preserve our natural environment while enhancing the quality of life for all county residents," according to Rockfall Grants Chairman, Anthony P. Marino. "Grant selections also often reflect Rockfall's focus on grassroots programs, particularly those that encourage residents to spend more time outside and better understand the county's natural resources and unique character."

Of special interest are: projects for youth that integrate activities with local, standards-based curricula; projects that encourage community growth that is in harmony with the environment; and internship projects with measurable outcomes for college students. Priority will be given to projects that serve as models throughout Middlesex County, explains Marino.

All those who are interested in submitting a proposal are invited to an informal grants informational workshop on Tuesday, October 20th from 5 - 6 p.m. at the deKoven House Community Center.

Detailed guidelines and eligibility requirements as well as a grant application can be obtained from the foundation's website,, or by calling the Foundation's office at 860-347-0340. To register for the workshop, or for additional information about Rockfall grants, contact Virginia R. Rollefson, Executive Director,, or phone (860) 347-0340.

The Rockfall Foundation supports environmental education, conservation programs and planning initiatives in Middlesex County. Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2010, it is one of Connecticut's oldest environmental organizations. Rockfall's mission is to be a catalyst-- bringing people together and supporting organizations to conserve and enhance the county's natural environment.

VIRGINIA R. ROLLEFSON, Executive Director (860) 347-0340

submitted by:
Claire Rusowicz
Development Director
The Rockfall Foundation
"Greening & Growing Middlesex County for 75 years"

shown at left - Previous Grant Recipient - GreenKids Project

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 33

Explore the Widest Main Street in America

Come take a stroll down Main Street, Middletown and celebrate the widest main street in America! The recent "Renaissance" in Middletown has created a thriving cultural environment in our downtown, giving our town both charm and appeal. Among locations to explore are numerous shops (from toy stores to jewelers to Ecuadorian gift shops), or dine at our extensive array of restaurants (from Thai cuisine to Italian cuisine to Mexican cuisine and more), or relax at a cafe, or visit an art gallery. The possibilities are endless! Discover the wealth of culture and excitement that Middletown has to offer and as always, keep your eyes peeled for Phileas Fogg.

A more complete listing of Middletown Business' can be found at:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Now You See It, Now You Don't

(Photos: Beth Emery)

Alarmed by the piles of bulky waste accumulating in neighborhoods close to downtown, Mayor Sebastian Giuliano has ordered that waste be collected by the Public Works department and that the department request $30,000 in emergency funding to reinstate bulky waste pickup in those neighborhoods.

In an austerity measure, on July 1, the Common Council did away with the free pick-up of bulky waste in the downtown "sanitation district" where residents were entitled to three pick-ups annually. Almost immediately, bulky waste such as furniture, mattresses, appliances and house fixtures began to line the curbs of downtown neighborhoods.

Complaints flooded the public works department, and several residents addressed the complaints to the Common Council at September's meeting. At that time the Council requested a report on the situation at the October Council meeting from Public Works Director William Russo.

"I think some of it can be attributed to habit," Mayor Sebastian Giuliano said Friday. "People were used to getting their bulky waste hauled away. And some are still not aware that a new system is in place."

The new arrangement calls for a fee of $75 for bulky waste removal.

After an inspection of downtown neighborhoods, and consultation with city Health Director Dr. Joseph Havlicek, Giuliano decided to act and requested that the public works department remove what had already accumulated on the streets.

"Our phone has been ringing off the hook," Russo said. "I truly believe that reinstating bulky waste pickup will help get some unsafe areas cleaned up."

"We had to get it picked up," Giuliano insisted. "Or by Christmas we'd be knee-deep in trash."

Most of the streets are now free of trash.

"I have the legal department checking on our new code enforcement ordinance to allow us to do what New Britain has begun to do in a program they call 'clean and lien.' The city will clean up a blighted area, and then go after the property owner for compensation. In the past we've been able to cite a landlord, but that didn't necessarily make the pile of trash disappear," Giuliano said.

Giuliano explained that the pay-for-service approach is necessary because of increasing fees the city has to pay for disposal of bulky waste. But he admits that the sudden impact of the ordinance change could be seen along every street downtown.

"Following our recent tour we have to be willing to see the actual situation and adjust accordingly," Giuliano said.

Giuliano emphasized that most residents and landlords are abiding by the law, or mistakenly leaving bulky waste on the curb.

"But I have a gut instinct that there are some property owners who do not like the new fee, and are attempting to force the issue," he said.

Giuliano is urging concerned residents to attend the October 5 Common Council meeting where the issue of bulky waste will be discussed.

Exciting Green Street Arts Center Events

Check out what's happening at Green Street this weekend!

Saturday Passport Series - South Indian Music & Dance
1pm - 3pm, Tomorrow 9/26
Middletown's vibrant Carnatic music and Bharata Natyam dance performers join together for an afternoon of performance, demonstration and audience participation. Musicians will demonstrate their instruments and discuss basic South Indian musical principles.
Free admission!

Sunday Salon - Manju Hingorani & Bob Lane: Science and Film

2pm - 4pm, Sunday 9/27
Listen to presenters discuss their recently developed a course at Wesleyan in which science students collaborate with film students in the making of science documentaries, including writing, filming, and editing. Several of the student films will also be screened.
$3 for members, $5 for non-members.

Both events are part of Green Street's several ongoing series of performances, lectures, presentations, and workshops. Visit or call 860-685-7871 for more information.

Dancing to the Oldies to Light the Town Christmas Tree


Join us on Friday October 2, 2009 at the Falcon Pavilion from 7 pm to 10 pm to dance the night away and light more trees on the green! Enjoy a lite pasta and salad supper,dessert, raffles, dance contest and cash bar all to benefit the our historic South Green. Cost~ $20.00 per person.
Contact Claudia 860-930-3447 or Pat 860-346-4028 or email to reserve a seat or a table.

Woodrow Wilson Students Inducted Into Junior National Honor Society

The induction ceremony for the Junior National Honor Society was held last night, Thursday, September 24 at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown. The following 30 students are the 2009 8th Grade Inductees. All students had to maintain a 92 grade average throughout 7th grade to be eligible.

Marissa Aldieri
Samantha Angle
Mallory Botti
Lauren Bridges
Samuel Clark
Mikaela Coady
Giuliana David
Hanna Fields
ANdrew Gilliland
William Gritzuk
Arabia Henley
Sara Isaacson
Victoria Kaspar
Olive Kuhn
Alissa Lancia
Danielle Lau
Liza Marino
Micholas Maturo
Rajeen Mayo
Haley McDonald
Maximillian Molski
Haley Rugh
Philip Santoro
Lucas Saunders
Christina Shea
Jaimie Dimmons
Sarah Stefurak
Nicole Tooker
Stephanie Vopelak
Jeffery Woodcock

Weekend Events: Additions & "Healthy" Video

Vinnie's Jump & Jive, Main Street, presents "Barefoot Boogie" Saturday evening at 8 p.m. I can't say it any better than they do: "Come as you are, kick off your shoes and dance the night away to an eclectic blend of music - old, new, world music, dance music, pop and much more. You get t pick what we dance t by signing up for a DJ spot and bringing your favorites on an iPod, mp3 or a CD mix. No rights, no wrongs, moving your own way, as you like, just for the fun of it." Want to know more? Go to or call 347-6971, extension 3777.

This missive from Professor Neely Bruce: On Sunday September 27, at 4:00, local artists and enthusiasts will celebrate the memory of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Tagore, a remarkable polyartist and educator, is equally prominent in his native India as a poet, playwright, essayist, composer and political thinker. A farsighted and radical educator, the school he founded in India at Santiniketan still flourishes, and his educational ideas were crucial in the establishment of Dartington College in England and many other schools in the West. Knighted by the British Crown in 1915, he later renounced his knighthood to protest British imperialism. At the age of sixty he took up painting, producing a number of striking images in an original and multifaceted style. Hailed early in the twentieth century as “the finest poet India has produced” and considered a saint in his native Bengal, his reputation in the West is in eclipse.

To remedy this situation, several Tagore enthusiasts in Middletown have organized " A Tribute to Tagore" at South Congregational Church. Soprano Phyllis Bruce, with her husband Neely at the piano, will perform the song cycle "Gitanjali" by John Alden Carpenter—settings of texts taken from the 1912 book of poetry that earned Tagore the Nobel Prize. Edwina Ranganathan, who taught at Santiniketan for three years, will read the poems in English. Stan Scott and Saiyara Fahmi will sing several of Tagore’s own musical compositions in the original Bengali. Six prints of Tagore’s paintings will be on display, and Jennifer Barber will dance. Ushakumari Williams, who was born into an Indian family in Tanzania, will speak on the political, social and spiritual conceptions of Tagore. This unique event will have something for everyone—poetry, music, dance and ideas, all suitable for all ages.

"A Tribute to Rabindranath Tagore" is free and open to the public. An offering will be taken to benefit the new organ stop at South Church. For more information contact Neely Bruce at 347-3003 or by email:

Next week, I'll be posting an article about the Wesleyan "creative music" connection and, specifically, 3 graduates who have studied and performed with Professor Anthony Braxton and all of whom are connected with Firehouse 12, the fine recording studio, performance space and bar (hey, got to pay the rent) located at 45 Crown Street in New Haven. The venue's fall 2009 Concert series started last Friday and continues (every Friday save for Thanksgiving weekend) through December 18. Find out more about the series and venue by going to

In the meantime, tonight (9/25) the Firehouse presents the Matt Wilson Quartet at 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admissions.) Wilson, a drummer/composer who has worked with many great musicians, has a great sense of the jazz tradition and a wicked sense of humor. To that end, here's a video of "Martha The Juicer" - it should be self-explanatory.

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 32

Zilkha Art Gallery
Wesleyan University
(12 P.M. to 8 P.M.)

From Phileas's Journal:
Yesterday, whilst sipping a most sumptious cup of fine tea at Javapalooza, I was engaged in conversation by a student of the local university, Wesleyan. An art student, he had nothing but glorious words for the University's Center For the Arts, and in particular, the Ezra and Cecile Zilka Gallery, a host of fine exhibits that generally rotate on a monthly basis. Intrigued by his praise for the Zilkha Gallery, I gathered my travelling companion Passepartout and headed to campus.
The Gallery was offering a most unique exhibit entitled "Paul Villinksi: Emergency Response Studio". Inspired by trip taken by artist Paul Villinski to post-Katrina New Orleans, the exhibit explores the idea of creating living and working areas for artists displaced by natural disasters and for artists seeking to work in post-disaster settings. Curator Nina Felshin showed Passepatout and me an installment of Villinski's Response Studio as well as the process by which the studio was constructed. We were also informed on the concept of movable housing, "green" technology, and "green" building materials, subjects about which I knew very little until today. Indeed it was a most enlightening visit, and a visit which I highly suggest to all.

Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery
Paul Villinski: Emergency Response Studio
Nina Felshin, curator
Saturday, September 12 through Sunday, November 8, 2009
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, noon-4pm. Friday, noon-8pm.

Eye on the Air, Sept 25

Eye on the Air, live 1-2 PM, WESU 881.FM, or the live webcast.

Host Karen Swartz talks with longtime Middletown USPS mail carrier Mitch Dingle with tales of walking everyday through the neighborhoods in town.

Produced by Mary Longley.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Senate Unlikely to Take Up Changes In Food Distribution Bill

Despite a letter from the State's Attorney General, and several letters from local pastors worried about serving Christmas dinners to the needy, the Senate is unlikely to have time in the current short session, to take up legislative change in the bill which currently is interpreted to prohibit charitable distribution of food prepared in unlicensed kitchens.

In the present, abbreviated session, the legislature is wrestling with regulations which need to be created or modified as a result of the late passage of the state budget.

"We got it (the Attorney General's letter) very late in the process, and I think there's some agreement with the Attorney General and the concerns he raises," said Derek Slap, Senate Democratic spokesman. "We're absolutely sympathetic to the points the Attorney General and others have raised."

But Slap indicated that the complaint, and the legislation in question, would have to be fully vetted before action could be taken. Slapp suggested that there may be an approach featuring a broader interpretation of the statute which would not require a change in legislation.

Without the change, local pastors in Middletown are concerned that Christmas meals, which consist of turkey and the fixings prepared in the homes of parishoners, would have to be cancelled.

Middletown Food Sharing Controversy Featured In Blog Chronicling the High Cost of Legal System

News of the controversy spawned by Food Not Bombs, which has now spread to potential problems for other charitable organizations which share food, is featured in Overlawyered, a blog which purports to expose unneccessary and wasteful legal action.

This law, and its implications, are not new to Overlawyered, as they covered the "Connecticut pie menace" in 1999.

Local Actors Take Note: A Wes Student Film Looking for Non-Student Actors

It's often the case that Wesleyan Film Studies students filming their senior thesis films cast them with actors much like themselves - college age student actors.

Wesleying reports a film directed by senior Milla Bell-Hart and produced by Josh Gordon, looking for a young actress (age 7-12), and an older male and female lead (male: 30's-50's, female 25-50's). Plus a number of supporting roles.

Audition times:

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28th in Wesleyan University’s CFA Theater Studios, Room 114. Come prepared for a dry reading.

Audition notice here.

Monday, Sept. 28 from 4:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Saturday, Oct. 3 from 9:15 AM – 12:00 PM
Place: CFA Theater Studios: East Room (114)

Please contact Josh Gordon at jlgordon@wes by September 27th for further details including audition times.

Pastors Asked to Support Change in Food Sharing Law

Elizabeth Conklin, one of the attorneys representing Food Not Bombs, has asked Middletown church leaders to urge state legislative leaders to alter a law which prevents churches and other organizations from sharing food with those in need.

Food Not Bombs has been cited by Middletown and state health departments for sharing food that has not been prepared in a licensed kitchens. In addition St. Vincent dePaul Soup Kitchen was cited Tuesday for serving a Sunday meal in which food, not prepared in local kitchens, was shared with the public.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter yesterday to State Senate and House leaders urgint them to change the law to allow an exception for charitable organizations which distribute food.

In his letter, First Church pastor John Hall cites what he sees as a threat to community meals at his church if the law is not changed.

I am writing to thank you for your attention to the threat facing charitable organizations regarding our food sharing practices. A number of clergy from Middletown, including me, met with Attorney General Blumenthal on September 18 to discuss the serious alarm and disruption caused in our organizations by the action of the Middletown Health Department against Food Not Bombs. My church is also the location where Food Not Bombs is currently preparing the food it shares on Sunday afternoon, since we have a licensed kitchen.

The problem for churches and the St. Vincent DePaul Soup Kitchen arises from the Middletown Health Department’s apparent need to appear consistent in its enforcement action regarding food not prepared in licensed kitchens. They have threatened to cite St. Vincent DePaul if it accepts food prepared in people’s homes. If this enforcement action takes place and is extended consistently, it will shut down a huge percentage of the charitable food donations in our city. As a result, food insecurity and hunger will increase — a special tragedy during these difficult economic times. I understand that the Middletown Health Department is communicating with health departments in other communities to encourage enforcement of the same policy.

I am very grateful to Attorney General Blumenthal for recognizing that the state law on this matter (PA 95-44) was most likely intended to exempt charitable organizations, not just charitable fundraisers. Likewise, I am very grateful to you for taking up the cause in this special session in order to resolve this matter once and for all. It makes no sense to exempt the sale of food but not the giving of food.

Our church hosts a free community Christmas Day dinner that feeds 300 people. This meal requires many turkeys, hams, pies, cookies, brownies, cakes, etc. to be prepared in people’s homes because there is not enough oven space or standing room in the church kitchen for this to be accomplished. Also, every Sunday evening a different church prepares and serves the supper at St. Vincent’s. Some or many components of these meals are prepared in homes — casseroles, pasta sauce, salads, brownies, cupcakes, etc. People are willing to make these donations in part because they can do the work at home where it is more convenient. Even the goodies that we share after worship every Sunday morning are largely made in people’s homes. It is just not realistic for this to be done in any other way.

Church leaders are urged to communicate with legislative leaders immediately so that action can take place in the short legislative session currently underway.

Senate President Don Williams
phone 240-8600 fax 240-8406
Speaker of the House Chris Donovan
phone 240-8500 fax 240-0208

Around Middletown in 80 Days: Day 31

330 Main St.

After days of following Phileas as he runs about town, you must be in need of a brief respite. Before Phileas takes off for his next location, stop into Javapalooza for some java rejuvenation. In addition to offering locally roasted organic coffees, fine teas, and an array of freshly baked goods as any coffeehouse might, the European style café also has available micro brews and fine wines to pair with savory sandwiches and soups that are made fresh daily. This versatile juntion is the perfect place to catch up with friends, to read a book, to use the free Wi-Fi, or to enjoy live, local music every evening!

Mon.-Thu., 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Fri., 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sat., 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sun., closed

"I am flabbergasted"

Those were the words of a very happy Commissioner Catherine Johnson as the Planning and Zoning Commission finished agreeing on a set of principles to guide the new Plan of Conservation and Development.

The Commission met in a workshop format, facing each other around a table set up on the floor of the Council Chambers. Commissioner Johnson led off the meeting with a 30 minute presentation on Smart Growth, laying out its goals and principles. She said these include creating a range of housing opportunities, fostering neighborhoods which have a strong sense of place, providing a variety of transportation choices, and building compactly to efficiently use land.

Smart Growth planning would relax the zoning of specific regions of the city to allow mixed use, but would tighten restrictions on the design of new developments. This would invert the current land use philosophy, which has tight restrictions on zoning (for example, only residential developments are allowed in an R60 zone), but has few restrictions on the design of a new development. Johnson illustrated her talk with examples which contrasted neighborhood based design and planning with the sprawl that a pure zoning approach has led to.

Johnson echoed many of the points made in a presentation by the town planner of Hamden, Leslie Creane, at a May meeting of the P&Z (New Approach to Zoning Regulations Presented at City Hall). The Commissioners were enthusiastic about Creane's presentation, and responded
very positively to Johnson's as well. Commissioner Deborah Kleckowski commented that she had heard many residents complain about the lack of retail and cultural attractions in Middletown. Commissioners seemed to agree that in the long term, neighborhoods with a mix of different kinds of housing (apartments, duplexes, and detached homes), offices, and retail, would increase the quality of life for residents.

The Commissioners worked on a set of principles from lists provided by City Planner Bill Warner. After a general discussion that revealed only minor differences of opinion on what kind of city Middletown should be, the Commissioners efficiently reached unanimous agreement on preliminary language for the guiding
principles for the POCD. [Note, what follows may not be the final versions of the principles, my notes were less than complete, and the commissioners felt that some of these "principles" might be better as examples or goals, rather than over-arching principles. I include them all to give a sense of the Commissioner's approach to the POCD. The final language will be refined by Warner with input from the Commissioners.]
  • Encourage environmentally responsible and sustainable development
  • Introduce new road standards in rural areas to reduce impacts of impervious pavement
  • Preserve and connect open space, farmland and critical environmental areas.
Urban Design
  • Improve design quality of development with design standards.
  • Encourage compact building design.
  • Promote development compatible with the unique character of neighborhoods to create a strong sense of place
  • Create walkable neighborhoods.
  • Provide a mix of uses in neighborhoods to ensure a city's vitality: commercial, civic, residential, recreation.
  • Encourage transit to provide a variety of transportation choices, including public transit, cars, bicycles, rail, and pedestrian.
  • Invest in sidewalks, road connections, bike paths, and street trees to encourage walking and biking.
  • Invest in infrastructure to increase rail, to provide linkages to neighboring communities.
  • Locate jobs near housing, transit, and services.
Concentrate Development
  • Reinforce downtown as our economic and cultural center.
  • Concentrate development along major transportation corridors already served by water and sewer.
  • Offer incentives to rehab brownfields, preserve historic structures and rehab housing and schools.
  • Encourage compact development.
  • Mix land uses.
  • Create a lively mixed-use downtown, connect to the riverfront.
  • Limit the sprawl of low-density housing.
  • Create a range of housing opportunities and choice.
Economic development
  • Increase the commercial tax base, lowering tax burden on residential property owners.
  • Attract office, light industry, retail, and entertainment.
  • Create partnerships between Education and Industry.
  • Expand on the existing medical infrastructure.
After reaching consensus on these draft guiding principles, the Commissioners enthusiastically agreed to hold another workshop on the POCD at their next meeting, on October 14.

Public Comment About Schools Redistricting.
Under the regular item at the end of the meeting ("Public comment on topics which are not or have not been the subject of a public hearing"), I spoke as a member of the public. I commented that the Board of Education will be making a decision about possibly significant redistricting this year. I urged the Commissioners to work with the Board of Education on this issue, which is impacted by (and has impacts on) neighborhoods, transportation, and development.