Sunday, January 31, 2010

Teens Brave Cold Night to Understand Homelessness

Teen groups from ten Middlesex County churches spent Saturday night outdoors in frigid temperatures to help them understand and empathize with the plight of the homeless.

At South Church, the youth group from that church, First Church, and First Church Congregational in Old Saybrook, assisted by parishioners, set up tents on the corner of Main and Union streets to spend the night in solidarity with those community members who are forced to spend harsh nights without a home.

"It's a way to bring awareness of homelessness to the community," said Sue LaTourette, a church director from First Church, who helped organize the sleep out.  "It helps these kids, and everyone who hears about it, understand the challenge of homelessness, and it helps put a face on it."

LaTourette, and her counterpart, Karen Treckel from South Church, helped organize a pre-sleep out dinner, and a concert for the event.  They, and other adults from the congregation were acting as chaperones, and adult supervision for the teenagers.

The group spent from 6 PM to sunup in their corner outpost, with evening temperatures ranging down into the single digits.

LaTourette explained that the effort is an attempt to keep the plight of the homeless in the public eye after the generosity of the holidays has passed.
"We want to have people understand that long after Christmas people need food, warm clothing and a place to stay," she said.

The event has already had the positive effect of motivating donors to drop food and clothing at the church for distribution to locations in Middletown like the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and the Eddy Shelter.

Join Wesleyan's Fruit and Vegetable Co-op

Would you like to receive a share of Organic fruits and vegetables every week?

 Join Wesleyan's Fruit and Veggie Coop! The cost of one share is $150 for the semester (that's $15 per week through May). Pick up will be every Thursday from 5:00-7:00 outside Weshop at Wesleyan (at the corner of Church St. and Pine St.). Last semester about 400 students, faculty, and community members participated in the coop which orders through Albert's Organics.

What we receive varies each week but a sample share is:

2 Cucumbers
2 Tomatoes
1 Bunch Lacinato Kale
1 Head Red Cabbage
1 Mango
2 Kiwis
2 Oranges

The deadline to sign up is Tuesday Feb. 9th and the first pick-up will be Thursday Feb. 11th.

If you would like to join the coop or learn more visit

I am 'M-Press'ed

At "The Eye", I think I speak for many authors when I say that our primary motivation for volunteer journalism is the belief that Middletown is a better city when there is a news organization which informs residents what is happening in our wonderful city. We believe that municipal government works better when residents know what is happening in city hall. We believe our arts are more vibrant when residents know what is happening and are motivated to come out and support local events. We believe our schools are better when residents know what the school board and administrators are doing. We believe public safety is improved when residents know more about the police force. We believe our restaurants will be better when residents are informed about their quality.

Saturday was a great day for Middletown. When I picked up a copy of the Middletown Press, at a newspaper box outside of Klekolo's, I was dazzled by its coverage. On the front page were 4 important and informative stories: about Main Street, about the Board of Education, about municipal governance, and about the police. On the sports page were stories about an athletic contest in Middletown and about the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame.

With a paper like this, I will renew my subscription. Heck, if a paper like this can be maintained, maybe I won't be at City Hall so often.

From 1975: Police Union, City Reach Pact Agreement

This article is from 35 years ago today, published on January 31st, 1975.
The city and the police union have reached agreement on a working contract for the current year, Mayor Anthony Sbona said Thursday.

The Common Council will be asked Monday night to authorize the mayor to sign the working agreement, he said.

This will leave only the firefighters union without a working agreement with the city.

The police agreement is based on the proviso that the city increase the time period for payment of wages in compensation cases from 12 to 18 days. The council also will be asked to ratify this amendment to the agreement.

Pay Increase

The agreement provides a three per cent pay increase as of last July 1, the start of the current city fiscal year, and another three per cent as of Jan. 1, 1975.

Firemen have been offered the same pay agreement in the factfinding report by a state arbitrator. However, the major stumbling block in the fire agreement is the manpower clause which would require the city to maintain a specific number of men on each shift.

Still Opposed
Mayor Sbona said Thursday he still is adamantly opposed to any manpower clause maintaining this is strictly a management prerogative.

The police agreement comes as the mayor begins work on his proposed city budget from the new fiscal year starting next July 1.

He already has asked city unions and school officials to ask their membership to forego any pay increase requests in the coming year because of tight economic conditions. The mayor is trying to avoid a tax increase in the coming year and intends to pare as many items as possible in the new budget in an effort to avoid a possible tax increase.

The city operates now on a $17 million budget and city departments have asked for $18.2 million for the coming year. About half of the proposed $1.2 million increase is in proposed education costs.
"Buddy" Sbona was the longest serving Republican mayor of our city, serving from 1969 to 1975. From his obituary in the Hartford Courant:
At 5 feet 5, with a booming voice, the former union carpenter and Republican city councilman generated so much support for his first mayoral campaign in 1969 that he helped the council and board of education win rare Republican majorities. ...
In 1945, Sbona played on a Middletown High School football team that was selected to play in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. ... From time to time, members of that special team, people such as [Carl] Fortuna and Salvatore 'Flash' Faraci, a retired Middletown police detective, would get together and celebrate the football experiences.

Democrats to Welcome Malloy in Middletown Fundraiser

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Family Affair

It was a family affair at The Buttonwood Tree last night and a real treat for all of us there. Georgianne and Rick Jackofsky and their two daughters, Erica and Annalee were truly delightful and quite talented. Rick candidly filled us in on the background of most of the original songs which often involved a humorous story. He told us how 18 years ago a near death accident changed their lives drastically. They got rid of their tv, began to read together and play music, getting back to the simpler way of living, and eventually joined a Quaker community. They are experienced knitters and the next time they come we may offer a knitting circle before the show.

Their sound was quite pleasing and was lyrically luminous. They were a fascinating group to watch - between the facial expressions of a family playing music together, Annalee on the jawharp, the wide variety of instruments and the homemade contraption that Rick invented so Georgianne could play 2 separate instruments with her feet, all while drumming! Mom and daughters danced a a clog-style Flatfoot dance on a small portable stage they brought with them that put some of us into a trance. Turns out daughter Erica is quite talented in many areas, with awards in fiddling, knitting and dancing.

They ended the night with their own rendition of "Good-night Irene" which caused the audience to participate in an organic sing-along. Foot-tapping and head-bopping all night was a good indication that the audience was happy. Here's a comment from a satisfied patron: "What an amazing experience this show was. The family of performers truly loves making music together and having fun on stage together. They not only sing but dance. And Rick gives a running commentary on American folk music throughout the show. Let's hope this All American Family is willing to do a return performance at Buttonwood Tree!"Bob

Here's their website if you'd like to hear them:

We have the Riverwood Poetry group in Saturday night - featuring John Jeffrey and David Leff.This is followed by an Open Mic for Poetry - so come out all you poets and share your stuff!We'll have another great show next Saturday (Feb 6) - as we continue our Saturday Night Jazz - with Landon Knoblock and his quartet. If you like improvised jazz, this will be a good show to catch.

The shows here at The Buttonwood Tree (at Liberty and Main St) are top notch and very reasonably priced. And you may get lucky and win something for free - tonight the band gave a way a basket of Fair-Trade coffee and some homemade goodies -all for free!

submitted by Anne-Marie Cannata

Today at The Book Bower

A reminder from The Book Bower:

G. Scott Deshefy, a Connecticut author, will be appearing at 3:30 p.m Saturday January 30 at The Book Bower to read from and sign copies of his books of poetry "Shadow Stones and Other Poems", and "Houyhnhnms All". The Book Bower is in Main St. Market, 386 Main St., Middletown. Light refreshments will be served.

Other works include "Touch the Earth", an anthology of nature poetry of which Mr. Deshefy was editor and contributor. In 1996 Mr. Deshefy was selected by the Hartford Advocate as its literature award winner in poetry, and he has been nominated for Connecticut poet laureate. Copies of his book, "Houyhnhnms All", were given honorary placement by Hungarian President Gonz in the National Libraries of Budapest in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Hungary's fight for independence in 1848.

True to his Renaissance perspectives on life, G. Scott Deshefy's poetry and essays have appeared in a variety of literary magazines while his ecological and ethological studies have been published in such prestigious research journals as Animal Behaviour. A busy lecturer whose topics range from biology and astronomy to history, the cinema and, currently, the ethics of climate change, Deshefy weaves the quiltwork of his interests into the fabric of his poetry. Dubbed the "Rod Serling of American poets," his poems have been called "rich as the planet…an offering to the life around us and dissension from the politics of its destruction." Mr. Deshefy is a justice of the peace and actor, and he worked 26 years for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection before retiring in 2007. He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives (2nd CT Congressional District) with the Green Party in 2008 and is Green Party candidate for that congressional seat in 2010. He is currently working on a book combining scientific and philosophical syntheses in support of animal rights and ecological ethics.

For more information, call 860-704-8222. 

A Spirited Stem Cell Conference

Noted stem cell scientist Irving Weissman (Stanford University, pictured above) capped an engaging conference at Wesleyan on "Stem cells into the clinic". Weissman presented a series of experiments and clinical trials which illustrated the tremendous promise of stem cells as a therapy for a variety of devastating human diseases.

For example, using a mouse model for the auto-immune disease juvenile diabetes, he presented data demonstrating that the disease could be cured by replacing the entire immune system with a transplant of bone marrow derived stem cells. Much research and many clinical trials need to be done before the safety and efficacy of such a treatment is demonstrated in human patients. However, Weissman's strong conviction that stem cells would cure disease, his engaging style, and his infectious enthusiasm all energized the audience.

Earlier in the afternoon, in a panel discussion on "Stem cell research in the Obama Era", Steve Latham, Deputy Director of the Yale Bioethics program, explained that the election of Obama had not brought with it as many changes in stem cell research policy as research advocates had hoped for. Latham speculated that the Obama administration might not want to make changes in research policy which were so radical that they would not survive potential changes in administrations.

Lori Gruen, Philosophy professor at Wesleyan, in the same panel, highlighted the issue of 'informed consent', in relation to the use of excess embryos left at fertility clinics by couples using in vitro fertilization. Gruen explained the difficulty of ensuring that donors fully understand both the nature of the research and all the potential uses to which the stem cells derived from their embryo might be put to.

The audience was quite engaged in the talks about science as well as those about ethics, every speaker received about a dozen questions from the audience. It was a lively and informative day at Wesleyan.
Disclosure: I am a biology professor at Wesleyan, my teaching and research is not on stem cells, but it is in a closely related area.

Record Riot in Cromwell

From the Cromwell Record Riot

There's no question about it. The years leading up to 2010 has seen the rebirth of the LP record and the ongoing death of the compact disc. And this musical phenomenon is taking place all across America with the buying of turntables and the ripping (and tossing) of CDs. Celebrate this narrative at the Cromwell Record/CD Riot, being held THIS SUNDAY!!! That's right, have direct access to over 30 dealers from six states hawking their musical wares Sunday, January 31st at the Cromwell Crown Plaza, 100 Berlin Road, (exit 21 off of I-91). There will be vinyl of all stripes (cheap and expensive), rock, soul, jazz, hiphop and every other genre under the sun. And of course, those pesky CDs will be around as well. Dealers will also be selling t-shirts, DVDs, and other music collectibles You can shop shop shop shop till you drop!!! Maybe you'd even like to consider selling your own goods at a future show. Hours are from 9:30 AM-3:30 PM and regular admission is three dollars (FREE ADMISSION WITH VALID COLLEGE ID). You can also get in early (with the real collecting lunatics) by forking over a ten dollar bill (doors open at 8 AM). There's more information on Hope to see you at the Cromwell Record/CD Riot!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lavoie Promoted to Lieutenant

From the mayor's office:

Esca Restaurant and Wine Bar

"Another week, another windmill, eh Sancho?"

"Yes, but this week we learned a lesson: sometimes a windmill can change its stripes."

We had dinner at Esca a couple of weeks after it opened and were not much pleased with the food, the service or the ambiance. But we knew that it takes some time and practice, no matter how well prepared the restaurateur, or how talented the chef, for a restaurant operation to get its feet under it and begin living up to its own standards. Our first reservation was a show of support for a new endeavor and we knew better than to be overly critical even though we had watched with eager anticipation for many moths prior to the opening of Esca Restaurant and Wine Bar. “Wine Bar” sounded very chic and very welcome!

Our obsessive-compulsive behaviors being what they are, however, we took notice of some glaring flaws on our first visit: poor service (what kind of restaurant/wine bar makes you wait twenty minutes for your initial champagne order, an order given as you sat down?), ordinary food (the lamb osso buco was swell, although accompanied by an eating lesson from the waiter who suggested “sucking out the marrow”, the salmon flatbread pizza unexpectedly thick, cold and lacking flavor), and the ambiance decidedly overbearing (recordings of Italian crooners a couple of decibels beyond high.). Where we craved peaceful elegance in our attractive booth, cadres of wait staff marched briskly up and down the clattering corridor, but did not serve us.

We went back for lunch a few weeks later. This time, seated inside in the window area (which brings up the question, “Will gourmands desire to sit outside on the corner of Route 66 and Main Street to eat and drink amidst the gas fumes and racket of that three lane intersection?”), Sancho's chair broke its leg when he sat down. Uninjured, we enjoyed a perfect accompaniment of fresh and dry rose’ with pannini and salads. There were continuing lapses with the service and unbearably loud music. (Perhaps on account of a great amount of tile, the sound level in general is pretty high.)

We waited six months before returning for dinner last week. Why? Well because we could tell that Esca was ambitious and committed to turning out something special. They were earnest, the wine list was deep and interesting, despite being over priced, and we had faith that they could get a handle on the service and, we were hungry for good food. We believed that by continuing to aim for perfection, Esca had a good chance to deliver a culinary thrill!

Meanwhile we read some criticism on the web and in the Middletown Eye. I have to say that some of these reviews were mean spirited to the point of viciousness. It appeared that Esca could do no right. Christmases were ruined. Office parties were nightmares. Graduations made people wish they had never gone to school. Inedible food served slowly. The music. You would think the reviews were written by the competition! And, although I am sure that some of them were, several trustworthy friends swore that they were never going back to Esca, for one of the reasons mentioned above.

This is when it helps to be ego-maniacal, pseudo-intellectual, self-proclaimed and self-serving restaurant critics – such dolts cannot take the word of friends or the masses at face value. The time to revisit Esca had arrived; time to see for ourselves if the anticipated great quality leap, now that the restaurant has had a chance to get into some sort of rhythm, had indeed occurred!

Esca is now “finding itself”. The meal we had last week was creative and innovative, complementing the rest of the menu, and delicious. Our waitress was so attentive, if not quite polished and professional, that we could forgive her some minor lapses. Dressed in black and whites, she kept our tablecloth free of crumbs, our wine and our water refreshed, and was eager to answer our questions even if she had to use her notes. For example, the Italian white wine we ordered, Falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio (Campania), arrived with a more recent vintage than listed. Was it a better vintage? Kind of a trick question since we were happy with a younger, fresher example of this uncomplicated wine even before asking. But she handled the situation well and explained that the list was soon to be updated. The price of the monkfish special? (She didn’t know.) When we asked for another roll she said “yes” but it took another prompting ten minutes later to get one.

Nevertheless, on balance, it was a revivifying and positive change from the deadly standard service we have previously encountered on Main Street. Another positive, was the music. It was turned down low, thus allowing us our thoughts and our conversation. Inexplicably, at 9 PM, it went up two or three notches and caused us some dismay.

The best news is the food. The menu is trim and focused. There are numerous courses which use duck: duck confit as part of a salad or on a flatbread “pizza”, duck prosciutto, crispy duck confit ravioli with foie gras “foam” and an entree of crispy duck breast are offered. Australian lamb makes a few appearances, as does soppressata and prosciutto in various combinations. Esca cannot seem to make its mind up about how to identify its ingredients. It brands some items yet leaves other items disturbingly vague. We are informed, “Hereford Beef, 100% grass fed and humanely raised”, yet the olive oil is only referred to as “EVOO”. This means “Extra Virgin Olive Oil”, but it is such a bastardized category of oils that it has almost no meaning. More specific here would be better. Stemware is “Eisch”, (although my glass was not so labeled, Eisch is a brand unfamiliar to me as is the dubious concept of the “breathable” glass. However, it was a fine glass, of good quality, befitting a Wine Bar, and well-proportioned - comparable to the Austrian standard, Riedel). The Soppressata (Danielle) and the Calamari (Point Judith, R.I.) are also “branded”, but something specific should be said about their “aged balsamic vinegar”, or “Agrumato Oil”. My feeling is that if you are going to get into the name game in the first place, you might as well brand-name everything. And while I am being picky, they might as well correct the misprinted menu which recommends, "Consumers who are sensitive to food related reactions should not eat thoroughly cooked meats, poultry, and seafood.”

The appetizer “Foie Gras Brioche” is one of the best courses we have had in a long time. There are several additional menu items graced with this rich ingredient, but we have not yet sampled them. The foie gras at the center of the course is a potent, earthy, flavorful morsel surrounded by a soft egg with strips of duck prosciutto and green salad. All is topped with a yummy Hollandaise sauce. Paired with another outstanding appetizer, the “Pecorino, Prosciutto and Sangiovese Poached Pear”, with its fruity flavors augmented with toasted pine nuts, tangerine-agrumato oil, and balsamic vinegar, it was a complete meal for the hearty appetite of Sancho. The fun of sopping up the sauce with the warm rolls delivered as they came out of the oven was an incomparable hands-on, gustatory delight. It was hard to choose between the garlic, olive or parmesan rolls, all were very good.

The cool and crisp and playfully named “Fork and Knife” Caesar was good-not-great, with plump anchovies draped over the long stiff leaves of fresh Romaine lettuce, tempting the diner to eat without utensils. Purists will say that anchovies do not belong in a Caesar Salad but rather a coddled egg and Worcestershire sauce, but we enjoyed this more modern, innovative twist. It was a wee bit dry and could have used some fresh lemon juice. The Monkfish Special was outstanding. The monkfish, which had a firm lobster-like consistency, was delicious in a light broth surrounded by a few succulent mussels and scallops, and perfectly cooked red potatoes with actual potato flavor. Satisfying and soulful, it was just the antidote for a cold winter evening in Middletown. There was a full bowl but it was difficult to share, even as Sancho covetously eyed the rapidly diminishing portion from across the table.

To all those who had a less than outstanding experience at Esca Restaurant and Wine Bar, I would say give them another chance. The specials and the dishes are unique, such as the “Foie Gras Brioche”, and are worth the money. While prices are generally a bit high, I would rather have a special dining experience for a little more money than an inferior one at any price.

Bottom line:
Foie Gras Brioche: $20; Pecorino, Prosciutto, and Poached Pear $10; Knife and Fork Caesar $9; Monkfish Special Stew $25; Bottle of wine, $35.

Service: Pleasant and professional

Board of Ed Meeting Highlights School District Dilemma

At Tuesday night's regular Board of Education meeting (1/26/10), excitement over the newly expanded summer enrichment program quickly turned to controversy over a report due on the State Commissioner's desk by Friday afternoon.

First the good news:

Last year's Summer Enrichment Program serviced approximately 80 students district-wide. Thanks to a series of grants, Title I funds, and stimulus funds, this summer Middletown will spend approximately $180,000 on a 5 week, all day Summer Enrichment Program that can accommodate up to 400 students. Asst. Superintendent Barbara Senges told the BOE that she hopes to hire 31 teachers to run the program, and that children will be bused and breakfast and lunch will be served. This program will be "by invitation only" to those children identified as "at risk readers," (by virtue of their CMT scores) and it will be no cost for those children who are currently eligible for reduced cost or free lunch. The cost will be $250 for 5 weeks for those children not eligible for the reduced cost/free lunch program. Senges also told the BOE that she plans to keep class sizes to about 12 students per class, and that she's worked out a deal with the YMCA, the Circus program and the City Arts program so that children can attend both programs during the day.

This new Enrichment Program will run at Bielefield, Macdonough and Wesley Schools starting July 6 and ending Aug 5 (a total of 23 days). Park and Rec will run programs at all the other schools, so all school buildings will be used this summer. Senges thanked Ken Jackson, the Director of Facilities, for the hard work his department will have to undertake to make these spaces available for the upcoming summer.

As the meeting progressed, a few notable issues were mentioned:

  • There are lights missing as one travels from MHS to the athletic complex. BOE Chairman Ted Raczka asked Ken Jackson why those lights are still missing after two years, worrying about the potential safety issue if fans can't see icy sidewalks in the dark. Jackson replied that it was the City's responsibility to finish this part of the project, that there was a problem with the light bulbs, and that it will probably be 6-8 weeks until this is resolved. Raczka was clearly unhappy with this answer, and he commented that "someone needs to tell someone to get busy and get this done..."

  • Raczka also gave Transportation Director Mike Milardo a packet of information about New Britain getting the first hybrid bus in the State of CT, and he wanted Milardo to get busy on getting Middletown TWO buses for next year. (Note: New Britain did get State grant monies as part of this process, but it wasn't clear how much hybrid buses might cost Middletown.)

  • BOE member Corinne Gill asked the other board members to attend the PTA meetings at their sponsor schools. She handed out a list of the meeting days and times. (Note: if a BOE member shows up at your PTA meeting, please post a comment to this article and let us know!)

When it came time for discussion regarding the District Feasibility Study, a particular report due to the State Commissioner of Education by this Friday (1/29/10) caused much consternation between Superintendent Michael Frechette and various BOE members. Long story short: Middletown was notified a year ago that Macdonough Elementary School is out of compliance with Sheff v. O'Neil (with regard to racial balance compared to the District average), and was given 6 months to fill a plan with the State to correct the imbalance. A 6-month extension was given in August because of the on-going JCJ study, which accounts for tomorrow's deadline.

The problem is that JCJ submitted its final report in December, and the BOE then decided to create an Ad Hoc committee to study a number of issues: redistricting, the socio-economic implications of redistricting, Moody's overcrowding, Macdonough's racial imbalance, possible preschool consolidation, Macdonough as a magnet school, and so on. That committee just got started about two weeks ago, and for obvious reasons, no recommendations have come back to the board.

So, while the Superintendent has to file a report tomorrow, he really has nothing to report because the BOE hasn't been given any recommendations nor has it made any decisions. However, Dr. Frechette asked permission to file a report that would talk about consolidation of the preschool program, re-drawing districting lines, and research into the resulting socio-economic impacts of re-districting.

This request did not sit well with many board members: there was no draft of the report to review, and several members commented that submitting a report before the Ad Hoc committee work was finished could be perceived as a big waste of everyone's time. Board Member Renee Johnson-Thornton was especially concerned that the magnet school option for Macdonough seemed to be off the table. Frechette responded that Middletown has a 3-year District Improvement Plan on file with the State, as required by No Child Left Behind and Middletown's identification as a district needing improvement. There isn't time or money to re-train teachers at Macdonough in a magnet school model when they've already made so many changes to comply with the district improvement plan.

In the end, the board voted to allow Dr. Frechette to submit the report he described, but only with specific instructions that the report would state that should the BOE come up with a better plan later, it would have the right to re-file with the State.

The BOE then went into Executive Session to discuss litigation and the Superintendent's Mid-Year Evaluation.

NOTE: The full Ad Hoc committee was meeting this evening, so more specific details will be covered in a separate EYE posting.

Commentary: I found it most peculiar that the State is requiring a plan that outlines how Middletown plans to address the racial imbalance issues at Macdonough, but the BOE and Superintendent talked about everything else OTHER than that simple issue. Of course nothing is simple, so I don't mean it in that way...I guess I'm just puzzled that there doesn't seem to be a clear list of priorities that defines what action we take when. I know for sure that the BOE was highly disappointed that the $138,000 they paid JCJ Architecture DIDN'T get them a solution they could implement immediately (and this probably explains our deadline problems...). Yes, we have racial balance issues and we have attendance boundary issues and when you start changing something in one place it messes with something somewhere else. However, we have to start SOMEWHERE at SOMETIME, and we are required to comply with Sheff v. O'Neil, and attendance boundary can't be drawn without regard to racial balance considerations, so I guess we have to start there. It would be lovely to draw lines to minimize transportation costs, but we already know we can't do it that way. I don't think a Saturday Magnet program at Macdonough is going to relieve the State's requirements, so we have to settle down and start the hard work of drawing lines and working from there.

Eye on the Air, Jan 29

 Live, 1-2 PM  on WESU, 88.1 FM (

Guests: Peter Pritchard, former USA Today Editor, and former director of the Newseum, and Ann Marie Cannata, Executive Director of the Buttonwood Tree.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seat Belts on School Buses: Part 2

Transportation Director Mike Milardo confirmed at Tuesday night' BOE meeting that Middletown's contract with DATTCO stipulates a 50-50 cost sharing if Middletown asks for seat belts on buses or if the State should require them. Middletown is in year two of a five year contract.

The actual cost of seat belt installation isn't known at this point...just waiting for a return call from DATTCO's VP of bus operations.

Mid-Winter Arts Events (Part 2)

Thursday January 28:

The Ring Family Israeli Film Series at Wesleyan opens its 6-Thursday run tonight at 8 p.m. in the Goldsmith Family Cinema in the Center for Film Studies, Washington Terrace. First up is "Souvenirs", the 2006 documentary from Sharar Cohen and Harir Efrat. The synopsis from the Film Series staff reads as such: Shahar, an unemployed film maker, and his 82-year old Yemenite father, begin a filmed journey in search of his father's "souvenirs," left with local girls during his service in the Jewish Brigade while stationed in Amsterdan during the second World War. During this charming and funny trip--which starts in Israel, continues through Italy and Germany and ends in Holland with an unexpected discovery--some myths of bravery are questioned with compassion and without heartbreak."  The movie won a slew of awards and has been shown at festivals around the world.  Following the screening, film critic Laura Blum will speak about the Jewish Brigades, the only all-Jewish fighting unit in WWII (organized by the British Army.)  The event is free and open to the public.  For more information, go to

Friday January 29:
At 6 p.m., The Green Street Arts Center presents the premiere of "Our Elders, Our Youth", a documentary film that attempts to bridge the gap between the oldest and youngest generations of Middletown residents, while confronting the perceptions each side has about the other. Introducing the film will be former GSAC head Janis Astor del Valle and MxCC Professor of Videography Dan Nocera (both will also lead the post-film discussion.) For more information, call 860-685-7871.

The Buttonwood Tree presents the Homegrown String Band at 7:30 p.m.  Truly a family affair, the quartet features Georgianne (banjo) and Rick Jackofsky (guitar) and their daughters Erica (fiddle) and Annalee (mandolin.)  Everyone plays one or two more instruments, there is singing, dancing and a lot of joy. The family has released 4 CDs in its 10+ years and have venues throughout the United States.  Their blend of bluegrass, country, folk, blues and other rural music is quite entertaining.  To find out more about the family, go to To reserve a seat or 2, call 860-347-4957.
  "Heaven", the latest work from choreographer Morgan Thorson in collaboration with Alan Sparhark and Mimi Parker from the band LOW, can be seen twice this weekend (Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. in the CFA Theater at Wesleyan. This is part of the University's fine Break Ground Dance Series.  For a good description of the performance, click here. To read a review of the show from its New York City performance, go to

Boney's Music Lounge presents the Liviu Pop Group featuring Ray Morant at 9 p.m.  Morant, a fine guitarist and vocalist, is the leader of the Ray Morant Soul Syndicate and a native of Hartford.

Saturday January 30:
The Riverwood Poetry Series at The Buttonwood Tree presents John Jeffrey and David Leff at 6:30 p.m.  Jeffrey, the editor of the internet-based CT Poet Newsletter, is an engaging reader whose work has been published in numerous journals.  Leff, former Deputy Commissioner with the Connecticut DEP, has written 2 fine non-fiction books, including 2009's "Deep Travel: In Thoreau's Wake on the Concord and Merrimack" (University of Iowa Press) - he's also an accomplished poet and fiction writer.  For more information, call 860-347-4957.

This missive from Professor/composer Neely Bruce: South Congregational Church, 9 Pleasant Street, will present an organ recital at 7:30 p.m by Brian Parks, director of music at the Higganum Congregational Church, and Wesleyan junior Matthew Sellier, to benefit the homeless of Middletown. The concert is part of an effort by ten churches in Middlesex County to call attention to the plight of the homeless and raise community consciousness of their needs. Donations of toiletries, blankets, sheets, towels, jackets, warm clothing and cash will be received.  The duo will perform music by Bach, Liszt, Messiaen, Mendelssohn, and Professor Bruce and by organist Parks. For more information about the concert, call 860-346-5006. For more information about the project to benefit the homeless contact Emily Bjornberg, Deep River Congregational Church at 860-526-5045.

Boney's Music Lounge welcomes back the Melvin Sparks Trio for an evening of incendiary funk, jazz, blues and hot jams.  Guitarist Sparks' unit features Middletown resident Bill Carbone (drums) and organist Matt O.  For more information, call 860-346-6000. 

F&G Portents of Struggles to Come

Before any resolution or ordinance reaches Common Council chambers, it has likely traveled through a variety of commissions and committees which pass judgment on its merits.

For many matters, the final stop before the Common Council is the Finance and Government Operations (F&G) committee where an up or down vote decides whether a request will be funded or a new regulation will move along. But often, more subtle issues, only tangentially related to budget and finance surface.

Cops and Roberts

The line in the sand has already been drawn, and positions are being staked out in a power struggle between the city's legislative branch, the Common Council, and the city's executive power, the mayor.

Public Split on The Public

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted to continue the public hearing on an application by The Public nightclub until after they could hear from the Police and Fire Departments about the nightclub's application to expand their facility.

Retroactive Approval Sought
Planning and Zoning granted approval in 2006 for a 1632 square feet nightclub. Last year, without prior P&Z approval or even a building permit, the owner of Public, Tyler DeVecchis, expanded the facility by about 1000 square feet. Represented by attorney Ralph Wilson, DeVecchis was before the Commission to apply for a special exception permit to do this work.

City Planner Bill Warner had recommended that the Commission deny this application, largely on issues of public safety. Wilson attempted to address Warner's concerns, claiming that not all of the police calls to The Public address were related to the nightclub, and pointing to new procedures in place at The Public to increase safety. These new procedures include meeting a mandate from the State Liquor Control Board to hire two police officers for weekend nights, and to use a metal detector at the entrance.

Wilson was open about DeVecchis' motivation, "[this] expansion is being requested for economic reasons... This business needs to expand to stay open." He said the business employs 20 people, "mostly from Middletown," and that the owner has a substantial investment in the building.

Public Comments
Real estate agent Nancy Newman expressed strong support for The Public, saying that she had on separate occasions taken her 22-year old son and her nearly 70 year old mother, "It's a fun place people enjoy going out to." Dan Litwin, owner of Young's Printing, which is immediately around the corner from The Public, said it was important to support downtown businesses and that a large storefront vacancy on that block would be detrimental.

Seven customers and workers associated with the nightclub also testified in favor of granting the permit for an expansion. Amora Corvo said that the youth of Middletown need a venue for music, and scoffed at the offerings supported by the Commission on the Arts. She said of The Public, "This is a good business, this is a beautiful business."

Marie Kalita-Leary, director of the Downtown Business District, expressed concern over not only the repeated police calls, but also the lack of even minimal cleaning up in front of the bar. She said that the executive committee of the Business District, representing 243 businesses, voted unanimously to support Warner's recommendation that the application be denied.

Mayor Sebastian Giuliano forcefully urged the commissioners to deny the application, pointing to the repeated violations and the lack of accountability of the owner. He expressed fears about possible crime associated with patrons of the Public, and how that might jeopardize the Main Street revitalization that has occurred in the past decade, "This is a ticking time bomb. ... we are one incident away from being back in the 1980s."

Planning and Zoning Commissioners Deliberate
Commissioner Fazzino asked DeVecchis about the nature of the music at the Public, and in particular how much hip hop music was being played. Fazzino seemed to be concerned about what kind of clientele might be attracted by hip hop. Chairman Phipps reassured him, "The only thing an iPod full of hip hop will do is make you chair of Planning and Zoning."

The Commission voted unanimously to postpone a decision on The Public until after hearing about public safety issues from the police and fire department. Mayor Giuliano assured the commissioners he would request their presence at the next Commission meeting.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Let's Get to Work"

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously elected Quentin Phipps as Chair tonight, ending a bitter partisan dispute over who should lead the Commission.

Commissioner Nick Fazzino opened the meeting with a statement on behalf of his fellow Republican commissioners. He started by saying that when the Democrats offered the Republicans the two positions of Secretary and representative to Midstate Regional Planning, while insisting on Democrats as Chair and Vice-chair, it was demeaning.

Fazzino continued, however, that Republicans took the charge for bipartisanship seriously, and he backed up that claim with the nomination of a Democrat for Chair of the Commission, "Therefore, at this time and in good faith and on behalf of the republican commissioners I would like to nominate Quentin Phipps for the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission."

After being elected, Phipps graciously thanked his fellow commissioners and pledged to work with both parties on the Commission. And with the words in the title of this post, Quentin Phipps began his term as chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

New Playscape Still Possible for Moody Elementary School

The EYE previously reported that Moody Elementary School's playscape has been deemed unsafe and that it will be removed during the February School vacation (read article here). There also seemed to be some uncertainty as to whether or not funds were available to replace said playscape.

This EYE reporter has since confirmed the following:

1. There is currently $63,750 in Account 548 (this is the only account that the Board of Ed has complete control over, and a board vote is required to spend funds from this account).

2. The Moody Playscape Replacement is estimated at $91,700.

3. A Miracle Recreation Grant is available for $22,350.

4. If Moody's PTA can raise $5,000, the cost to the Board of Ed will be $64,350.

5. Ken Jackson, Director of Facilities, has recommended that the Board of Ed pay for the playscape replacement: "It would be my recommendation that the balance of the Capital Reserve/Preventive Maint. account be used to fund the playscape replacement assuming no emergencies occur that we would need to use the Capital funds to address."

When asked about the possibility of the BOE actually funding this project, board member Corinne Gill commented that "no board member will commit now to paying for this project since we don't know what will happen between now and the end of the year." Gill also added that it wasn't an unreasonable expectation for Moody's PTA to think it was first in line for those funds at the end of the year if there are no emergencies.

Elephants Can Paint (?!?)

I am avid user of Freecylce.Org which is a wonderful online bulletin board where you can post Offers for things that you want to get rid of, and Wanted ads for things you want. It's sort of like being able to shop at hundreds of private little tag sales and thrift shops all from your computer. There are many advantages to Freecycling. This is a great way to obtain something that you don't necessarily need new. Good examples of this are things that tend to get used just once and then tossed out, like party or holiday decorations . I have also encountered Freecyclers who are contemplating some purchase and want to find the thing used first to see if its going to work for them before spending the time and money to get a new one. If they do decide to get their own, they will probably Freecycle the used one again to someone else. On the opposite side of getting, there's the giving – where you can get rid of unwanted furniture, appliances, or bulky items without having to haul it off yourself (or pay the City's bulky waste pickup fee). That goes for everything that you offer up – the recipient is expected to pick it up from your house or meeting place, so there's even less work involved than taking things to GoodWill or the dump. Speaking of the dump, another aim of Freecycle.Org is to prevent perfectly useful things from landing there unnecessarily. Many times something just needs a minor repair and many recipients are willing to take an object in less than perfect condition if they can fix it up, since, after all, its free. You may think to yourself that you could try to sell something and make a little money rather than give it away for free. In my experience, there is a lot of work there too, in fielding phone calls and arranging meeting times or appointments with people who may or may not decide that they want the item. You have to ask yourself if the money you might be able to get is worth that effort. Freecycling is much easier than all that. There are, of course, a few common sense rules of etiquette for Freecycling. Be polite in your emailed responses, ask if the item is still available before assuming you are the only person responding, post ads in the standard format, describe the item clearly, and leave out unnecessary information (such as my pet peeve, reason why the person wants something or why they are getting rid of something). Above all else, don't be a no-show! The range of things listed goes from typical things that pop up constantly to the rare and obscure. Common postings have books and magazines, things for pets, housewares, kids things like clothes and toys, sports equipment, furniture, and small electronics and appliances. In the not as common category, I have seen antique tools, car parts, items from house projects and deconstruction like fixtures and countertops, and musical instruments.

Recently, I saw the most unusual thing I have ever seen on Freecycle, and something that I did not know existed in the world.

January 10, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

OFFER: painting done BY an elephant

I received a pretty large painting that was done BY an elephant. It's a fundraiser for an elephant sanctuary, where they have the elephants paint with paintbrushes in their trunk (I have the documentation that came with the painting that explains this). The painting is mostly polka dots of pink, lime green, and a medium blue. It is matted with white matting and in a blue frame.

It is still in the shrink wrap. Would look nice in a kid's room or play room.

January 10, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

TAKEN: painting done BY an elephant

I've never gotten so many responses so quickly to ANYTHING on Freecycle like I just did. HOLY COW. The taker is picking it up, and I have a list below her name if she's a no show =)


Seeing this ad made me giddy with laughter. I can't explain exactly why... maybe the image I got of an elephant with a paint brush in its trunk, the thought of what the painting might look like (Jackson Pollack-esque?), or getting started thinking about the concept of an elephant sanctuary. That got me to thinking about the One Book One Middletown book from last year: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, where a circus elephant was thought to be stupid until it was discovered by an observant man that she understood Polish rather than English. Here is the information about this year's One Book book - The Soloist. From an online search I found that there are elephant sanctuaries in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Thailand. I wonder if there are hippopotamous sanctuaries? Giraffe sanctuaries? Maybe I will post an ad on Freecycle.Org and see if anything turns up:

WANTED: Painting done by a rhinoceros ...

Happy Freecycling!

New Officers at Council of Veterans Organization

On Tuesday, The Middletown Council of Veterans Organizations installed its new officers and recognized community members for their service to the veterans of Middletown.  Larry Riley, member of American Legion Post 206 and Commander of the Veterans of the Vietnam War post here in Middletown, was sworn in as Council Commander, replacing Mort Pear of Jewish War Veterans Post 51. Just prior to the swearing in ceremony, the Council recognized Eagle Scout Andrew Avalone and the Middlesex Health Care Center. Andrew was recognized for the successful completion of his Eagle Scout project, a gazebo built on South Green in downtown Middletown in honor of Middletown Veterans.  Present from the Middlesex Health Care Center were Cheryl Kelly, Center Administrator, and Mary Meeks, Admissions Director.  Middlesex Health Care Center was recognized for its ongoing Veterans Day Ceremony and the continued service it provides its Veteran residents.

About 60 people, mostly local veterans but a few from area towns, attended, accompanied by wives and other family members.
 In relinquishing the reins, Pear grew emotional when he talked about how nervous he was when he assumed the post last year and how amazed he was at the outpouring of support from all the members. Riley, in turn, said that he was honored to assume the commander’s post and would make every effort to continue the successes achieved by Pear and other past commanders.

The slate installed is as follows:
Council Commander - Larry Riley
Sr. Vice Commander - Mike Rogalsky
Jr. Vice Commander - William Hartig
Adjutant -  Michael Steadman
Finance Officer - Paul Fazzino
Assistant Finance Officer - Philip Cacciola
Judge Advocate - Thomas Goglia, Sr.
Chaplain - Richard Clegg
Assistant Chaplain - Robert Wamester
Sergeant-At-Arms - Edward Ouellette
Asst Sergeant-At-Arms - Raymond Tremblay
Bugler - John McCloud

Board of Trustees
3 Year Trustee - Mort Pear
2 Year Trustee - Joseph Kokoszka
1 Year Trustee - Frank Martini, Jr.

Liaison Committee 
Paul Fazzino
Ron Organek
William Pomfret

The Middletown Council of Veterans Organizations of the City of Middletown was established to be of greater service to our member organizations, country, state and community.  The Council organizes and conducts Middletown's Veterans Day ceremony and the Memorial Day parade and ceremony each year.  The Council meets every fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m., except for July and August, at American Legion Post 75, 58 Bernie O'Rourke Drive, Middletown.  Established Veterans organizations that meet in Middletown and have a constitution and/or by-laws may seek to join the Council. 

Demolition and Abatement Begins After Nehemiah Closes on Grants

(Photo courtesy of Nehemiah Housing)

Work has already begun on the demolition and abatement of properties in the North End after an extended wait in which Nehemiah Housing Corporation and the Broad Park Development Group sought funding for the creation of 15 new housing units in the Ferry and Green Street neighborhoods.

Nehemiah closed on $3.5 million in grants from DECD that is part of the federal stimulus package to create affordable housing.

Stem Cells Conference in Middletown on Friday

Wesleyan will be hosting prominent scientists and ethicists for a day-long conference on Friday, entitled: Stem Cells into the Clinic: Biological, Ethical, and Regulatory Concerns.

Laura Grabel, Professor of Biology at Wesleyan, said that the conference will be attended by faculty and students from around the state who are doing stem cell research, as well as faculty and Wesleyan students interested in the intersection of science and society. It is unusual to have a conference with equal emphasis on the biological science and the public policy implications of stem cell research. Grabel said, "I hope to learn the state of art thinking in terms of stem cells and possible therapies, as well as public policy and ethics relating to stem cells."

The conference is in part a result of the Connecticut Stem Cell Initiative, a state-funded program which annually gives out grants to support stem cell research in Connecticut. Three Wesleyan biologists, Grabel, Jan Naegele, and Gloster Aaron, have received funding from the state for a project whose goal is to understand how embryonic stem cells become neurons. Grabel said, "We are working with mouse models of epilepsy, trying ultimately to suppress seizures by providing embryonic stem cell derived inhibitory neurons that could suppress hyperactivity that leads to seizures."

The keynote speaker will be Irving Weissman, Director of the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford; he will speak about stem cells both in their normal role and in their role in cancer. Gordon Carmichael (UConn) and Valerie Horsley (Yale) will give technical talks on the biology of stem cells, and Bonnie Steinbock (U. Albany) will speak on "The Ethics of Stem Cell Research." In addition there will be a panel discussion about "Stem Cell Research in the Obama Era," with Steinbock, Steve Latham (Yale), Lori Gruen from the Wesleyan Philosophy Department, and Laura Grabel from Biology.

This exciting conference is free and open to the public. The first session will begin at 9:00 AM on Friday, in the Goldsmith Family Cinema on Washington Terrace. To attend this conference, RSVP to Lisa Sacks (; 685-3428).

Technically Savvy Lesser Featured in New CT Mirror

(Photo from the CT Mirror)

There's a new online news source, the CT Mirror, covering legislative news of the state, and the first few issues have been informative in a way that the dailies have not been in recent memory.

In today's "issue" legislators who are connected with constituents via social networks are featured, and Middletown's representative Matt Lesser is featured prominently.

Pritchard Paints Gloomy Picture for News Junkies

Calling the web a "black hole," former Newseum director, and one time editor of USA Today, Peter Pritchard talked about the perfect storm which had driven the daily newspaper into a tailspin down a swirling vortex.

Pritchard appeared Monday at the Wadsworth Mansion in the first Party With a Purpose sponsored by the Middlesex County Community Foundation.

Pritchard cited Craigslist, department store mergers, an economic downturn, and the rise of news on the web as nails in the coffin of the printed daily newspaper.   The news was not a revelation to the gathered audience of news readers, but occasionally when Pritchard cited figures indicating the loss of revenue, a collective groan arose from the thoughtful group.

Pritchard didn't hold out much hope for the local print media, but felt that people would find news one way or another with or without a trustworthy gatekeeper.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Morgan Thorson + Low at the CFA

Below is an excerpt from the CFA Blog, written by Director Pamela Tatge:

The CFA and the Dance Department were interested in having the Breaking Ground Dance Series acknowledge for the first time the truly innovative work happening in Minneapolis, a hotbed of creative work in dance. After months of planning, we are delighted to welcome Morgan Thorson and her company to campus this weekend. Thanks to support from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation we were able to connect her work, HEAVEN, to faculty and students in Religion and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and a number of activities are going on this week (see below) in conjunction with the performances of her work at the CFA Theater.

Morgan is a creative researcher… the movement and music in her work comes out of deep exploration and experimentation. In HEAVEN, she researches perfection: What is the nature of both corporeal and ecstatic perfection present in religious practices, and how does it manifest itself? When I saw the piece at P.S. 122 last November, I was struck by the power of her dancers and the sense of ensemble that she creates onstage, particularly integrating the musicians from the indie rock band, Low, with her company. While Morgan is exploring religious practices, she is also showing us the ritualistic power of dance and the emotional, physical and communal power of what a group of performers can achieve together.

To read more, visit the CFA Blog

City Planner's Case Against Public Bar & Grill

These are the comments filed by the city's Department of Planning, Conservation and Development against a request for improvements by Public Bar & Grill

This establishment received special exception approval on October 11, 2006. During the hearing on September 27, 2006, I indicated the following:

“Currently, the downtown has excellent restaurants but if you are not going to the movies, there isn’t too much to do after dinner. The concept proposed would build off of those coming out of the restaurants and looking for a full evening experience. The applicant has experience running a high-end nightclub/martini bar in Farmington and feels there is a strong market in our downtown.  The concept proposed would be excellent for our downtown. My main concern would be deviations from the proposal, which could be negative for the downtown. We do not want to create a nightclub district like Union Station in Hartford or downtown Springfield but we do want to use nightclubs in a limited manner to provide after dinner venues for a drink and entertainment.”

The Commission agreed with my conclusion and to insure compliance, the Commission approved the use with the following conditions:

“Granted a Special Exception to convert a portion of an existing vacant retail building located at 337-351 Main Street to a new use as a nightclub to be known as Bungalow with the condition that: 1) The Special Exception form filed on the land records shall reference the business plan and the discussions at the public hearing and require that any change in concept be approved as a new Special Exception by the Planning and Zoning Commission; 2) Any transfer in the liquor license shall be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission prior to sign off; 3) Repeated Public Health or Fire Code violations and/or noise ordinance violations in excess of three (3) per year will constitute a violation of the approved Special Exception; and 4) Failure to comply with any of the above terms and conditions shall constitute a violation of the Special Exception and allow the Commission to revoke such permit pursuant to Section 44.07 of the Middletown Zoning Code.”

The approval included a very specific floor plan as displayed in Exhibit A. The floor plan approved has an area of 17.2’x96’ or approximately 1,632 sq. ft. The Fire Marshal reviewed the floor plan and set a maximum occupancy of 128 people.

2010 Request
This is a request to approve a floor plan of 3,055 sq. ft. or a 1,423 sq ft. expansion of the approved floor plan, after the fact. The expansion constitutes an 87% increase in the original approval. Exhibit B is the applicant’s request. The Fire Marshall indicates the maximum occupancy for the new floor plan is 254. I have requested a more professionally prepared floor plan, to date nothing has been submitted.

2009 Violation
In late November of 2009 it was brought to our attention that the establishment had undertaken interior renovations to expand the floor plan. Prior to our department becoming aware of the situation, the applicant had applied for a building permit for interior renovations. The applicant was notified that they had delinquent taxes and a building permit could not be issued. Nevertheless, the construction went forward without zoning approval and without a building permit.

A review of their operation indicates that at some point in time the bar expanded into the adjacent unused space as “overflow”. Those that have frequented the establishment have indicated to me that the overflow space was unfinished with “picnic tables”.

In November of 2009 the owners undertook significant renovations to the overflow space without any permits. The renovations included new walls, floor and doors, a stage, elevated DJ booth,  2nd bar, seating,  sound system and associated electrical and plumbing work to create a new lounge area.

On December 1, 2009 this office issued a Cease & Desist order for failure to comply with the conditions of the original approval.

On December 3, 2009 the applicant appealed that order to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

On December 24, 2009 they applied to the Planning and Zoning Commission for an expansion/modification of their special exception.

First it has to be determined if the establishment has been in compliance with its original special exception approval prior to considering an expansion of that approval. The original special exception included a condition that tied the approval to the business plan and the discussion at the public hearing in 2006.  Any change in concept needed to be approved by P&Z.

The original approval included a business plan. The business plan indicated in part:

“The revitalization of the downtown represents a unique opportunity for an upscale bar.”

“The proposed bar-tentatively named “Bungalow” will provide a local solution to the lack of night time entertainment and live music geared toward the 25-45 age group”

“One of our main focuses is to get involved with the community by hosting charity events and fundraisers and to provide a place where business professionals can meet and enjoy a relaxing upscale atmosphere.”

“Bungalow will specialize in live music entertainment (karaoke, Jazz bands, acoustic bands, etc.)”

“Our Goal is to provide a comfortable and welcoming environment as well as a unique, exciting bar experience. The upscale bar will feature...”

“The focus of the bar’s design will be to create a highly social atmosphere. This will be achieved through the placement of couches, booth seating, and quieter lounge area in the back of the bar away from the crowd.”

The hearing occurred on September 27, 2006. The hearing was closed that night and tabled to October 11, 2006. The record for the October 11th meeting includes a summary of the concerns at the public hearing.

“The concerns of the last meeting were as follows:

·         Need for actual floor plan. Attached is the final floor plan.

·         Occupancy. Attached is an email from the Fire Marshall indicating an occupancy limit between 100-128 people.

·         Noise. The applicant indicated entertainment would not be until approximately 10 p.m., after the restaurant’s peak time. He further indicated most would be acoustic with no amplification.

·         Downtown Business District. The applicant has met with the Downtown Manager a few times and has requested a letter of support. Both the Chamber and the Downtown District have verbally indicated “they are in full support.”

Based on the applicant’s presentation and those assurances, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the application with the conditions as previously stated.

The concept has certainly changed from what the Commission originally approved. In order to understand the type of establishment that exists, I asked for a listing of the police reports for the property. Attached are the police reports from June 26, 2008 to November 29, 2009. There have been seventy-two (72) reports in seventeen (17) months at that address.

On December 28, 2009, I began hearing rumors about a disturbance at the establishment on Saturday night, December 26, 2009. I requested a copy of the police report. It is very troubling to read about what occurred at the establishment and what the Police had to deal with. The incident was reported to the State Liquor Control Commission. The Commissioner of Liquor Control sent a letter suspending the liquor license indefinitely as quoted in the attached press release (see attached documents).

In an attempt to reinstate their license, the applicant met with the State Liquor Control Commission and the police. The attached letter from LT Desmond of the Middletown Police Department outlines what the Police Department recommended as conditions to the reinstatement of the liquor license. On January 15, 2010 the liquor license was reinstated with all of the Police Department conditions.

The cease and desist was issued on December 1, 2009. The applicant appealed to the ZBA to remain open. Remaining open was with the understanding the Fire Marshal had to sign off, the sound system in the new area would be removed and the bar in the new area would not be stocked or utilized.

Upon information and belief, the applicant re-opened on January 15, 2010 and used the new bar and sound system in the new area, which is a direct violation of the original cease and desist. The Zoning Enforcement Officer inspected the establishment on January 19th and confirmed that the new bar was fully stocked.

In 2006 as a part of the public hearing I indicated:

We do not want to create a nightclub district like Union Station in Hartford or downtown Springfield but we do want to use nightclubs in a limited manner to provide after dinner venues for a drink and entertainment.”

The applicants understood the concern and tailored their proposal and presentation to address the concern. The Commission placed strict conditions on the approval to ensure that the establishment would be what the applicants represented at the public hearing.

The city now has, on its Main Street, a bar with a capacity of 254, a bar which is required to hire two (2) police officers and four (4) bouncers with bright yellow or orange security T shirts, required to have a metal detecting wand at the front door, and security cameras at the front and back doors. 

I don’t believe the Commission would have approved such an establishment in 2006. The concept has changed without P&Z approval and the establishment was expanded without P&Z approval.

It is clear to me that the owners are unable to control the crowds that result from the new concept and the expanded floor plan. An establishment that is required, by the State Liquor Commission, to hire police officers and security guards and buy security cameras and metal detectors is bound to cause problems for our Main Street.

I recommend you deny this request and instruct the applicant to dismantle the new “lounge area” and return their operation to their original approval with a 17.2’x96’ floor plan.