Remember that proposed commercial development on Washington Street that everyone got all worked up about last semester? Thought it was doomed when Wesleyan pulled out of the project, opting not to relocate its bookstore?
Think again. According to the Courant, dueling zone change requests have been filed for the neighborhoods surrounding Wesleyan, including that strip on Washington Street where the development would be located. Both seek to change portions of the “mixed-use” and “institutional” development zoning regulations. One of the requests comes from Centerplan developer Robert Landino, who presented the development at an open forum in November and was met with fierce community resistance. The other comes from Pearl Street resident Ed McKeon, an avowed opponent of what he calls a “cookie-cutter strip mall with carbon-copy National Chains.”
As the Courant explains it, Landino’s zone request seeks to permit a building with retail or restaurant space on the first floor, below office or residential spaces:
Attorney Ralph Wilson has filed a request on behalf of Landino, the president of Centerplan Companies who announced preliminary plans in November for a retail development on Washington Street between Pearl and High streets.
On the basis of strong communitysentiment, Wesleyan has decided not to relocate its bookstore to Washington Street. Objections to the bookstore relocation (and planned development) included concerns about pedestrian safety, increased traffic, and disruption of the residential neighborhood. Wesleyan had signed a non-binding agreement with the developer, Centerplan Companies, to give the University the opportunity to discuss the proposal with its community before reaching any conclusions. On November 27, Wesleyan held an open forum on the proposed relocation, and the views of faculty, staff, students and neighbors from Middletown who participated were strongly against the proposal. Wesleyan also sought and received community input on a blog it created about the proposed relocation, and Wesleyan administrators received emails from and held conversations with individuals and campus groups.
According to WSA Finance and Facilities Committee Chair Andrew Trexler ’14, he and WSA Pres Zachary Malter ’13met with Peters and Topshe last week and “conveyed a broad range of student opinion, which was predominantly opposed to the move and the development.”
Middletown to CenterPlan: “I think this is just La La Land!”
Speaking of Tuesday’s open forum regarding the proposed Wesleyan bookstore relocation (liveblog here, additional coverage here), turns out our comrades over at the Middletown Eye managed to film the entire discussion, beginning with a presentation from developers CenterPlan and continuing with a whole barrage of comments from pissed off community members. Thanks, Middletown Eye!
You can check out a “highlight reel” courtesy of the Eyehere. My personal favorite clip, in which a bearded community member begins laughing and then stands up and volunteers to run for office to oppose the development, appears above. “I’ll do that!” he warns. “You watch.” A close second is this one, in which a rather disgruntled longtime Middletown resident Professor of Music Neely Bruce tells the CEO of CenterPlan that he’s living “in La La Land.”
Watch footage of the entire proceedings (it’s about 90 minutes total) below and past the jump. More on the discussion here.
Ed Thorndike ’89: “Closing is not something that we view as an option.”
Yesterday I liveblogged an open community forum in PAC 001 regarding the proposed Washington Street commercial development and Wesleyan bookstore relocation. Considering recent controversy, I expected to hear some forceful arguments from community members. My expectations were exceeded. If you missed the 90-minute discussion, a quick glance at the liveblog coverage might hint at the passion with which students, faculty, alumni, and Middletown residents spoke out against the proposal. Some of the major complaints addressed traffic concerns, Washington Street safety, threats to local businesses, whether or not downtown really needs national chains, disregard for historic structures, permanent changes to zoning laws, Red & Black Cafe, skepticism towards the developers’ stated desire for “linkage” and “community,” and, ultimately, the character of downtown Middletown itself. Succinctly put, there’s a lot wrapped up in this proposal.
Inspired by many of the voices expressed at the forum, I stuck around afterwards to interview a few of the more outspoken community members. Some brief video statements appear past the jump. They feature two Wesleyan alumni (both of whom live and work in Middletown) and one current professor.
If my reporting seems one-sided—admittedly, I’m no fan of the proposal myself—it’s worth clarifying that of the 150 or more attendees at this forum, not one spoke up in favor of the development. Nobody seemed to like the idea. Nobody seemed to believe it will provide the “linkage” and “community engagement” it’s supposed to offer.
Greetings from PAC 001, where an open forum on the proposed bookstore relocation is about to begin. Seats are filling up quickly; so far I spot about 20 or 30 community members, a suited Centerplan representative, a small handful of students, and one or two professors (including Susanne Fusso, famed Professor of Russian Language and Literature). The average age in this room is probably well over 35, which is interesting. Where are all the students? (Update: As of the start of the forum, many more students have streamed in, and there are probably well over 130 people here, of pretty much all ages.)
Community members both inside and outside of Wesleyan’s campus have weighed in on the proposed development. Many, like Wesleyan alum and parent Jen Alexander ’88 and Red & Black owner Ed Thorndike ’89, are against it. Mayor Drew, on the other hand, is all for it, mostly on the grounds of job creation. If recent comments are any indication, there will be some strong views raised at this forum.
Wesleying’s liveblog coverage begins past the jump.
Though Mayor Dan Drew spoke today in approval of the project, saying it would bring new shoppers into Middletown, an editorial in the Middletown Eye by Wesleyan alum and local Wesleyan parent Jen Alexander ’88—originally entitled “Don’t Bring That Horse Inside City Gates,” apparently—thinks just the opposite. She sees the structure as a 10,000 sq. ft behemoth that, with its national chains like Starbucks and Chipotle, would mainly bring people in from the highway and back. Middletown has had a rough history with nationally branded retail; the departure of Sears and Woolworth’s from Main Street many years ago, according to Alexander, led to a long period of blight. Now that Middletown has a rich variety of independent businesses, especially coffee shops like Klekolo, “it would be a shame if Wesleyan—dear, independent, iconoclastic Wesleyan—was the backer that started us back on the road to Anywhereville, after we’ve come so far,” Alexander writes.
The University is considering a proposal to move the campus bookstore to a new development on Washington Street. The proposal was unveiled publicly in a university blog by Joyce Topshe, Associate Vice President for Facilities, and Nathan Peters, Associate Vice President for Finance.
The proposed location is on the “north side (across the street from Russell House) of Washington Street between High Street and Pearl Street”, according to Peters. One issue with this location is the danger for pedestrians crossing Washington Street, which is a heavily trafficked road that has had fatal accidents recently, according to a commenter on the relocation blog.
According to the post, the bookstore will be the anchor tenant for a complex that will “include national branded retail and restaurant tenants as well as local businesses.” Additionally, the bookstore vendor may change from Follett to another company. The administration sees the move as a possible way to cut overhead costs and improve relations with the Middletown community.
There will be an open forum on Tuesday, November 27, at 4:30 in 41 Wyllys, room 112 to discuss the relocation and the following questions: