On Wednesday, February 13, Middletown's Planning and Zoning Commission will entertain a proposal to change Middletown's MX zone (mixed-use residential) to include construction of high-volume, fast food, drive-thru restaurants and retail stores.
Currently, the MX zone allows for residential buildings, and low-volume commercial development like offices, private clubs and neighborhood stores. The proposed change is a monumental leap into commercial development that is likely to have a significant negative impact on traffic, air quality, noise pollution and the character of residential neighborhoods in Middletown.
What's more, MX zoning is used for properties zoned ID (Institutional Development), when the institution that owns those properties sells, or no longer controls them. So, properties formerly owned by Wesleyan University, or Middlesex Hospital are actually governed by the MX zone.
So, for example, the lovely stretch of historically significant homes along Washington Street, from Jackson to Wetmore, most of which is in the National Registry of Historic Places, listed as the Washington Street Historic District, would suddenly be open to the likes of Burger King, KFC, Papa John's, Subway and other such fast food outlets which rely on drive-thru windows.
One of those homes, on the Eastern-most border of the Historic District, is the Reverend E. Campion Acheson House, built in 1916, where Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State under President Harry Truman, lived.
That house is currently occupied by Wesleyan University, and more particularly by students, who live there in a program house called Buddhist House.
But a perfect storm arises. Wesleyan University has made it known that they are anxious to sell all their property North of Washington Steet (including several homes used as Wesleyan residences), and this change in zoning will come before Middletown's Zoning Commission. If it passes, one may soon be able to stand in the Indian Hill burying ground, and gaze across the street not to a handsome Neo-Classical Revival home, but, a Red Lobster or an Olive Garden.
You've got my sympathy if you enjoy cheap, mediocre corporate seafood, and are smitten by the plastic charm of Red Lobster, but you won't convince me that another corporate chain will do anything positive for the character, or the economy of Middletown.
I encourage you to attend the planning and zoning meeting, and to make your opinion known. For more information, check out No Strip Mall, No Wrecking Ball.
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The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission meets Wednesday, February 13, 7 PM, in City Hall's Council Chambers to deliberate two significant zoning proposals.