As you may know, a local developer, Centerplan (they developed the Rite Aid building on Main Street), has proposed to build a “mini-mall” development on Washington Street, on the block between Pearl and High, across the street from the Russell House. The mayor, and the Chamber of Commerce are backing the plan, and Wesleyan has signed on, in principal so that the developer may seek financing. Wesleyan is seriously considering relocating their bookstore from Broad Street, and allowing Barnes & Noble to take over the operation. The “mini-mall” would stand three stories tall, and would also feature a Starbucks, a Chipotle Mexican restaurant, and other retail, plus offices on the upper floors.
I vigorously oppose the plan. I hope you will join me in protesting the creation of this commercial strip on what is now a residential block, and that you will let your colleagues at Wesleyan, and city leaders know that you oppose another strip mall in Middletown so close to Main Street.
Wesleyan is holding a “community forum” Tuesday (November 27, at 4:30 pm in PAC001) and I encourage you to attend to learn more and to speak your mind.
In short, here are my reasons for opposing the plan:
- It will permanently alter the character of a unique block of vintage residences that is now a Middletown and Wesleyan gateway
- It will destroy unique, one-of-a-kind, historic residential buildings
- It will destroy existing housing stock
- It will transform a space filled with diverse, architecturally significant buildings, greenspace, gardens and mature trees, with a concrete and steel modern structure
- It will replace space to live with space designed for materialistic gain
- It will increase traffic, and increase the risk of accidents. Access the to proposed parking lots and drive-in windows will cause hundreds of cars per day to cross sidewalks where we and our children walk and play. Access will likely be through new driveways on Pearl and High Streets
- The effects of the new development will reverberate for blocks affecting the adjoining properties on High, Pearl, Lincoln and for blocks around. The development will require early morning truck deliveries, new dumpsters, additional traffic, exhaust and air conditioning fans, lighting, illuminated signage and all the negative smells, sights and sounds associated with restaurant, office and retail development
- The block is not zoned for the development, and a zoning change, if granted is permanent. If the developer does not build, or in the future if the property is sold, the zone remains changed. The rezoned property could host convenience stores, fast food restaurants, drug stores, dollar stores and other such like
- The development will mark the beginning of an extension of the commercial strip on Washington from Newfield Street to Main. This zoning change, if granted, would open the door for further zoning changes along Washington, and this Eastern section would begin to look more like the development West of the railroad crossing. Wesleyan is considering, or in the process of, selling other residential structures on Washington Street
- The development hurts Main Street and established Main Street businesses. Our locally-owned, and independent coffee shops and restaurants will now have to compete with powerful national chains. If the proponents of development are serious about development to help downtown, they should concentrate their efforts on building lots and available real estate on Main Street
- The development does not encourage a better connection between Wesleyan students and downtown. In fact it discourages students from exploring downtown
- National chains do not have loyalties to our community. National chains exist to serve the needs of the corporate owners. National chains are not permanent. Starbucks closed hundreds of shops nationally within the past five years when particular locations proved not profitable enough. Barnes & Noble is a bookstore. Bookstores are failing because of online competition (think of what happened to Borders). If market forces cause these chains to move, or close, the space would be open for other, less prestigious, restaurants and retail
- New jobs are promised, but they will largely be low-paying, part-time jobs with no permanence or benefits
- The new owners and occupants will pay taxes, but the new revenue must be measured against an increase in infrastructure demands, and the possibility that the city will offer tax concessions
- A three-story, retail and office development is, simply, out-of-place in the neighborhood.
For these reasons, and others, I oppose the decision to develop this block. I encourage the Wesleyan community to speak out against this development. The developer needs Wesleyan to guarantee an “education purpose” to the development, to ensure patronage and to use its influence to move the project forward.
I encourage residents to oppose the decision because it’s bad for the neighborhood, bad for downtown, bad for traffic and a negative incentive to live downtown.
I will be directly influenced by the decision to develop this property. Right now, I look from my front porch and see a nineteenth-century residence. If developed I will see a strip mall which will decrease the value of my property. You may want to dismiss my opposition as a case of NIMBY, but I ask you to consider whether this kind of development would be welcome around the corner from you.
Please pass this along to anyone you think will benefit, and please oppose the proposed strip-mall development three block from Middletown’s vital Main Street.