Middletown Patch is beginning a new meet-the-candidates series that allows voters to learn a little bit about the men and women running for public office this November.
Stephen H. Devoto, 53, is running for Middletown Planning and Zoning.
Education: Ph.D., The Rockefeller University; B.A. Haverford College
Work: Professor of Biology, Wesleyan University
Why do you want to hold public office in Middletown? The two most important activities of city government are education and land use regulation.
Other city actions like snow removal, public safety, and water supply are obviously important, but their impact rarely extends beyond the lifecycle of an election. In contrast, decisions on how land can be used shape the nature of our city for generations to come.
The future of the land along the river, the future of Newfield, South Main, and Washington Streets, the future of open space around Mt. Higby and in Maromas, the fate of the vacant Aetna lot, these are all dependent on actions by Planning and Zoning. In fact, there is no neighborhood community, no business district, and no industrial area anywhere in our city that will not be impacted by future municipal decisions on how land can be used. The municipal agency charged with making these decisions is the Planning and Zoning Commission.
I am running for Planning and Zoning Commissioner because I want to see our city's vitality enhanced by smart and fair land use decisions that benefit all of the city. I love Middletown.
What experience do you bring to the table? I have taken the time to educate myself about land use regulation and decision making process in our city. During the past 4 years, I have been to 50 out of 64 total Planning and Zoning Commission meetings. I have also attended many Inland Wetlands meetings. During the past 15 years, I have been very active in the Westfield Residents Association, monitoring land use decisions in Westfield. I was instrumental in the effort to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move its proposed training facility from a small rural road, Boardman Lane, to land in an industrial part of the city, at the intersection of Smith Street and Industrial Park Boulevard.
What do you think the town's most pressing issue is? Zoning decisions have an immediate impact on life in our city. The two most common types of decisions are on applications to subdivide a parcel of land into multiple lots for the purpose of building houses or businesses, and on applications for "special exceptions", to allow land to be used in a way that is not written into the zoning code as a right.
My goal is to evaluate zoning applications based on what's best for ALL of Middletown's residents, because commercial, business, and residential developments usually have an impact far beyond a single lot. For example:
Westfield has the vast and vacant Aetna property, whose development will dramatically increase our city's tax base and jobs, and change traffic and the quality of life for surrounding residential areas.
Newfield Street (zoned NPC) is home to industry, car dealers, some small stores and salons, apartment complexes, and the High School, and is also a traffic route to Cromwell and Route 9 north.
South Main and Washington Streets include centers of commerce, small offices, and residential neighborhoods.
Maromas mixes farms, residences, industry, and a natural environment that residents from all over the city explore and enjoy.
Riverfront development south of Harbor Park could lead to public spaces that will be used with pride by all city residents.
My decisions on specific development applications will take into account not only the relevant laws, the tax base, traffic, safety, and the appropriateness for the neighborhood, but also the impact on quality of life for all residents. They will not be based on short term profits or the desire to do something (anything!) with every lot right now. Finally, my evaluation will take into account the impact on future Middletown, I will always vote to improve the livability of our great city.
I will encourage community input into all decisions. First, I would carefully weigh the deliberations of the Conservation Commission and the Design Review and Historic Preservation Board. These two agencies are advisory to Planning and Zoning, but they are too often completely ignored. Second, I would encourage further community input by asking every developer, "How did you solicit the input of the neighboring community?" Many decisions by the P&Z are on applications that are not required to post signs informing neighbors, and too often the Commission is faced with a confrontational situation in which the community residents are fighting against a developer. This is good for neither the developer nor the community.
Finally, for every decision I will provide a clear explanation to the community as well as to the developer. I will inevitably make decisions that somebody will disagree with, but there will never be decisions that I do not explain. Trust in Planning and Zoning decisions is dependent on the transparency and accountability of every Commissioner.
By common sense (and state law), the short term zoning code and zoning decisions must be consistent with the principles of a long term plan for the city, known as the Plan of Conservation and Development. Unfortunately, in the past two years, the Commission has abdicated long term planning. Too often, the Commission has approved zoning code text changes after a discussion that focused on one developer's plans for one specific lot.
I will revitalize open discussions about the long-term planning of Middletown. Long-term planning should not be relegated to a short burst of discussion every 10 years, it should be an ongoing process. I propose that some of the regularly scheduled meetings include on the agenda specific aspects of the city's long term plan. These should be on universal issues (for example, what is the city's optimal ratio of industrial, residential, agricultural, commercial, and recreational land?), as well as on regional issues (for example, what should the future of Newfield Street be?).
By holding regularly scheduled meetings devoted to long term planning, the Commission will provide a natural venue for considering the impact of zoning code changes on all of Middletown.
What do you love most about Middletown? I can’t restrict myself to one thing! Where else could I live on a farm, commute by bicycle to a world class university, enjoy the stimulation of a vibrant urban area, hike in the spectacular nature of Maromas and Mt. Higby, and kayak on the great Connecticut River!
What do you like to do for fun? I like to jog on the trails around Mt. Higby, grow fruits, vegetables, and hops, and care for our farm animals. When I leave the city, I like to climb mountains and ski. But above all else, the most fun I have is laughing and playing with my children.
How can residents keep up with you? Residents can follow my campaign on facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/StephenDevoto. They can also sign up for regular campaign updates via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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