To the Editor:
Middletown has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before us. Our riverfront is an urban treasure that we mostly lost in the mid-20th century with the construction of both Route 9 and the sewage treatment plant on River Road, just south of Harbor Park. Now we can recover a large section of waterfront, but first we have to pass the $13 million referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.
This will authorize the city to buy a share of the Mattabassett District sewage treatment plant in Cromwell. Then we can decommission the River Road plant sometime in the next decade, opening up the whole area known as “South Cove” for recreation, as well as residential and commercial redevelopment. We have to get this right!
At a program meeting of the Jonah Center for Earth and Art on Oct. 11, Middletown’s Director of Planning, Conservation and Development Bill Warner presented a slideshow and talk on the complex issues involved. South Cove comprises the area on both sides of River Road between Union Street and Eastern Drive.
In addition to the sewage treatment plant, there is also the Omo Superfund site — once a large wetland that became a city landfill by the 1950s. The contamination is serious, but it can be remediated. Vehicle access is also a problem, but the area has a rail line running through it that could be put to creative reuse.
Views of downtown Middletown and the Arrigoni Bridge from this area are spectacular, and there is an elevated area out of the floodplain that could be the site of high-end waterfront housing. As Director Warner explained, the challenges are real, but the opportunities are huge.
The importance of this chance to regain our city’s connection to the river has been emphasized by our local politicians (both Republicans and Democrats), business leaders, environmentalists, and recreation enthusiasts alike. We can’t let this opportunity slip away. But again, first we have to pass the referendum to join the Mattabassett District. Then we must develop a compelling vision and plan that is far-sighted, creative, and economically viable as a worthy legacy for future generations.
Some critical issues raised by Bill Warner are: How exactly do we want this property to be used? How can we ensure that the development of South Cove will complement and not compete with our newly revitalized Main Street? Will Route 9 and the Route 17 connector be reconfigured by the State Department of Transportation in the next decade or so?
How will that reconfiguration impact South Cove, and what should that reconfiguration look like? How and to what extent do we want to bring cars into the area? How much parking should we provide, and where? How could a mix of residential and commercial development enhance the area? How can the existing rail line be utilized and incorporated into the vision?
Several members of the public (including Beth Emery and Linda Bowers) emphasized the opportunities for walking, kayaking, cycling, and cultural events that a linear park along the river would afford if automobile traffic is properly managed or kept to a minimum. Jennifer Alexander held up the example of Chicago’s Millennium Park as a site for cultural events of many kinds, and Tom Hibbard of the Harbor Improvement Agency reminded everyone that Middletown still lacks a public boat launch and its own marina.
It isn’t difficult to think of many ways that South Cove could attract visitors from all over the state.
Vote "yes" on the referendum to join the Mattabassett District so we can get the process started. It’s an opportunity too promising and rare to miss.