Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Rube Goldberg North End public relations machine

It's now obvious that the developer and the town planner are waging a public relations war to get the citizens of Middletown on board with the Liberty Square development, before it comes before the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The public relations is a bit clumsy when we have our town planner saying: "We needed to have an open and well-lit parking lot because of the perception and reality of crime in the area."

Again, I'm totally in favor of commercial/retail on that site. And the proposed plan is good, but as many people have said, it isn't perfect. And from my perspective, it's got some real problems that could easily be corrected.

I'm not looking for perfect, I'm just looking for the city to ask the developer to make some relatively small alterations to make it safe for pedestrians, and the best for Middletown's Main Street streetscape.

Here's what I think needs to be done:

1. Delete the entrance and exit driveway which will cross Main Street. Our town planner says correctly that the new driveway (curb cut), will be a single driveway replacing three currently on the property. What he doesn't say is that two of the three on the property now are rarely used, and that in consolidating three down to one, it will actually increase traffic in the one driveway. In addition, a retail store and business offices will further increase the traffic. All of which will cross Main Street, which already has regular foot traffic, and where we hope to encourage more. It's a formula for a car vs. pedestrian accident.

Solution: Make exit and entrances over the less-pedestrian traveled Liberty Street. The affected area of Liberty Street could be widened to make it a two-way street for entrance and exit from the new parking area.

2. Do not place surface parking adjacent to the Main Street sidewalk. Almost universally, progressive urban planners, especially those who value pedestrian traffic on main downtown thoroughfares, indicate that surface parking adjacent to sidewalks is extremely detrimental to luring foot traffic. Such surface parking also interrupts the kind of streetscape where buildings line a steet to draw pedestrians from store front to store front. A 100ft gap will be created on Main Street, and decorative walls and buffer plantings do not solve the problem.

Solution: A simple re-design of the building from a square to a rectangle will solve the problem.

3. Do not replace a historically-significant building with 10 blacktop spaces in a surface parking lot. The building at 9 Liberty is the former Methodist Chapel. It's 150 years old and is fully-inventoried in the National Register of Historic places. The town plans to move the building to Rapallo Avenue to create new residential space. Fine, if the building were not to be replaced with blacktop.

Solution: Leave the building where it is, and rehab it for residence at the location.

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