Monday, December 10, 2007

Bye bye Maromas

I was sitting, waiting for the final WESU training session to begin, when I asked David Bauer, who was sitting next to me, and is host of the Bauer Hour on WESU (Monday, 4pm), and a town council member, what he thought of the plan to build an Army Reserve Training Center in Middletown.

"I'm a big Maromas person," Bauer said, referring to the wild Southeastern tract of hilly land that fronts the Connecticut River in Middletown. "Once they put sewer and water out there, it will open development all along that corridor, and a lot of open space will be consumed."

He also indicated that the published plan of development for Middletown does not include running sewer and water along that particular corridor.

When I first read of the plans for the Army Reserve base, I was skeptical. First of all, people in town who were saying "it's great for Middletown," seem to be the people I trust least on the issue. It's being sold as a job generator, and a boon for development. Well, it will create 150 jobs, and that, likely is a good thing. But that has to be balanced against the fact that no tax dollars will be accrued (it will be federal property, and thereby exempt from taxation), yet plenty of infrastructure dollars will eventually have to be spent attending to routine maintenance of that corridor. And, in general (no pun intended), I'm not an advocate of expanding the military industrial complex.

In terms of the kind of development to expect, I've been to a few "base towns" and my first impression is that the kind of businesses that spring up around military bases are fast food restaurants, discount stores, liquor stores, cheap apartments and, as one town official euphemistically put it, "nightspots" (it's kind of like calling a lap-dance "physical therapy.")

So the questions remain; does the city even have the right to say "no" to the feds, even if we had the will to reject them?; is this the kind of development that's right for Middletown?; how will this particular development affect the rugged open space of Maromas, and how will it influence even more development of Middletown's wild corner?; does Middletown need one more giant tax-exempt property when we are swamped with state hospitals, and correction facilities?; what control would the city have over development on a federal site?; and, will the town pursue one more short-term development plan without fully considering the long-term effects of the development?

Likely no one has the answers to any of these questions yet, but it would be great to know that our city leaders were at least considering them. An army base is not a Whole Foods or a Blue Back Square. Not many folks, excepting the military staff training there, are going to decide to live in, or visit Middletown because it's home to an Army Reserve Base.

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