(Pearse Pinch photo)
The Army Corp of Engineers met with the public at Middletown City Hall tonight to announce that they have chosen a site in Westfield for their Army Reserve Training Center. The 185,000 sq. ft. building, and the 45,000 sq. yds. of parking, will be located on Boardman Lane, West of Middle St.
The site is zoned industrial, and passes most of the criteria for the Army's selection of it as a buildable parcel. The Army rejected sites at Saybrook Road, River Road, Tollgate Road, Aircraft Road, Freeman Road, Middle and Bell Streets, and the Pratt and Whitney property.
The decision by the Army spares Maromas, despite preliminary reports to the opposite, and most in the crowd were happy to hear that a site completely across town was chosen. In fact, several in the room thanked the Army for changing sites.
However, the Army representatives, led by the affable Diane McCartin, refused to consider yet another public meeting to address concerns of the residents of Westfield. This, despite the fact that the Army could have publicized their site selection, and the meeting itself, to those residents who would be affected, and didn't.
The site is probably the best Middletown could hope for, if, in fact, the Center must be built in Middletown. Still, the land, owned by a holding company called Middle Boardman Associates, is 125,ooo square feet of commercial land which will be taken off the market by an arm of the federal government which will not ever pay a cent of taxes to the city.
In fact, while the Army Corps, boast of economic benefits to Middletown, as I said at the meeting, the Center will likely bring negligible monetary benefits to town. Several dozen jobs may be created, but the Center, which will sit on land bordering Meriden and Cromwell, will likely benefit those towns as much as Middletown, and they will not bear the infrastructure costs.
I was a pariah at the meeting for suggesting that the Training Center will be a burden to Middletown, but I think there's plenty of evidence to suggest it will. Non-taxable land in the hands of the military, which means that Middletown will have absolutely no regulatory control of the site once it is transferred to Army hands.
It's not unpatriotic to suggest that a federal facility can be a burden. It's not unrealistic to suggest that yet another piece of unproductive property on city rolls is a liability. It's not ungrateful to suggest that the Army is vague in producing details of its plan, and that, in the end, neither the Army, nor the Federal government have been champions of candor and the truth.
It is hard to imagine ANY economic benefits to Middletown from an army base on Boardman Lane (beyond perhaps some very short term construction jobs). The sum total of all commerce in that area of town is one small Chinese restaurant open for lunch on weekdays. If the army folks go somewhere for lunch, a newspaper, whatever, they will certainly go to Cromwell, one exit north on 91. If the army and/or Middletown try to convince us they will send their soldiers to downtown Middletown for lunch, they will be further burdening small town streets (Country Club Road, Smith Street) that are not suited for through traffic.
A Maromas base would have devastated open space, but at least the people would have shopped downtown.
This site may make perfect sense for the army, but it offers no benefits to Middletown, and takes prime property off the tax roll.
Among all the bad choices, the Army has chosen! And, of course, it is very sad to see a farm, even a scrappy little 88 acres of meadows, wetlands and grazing land farm, in an industrial zone, disappear into the maw of a Giant Army Base. All because some fool decided to look nowhere else.
Ms. McCartin doesn't look quite so affable in that photo as she did the first time she visited Middletown...
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