Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Jarjura Problems

With the assorted mayoral campaigns starting up, questions about Mayor Jarjura's ethics are being loudly voiced. Two articles appeared in today's newspaper. The first is a continuation of a story printed earlier in the week about his chief-of-staff, Sheila O'Malley. O'Malley apparently lives in Watertown, but her job requires her to be a Waterbury resident. She supposedly rents a Waterbury condo from the mayor, who disavowes any knowledge of her residency there (the previous article wrote that he saw the lease, nothing about rent payments or actual residency). While conspiracy to falsify residency is low on the list of unethical behavior, it still gives me the creeps. If you're willing to flout the law in one area, why not another?

O'Malley has announced her resignation from her position, and Jarjura has announced that he wants to give her the new project manager job. Creation of the project manager job was recommended by the oversight board, and it is supposed to be a civil service job. Applications for the job have already been submitted. Certainly I can understand if Jarjura has personally reviewed all of those applications and feels that O'Malley is the best candidate for the position, but it sounds like he just wants to make sure his friend still has a job. And, presumably, the mayor is not solely responsible for hiring a new project manager.

Meanwhile, members of opposing parties are accusing Jarjura of the real estate world's equivalent of insider trading. Jarjura claims he is doing something good for the city, investing in the city, by purchasing land near Costco to build more big box stores. The accusation is that he bought the land because he knew, before anyone else did, that land across the street was also going to be developed. Personally, my only gripe about this story is Jarjura's belief that big box stores near Cheshire will benefit Waterbury. They'll take away some of our last remaining woodlands and increase traffic that's already bad enough. If he really wants to be a city benefactor, why doesn't he help improve what we already have?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mystery Birds

I thought this was a nuthatch, but some quick research showed that it's a Tufted Titmouse. It's fairly shy, which is why I don't have a good shot of it.

I'm not sure what this other bird is. Five of them showed up together today. They keep fighting with the sparrows. From some angles, they look a little like the sparrows, but they are definitely something different.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

DItka in Waterbury

I'm not a sports fan (except for soccer), but I do have a vague idea about who Mike Ditka is. The latest buzz in town (as reported in last Tuesday's paper) is that Ditka has been seen several times eating dinner at Waterbury's City Hall Cafe. He's also been seen eating at Dioro's. This is a great thing for downtown dining. More people will come downtown if there's a chance they might get to see a celebrity. The more people we have downtown, the more likely it is that downtown will flourish. Anybody know any other celebrities who'd be willing to put in a few guest appearances downtown?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

City Hall flooded again

According to today's paper, someone managed to walk into the basement of the city hall building and removed a six-foot long copper pipe, causing the basement to flood. This is the height of absurdity. Maybe there should be a little more security in the building. Heck, even the newspaper has better security than City Hall. Even just a reception desk in the front lobby would be a big help with building security, and it would be a big help for people trying to find the office they're looking for.

Friday, January 19, 2007

HoJo's Goes

Today's Republican-American reported that the Howard Johnson's restaurant in Waterbury is being forced to close and dismantle after 49 years. Apparently the brand owners will be launching new product lines in the next couple of years, and they don't like the way this franchise's owners run their business. The paper also reported that there are only three other HoJo's in the country.

This is a landmark not just for Waterbury, but for the rest of the nation as well. The buildings had a distinctive retro-futuristic style that made them visually compelling. There are probably thousands of people who have happy memories of going to HoJo's as a teenager for a burger and shake.

Presumably the franchise owners can still operate a restaurant in that building, so long as they make some major changes (new menus, new distributors). They are supposed to remove all trademark images--does that mean the turquoise spire has to come down?

Monday, January 15, 2007

City Parks

An article in today's Republican-American stated that the city will be creating a master plan for the parks. They'll be looking for feedback from city residents:

Four-page questionnaires on what residents want from city parks will be available at the park offices at 2 Kendrick Ave., Mayor Michael J. Jarjura’s office in the Chase Municipal Building on Grand Street and at the city’s Web site, www.waterburyct.org. The first public information session on the fu ture of Waterbury’s parks is scheduled for Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Chase Park House, 150 Sunnyside Ave. The second is scheduled for Jan. 31 at the Washington Park House, 283 Sylvan Ave. The final session is slated for Feb. 7 at the North End Recreation Center, 262 N. Main St.

The questionnaires don't seem to be available online yet.
[Update (1/18): The PDF survey form can be downloaded at www.waterburyct.org/filestorage/609/616/632/Waterbury-Park-User-Survey.pdf.]

Things I might request: more parks and parklets; landscaping along the Naugatuck River, maybe even putting in a greenway like the one along the old Farmington Canal in Cheshire; making information about park activities available online (for example, pool hours).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More Birds

This pair of birds came to the feeder at the very end of the day, just before dark, so the photos are blurred. I've seen them only once (on November 25). Both are cardinals, one female, one male.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


The latest weather forecast is calling for the possibility of freezing rain, sleet and/or snow on Sunday night into Monday morning. This will be the first of the season, if it happens. As you can see from the photo, winter supplies like ice melt and shovels are gathering dust on the supermarket shelves. This time last winter, it was almost impossible to find a store that still had the animal-safe ice melt (the one in the red and white bag--you can use it to make ice cream!) available.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hometown Helper

Hamburger Helper donates $15,000 every month to fund projects in towns across the country. Awards are "based on the merit of the project, including its impact and support within your community." In order to assess the community support, each project applying for a grant is posted on their website (www.myhometownhelper.com) with a comment form that community members can fill out.

Waterbury currently has four project requesting funding: restoration of the M.A. Green clock on Bank Street; repairs of the Wilby HIgh School auditorium; supplies for Wilby's Drama Club school play; and equipment for Tinker School's ballet program.

To find the Waterbury projects on the website, go to "Find a Project," then select Connecticut from the drop-down menu and write in Waterbury (then click the search button).

Once you are on the comment page, be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the terms and agreement window. You won't be able to post a comment without clicking the "I Agree" box at the bottom of that scrolling window.

The more supporting comments received, the greater the chance of receiving funds.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


[update: as noted in the comments on this post, my letter was indeed published in today's paper. I'll try to stop being cranky now.]

On Sunday, I emailed a letter to the editor of the Waterbury Republican-American telling them that Narducci's plan for city hall is ill-conceived and half-baked (to use his own words). Today they ran a letter from someone who supports his plan. I don't care if they run my letter or not, but I do care that they present opposing opinions. I'll give it the rest of the week, but if they don't let their readers see that there is opposition to Narducci's plan, I'm going to get even more riled up than I already am. The Republican-American is always happy to expose corruption in city government, but what's going on in their own offices? What is Narducci's relationship to the newspaper? Why are they trying to push through his plan?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stupidest Idea Yet

Today's Republican-American ran an article about the city hall building, written by D.A. Narducci III, an architect from Southbury. He proposes a partial demolition of the building, keeping the front courtyard, the front facade and the clock tower, and replacing everything else with a big box office building. His plan would reinstall certain interior elements, but replace most of the building with generic modern construction.

Is he a total idiot, or was this supposed to be sarcasm? You can't save just parts of the building and then reconstruct the rest. That's probably more expensive than a straight-forward restoration, and it is in direct conflict with restoration. If a building is worth restoring, you restore the entire building, maintaining its integrity. What he's proposing is, in fact, a total demolition with decorative bits and pieces of the original building tacked onto the new building.

Narducci's plan would require the city to hire an architect to review the costs and feasibility of the plan. Narducci is an architect. Is his article an effort to get the city to hire him?

I can't believe the newspaper ran this article, and I can't believe they ran it as a major piece in the Sunday Commentary. It's probably going to add a full month of debate to the issue, because at least one alderman is going to read it and think it's a good idea.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Triple-Decker Life

Triple-Deckers Near Waterbury Hospital (not ones I live in).

One of Waterbury's characteristic housing types is the triple-decker, a three-story building with one apartment per floor. Triple-deckers were built in Waterbury primarily between 1890 and 1930. Building owners usually lived on the first floor, and the upper two floors were rented out, often to extended family members. In good condition, they are beautiful buildings with pleasant yards. First floor apartments sometimes have graceful columns on either side of the large entryway between the front door and the living room and again between the living and dining rooms. Sometimes the upper apartments will have columns between living and dining room, or they will have sliding pocket doors between the two rooms (they were built back when the living room was the front parlor). The Mattatuck Museum has some nice displays about triple-deckers in their history exhibit.

Triple-Decker Porch Detail

I've been living in the middle apartment of a 1920 triple-decker for about six months now. I haven't got columns or pocket doors, but I do like the six-foot-wide opening between the living and dining rooms, because it creates a sense of open space. There are ample windows letting in the sun, and most of the windows look out over trees, which is really pretty in the summer and fall. Now that it's winter, I can see through the trees and have just a slight view of the cross on Abrigador Hill.

My kitchen, before I moved in.

It's a two-bedroom apartment, which is standard for the triple-deckers, and I have just over 900 square feet of living space. I would like it better if the bathroom still had the original deep clawfoot tub, but overall it really is a great apartment.

Looking towards the living room from the dining room (before I moved in).

One thing I've learned, however, is that triple-deckers require a certain closeness of neighbors. The building I'm in has had some soundproofing added--the ceilings have been lowered and most rooms have wall-to-wall carpeting--so certain problems are not quite as bad as they otherwise would be. The current third floor tenants are extremely loud people. I don't really hear their voices, but their two small children make my windows rattle every time they crash down onto the floor. And they all make a huge amount of noise in the stairwell. This seems to be an unusual situation, since I never heard a sound from the previous tenants.

On the other hand, I get along well with my downstairs tenants. I can see how triple-deckers would be great for extended families (or good friends). You have your own private home, but you are still close to the people you care about.

Dining room windows, before I moved in.

Today, most of Waterbury's triple-deckers are owned by absentee landlords (my own included). Many landlords, like my own, do a good job of maintaining their properties. I know there are some city officials (and others in similar positions of influence) who see triple-deckers as a blight on the city, because a few triple-deckers are owned by slum lords who let them deteriorate while packing them with as many tenants as possible. Single-family homes are seen as being more "desirable" for the city by some people, but owning a three-family home is much more affordable for most people. Owner-occupied homes are going to be well-maintained (in most situations; there's always an exception!); it could be good for Waterbury if more of the triple-deckers were owner-occupied (and good for residents to consider buying a multi-family instead of a single-family home). But these are, of course, just thoughts.

My dining room windows this fall; not what you might expect for a city view!

Friday, January 05, 2007

City Hall Frustrations

I've watched a portion of tonight's broadcast on the presentations about the city hall bonding issues. From what I can tell, most of our aldermen have no idea what they're talking about. They keep saying that modifying the first floor of the building to meet fire codes is not a "band-aid" or a temporary fix, that it's a permanent fix. Well, sure, new fire exits are permanent, but it doesn't solve the problems with the city hall building. There are still a lot of other repairs that need to be done, both structural and cosmetic. They go on and on about the estimated $48 million total cost, but they neglect to mention that a portion of that cost is for building a new firehouse. They also seem determined to ignore the fact that the costs are estimates, that the job specs haven't been finalized and that it hasn't been put out to bid.

It all seems very simple to me. Write up a list of the repairs that are needed. Put it out to bid. Let everyone know what the costs will be. Find the money to pay for it. Hire the appropriate contractors and make the repairs.

A comprehensive plan of improvement for all city facilities would be even better. Do a thorough inventory of all municipal buildings and their immediate and future needs. Let's start planning ahead instead of waiting until it's almost too late.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why Not Downtown?

For many months now, there has been wrangling between Town Plot residents and a developer who initially wanted to build a high-rise apartment building off Highland Avenue. The development plan has now been changed to 330 condos. That's a lot of condos for a neighborhood that's already heavily congested.

I would love to see someone build high-quality condos (or apartments) in downtown Waterbury, using existing buildings on Grand and Bank Streets. The parking garage is close enough to those streets for resident parking, and the condos could be really nice, combining historical architectural elements (like brickwork and wood moldings) with modern conveniences. It's been done in other cities, so why not in ours? The location is incredibly convenient, with the highway ramps just down the street, and there certainly are plenty of empty floors in the downtown buildings.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Special Services District

Last week there was an article in the Republican-American about the efforts of Main Street Waterbury to create a special services district in downtown. According to the article, downtown business/building owners like Phil Nargi are resisting the district, because their taxes will increase by a few dollars. Nargi was quoted as saying that he already spends money to shovel his sidewalks, and he doesn't want to pay to shovel his neighbor's sidewalk (sorry for not quoting directly; the paper's website is down right now). I think Nargi is missing several points. First, there's a good chance he would end up paying less to the services district than he currently is spending. Second, the district would do more than just shovel his walkway; they would bring a wide variety of services that will increase the number of people downtown, which would then increase Nargi's business. Third, if his sidewalk is shoveled, but none of the rest of the walk is shoveled, his business will be negatively impacted. Neighboring businesses have to work together as a team if they want to do well.

Below is an article published in today's Hartford Courant about the Downtown Manchester Special Services District. It's more than just shoveling sidewalks!

Goal Of Group: A Vibrant Main Street
Strategic Plan Offers Recommendations To Improve Downtown

January 2, 2007
By REGINE LABOSSIERE, Courant Staff Writer

MANCHESTER -- Bringing in street musicians, keeping restaurants and other businesses open at night and encouraging young professionals to move to Main Street are ways to make the area more vibrant.

Those are some of the ideas the Downtown Manchester Special Services District is counting on to help re-energize the town's center over the next several years.

The special services district commission worked to assemble a strategic plan during the past year and a half that it hopes will lead to downtown's improvement.

The study was spurred by a similar plan the town conducted 15 years ago and commission members felt it was time to conduct another one, said Tana Parseliti, downtown manager of the district.

"They really wanted to revisit downtown's place in the marketplace and how can we move forward given new conditions," Parseliti said. "It was time for us to do it again because an interval of time had passed. Since '91, there has been an explosion of Internet shopping, changes in ways of doing business, more big box stores."

And so the commission embarked on a new study, creating a vision committee that studied how the downtowns in Middletown, West Hartford and South Norwalk were reinvented by more businesses and people moving in.

The new strategic plan has various recommendations, such as property owners, businesses and the town helping to enhance downtown's appearance by removing pigeon droppings, gum and graffiti, and having the police help to continue increasing public safety. The plan also calls for developing the upper floors of downtown buildings, such as renovating apartment or office space and building on the underused parking lots, creating more real estate.

"We would certainly love to have more businesses in the downtown. ... Many times people speak about the benefit of having more street-front pedestrian-oriented businesses, anything that draws more street traffic to Main Street," Parseliti said.

Mark Pellegrini, director of economic development and neighborhood services, is an ex-officio member of the downtown commission. He said certain items of the plan, such as making the area more pedestrian friendly, have started. The street has been resurfaced and repaved and next year there will be textured crosswalks so motorists will be more aware of where pedestrians are.

"The more difficult activities will be trying to get the upper floors developed and maybe trying to get some new development in the downtown over the next few years," Pellegrini said.

He said it would be difficult to get property owners and investors to make investments. The town might be able to help with financing to come downtown.

"Certainly, there's possibilities. I think everyone would like to try to speed that up if we can, try to reach out more to the property owners who want to do something but can't quite put all the pieces together," Pellegrini said. "I think [the commission has] a very practical and achievable plan and the town will continue to work with them."

Contact Regine Labossiere at rlabossiere@courant.com.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Weather (exciting, no?)

Okay, this is a mundane posting, but I feel compelled to comment on the insanely warm weather we've been having this winter. It's January, and the forecast for the upcoming weekend says it will be 60 degrees on Saturday. That's crazy. As far as I know (I was away for a week at Christmas, so I might have missed something), Waterbury hasn't yet had any snow and the temperature has not gone below the 20s. I'm starting to wonder if it will snow at all this winter.