Wednesday, July 08, 2009

South End

I've been planning on writing this blog post for a few weeks now. The theme was going to be "why South Main Street is a terrible location for the biofuel plant." Earlier this week, I had decided that today was the day I finally would have time to get this done. Lo and behold! this morning's newspaper announced that Chestnut Hill had decided to give up on moving into Waterbury.

I was sorry to see how much animosity was involved in the announcement. I can understand their sentiment, however, since they probably assume that Larry DePillo represented all of the opposition. DePillo devotes a tremendous amount of time to protesting just about everything (okay, I'm exaggerating, it just seems like that sometimes) and he typically cites information that is either completely wrong or is correct but misinterpreted. More than once I have seen outsiders to Waterbury become exceedingly frustrated and flat-out baffled by DePillo's speeches at public hearings. While I appreciate the energy he puts into his causes, I wish he would take the time to get his facts right. He makes all of us look bad.

The Republican-American has run a few stories suggesting that those of us opposing Chestnut Hill never bothered to research the facts before arriving at our decisions to oppose the plant. I certainly was more than willing to consider their proposal in full fairness, and from what I can tell, many other opposition voices also did the research first. For more on the topic, see Bryan Baker's blog post, "Good Riddance".

Unfortunately for Chestnut Hill, the facts were damning. Their poor track record is unsettling. Their venture in New Jersey was a colossal environmental and health disaster. Their lack of respect towards the Waterbury community compounded the problem. Factor in the unsuitability of the location relative to several plans to revitalize that neighborhood, and factor in pollution concerns, and the proposal falls flat.

One question that I was going to raise before reading the news this morning, but that I think is a valid concern going forward, is the issue of pollution levels. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but it seems like the amount of pollutants legally allowed for each site creating pollution (like FirstLight and Phoenix Soil) is based solely on the output of that single business. [If someone knows the answer to this, please share!] While the amount of pollutants being produced by a single business might fall within legal safety limits, the combined total pollutants being produced by all the businesses in Waterbury's flood plain area is, logically, higher. If a company wants to add a plant that creates even a miniscule amount of pollution, shouldn't the acceptability be based on the total existing pollution level?

Speaking of which, what is the current total existing pollution level in downtown and the South End?

Now that Chestnut Hill has decided to forget about Waterbury, we're left with the question of what to do with that factory site. A few people have expressed bitterness over the loss of Chestnut Hill (which I don't think is that great a loss). The great thing about this whole situation is that people are demanding to know how the city will bring that site back to life. This is fantastic. One year ago, this neighborhood barely registered on anyone's radar. The Loyola group has struggled for support. The residents of this neighborhood have struggled to have even their most basic needs met. Our success in preventing Chestnut Hill from starting their biofuel factory on South Main Street is only one small step in revitalizing an important part of our city.

The question remains, what is the future of that property? It's a large tract of land with a rich history and loads of contaminants. I decided that I should stick to my original plan of visiting the site before tossing out any suggestions.

I drove down to the South End this afternoon and parked in the side lot at PetSmart. I wound up spending almost two hours walking the perimeter of the Anamet facility (a good chunk of that time was spent talking with security guards at Ansonia Copper & Brass / FirstLight -- I was accidentally trespassing, but after I explained myself we had a really good conversation about the brass industry and what's going on now with old factory sites). I took a lot of photos and came to a few conclusions.

Basically, I have to say that the property is not well-suited for industry. Times have changed, as have logistics and expectations. The only practical way that large trucks can reach the site is from the Meadow Street exits of I-84, but even then it's a little tricky with some of the turns.

In times past, the Naugatuck and Mad Rivers were seen as power sources and convenient sewage systems. Today they have the potential to be fantastic recreational facilities and therefore a reason for people to choose to move to Waterbury. We should be working to convert the rivers to parks, rather than encouraging the restoration of industrial facilities on these magnificent resources.

Also in times past, it was considered perfectly acceptable to locate people's homes directly across the street from factories. This can't possibly be seen as acceptable today. It's just plain uncivilized.

There are factory buildings running along South Main Street from Jewelry Street to Washington Avenue. They are bleak, bland and crowd the street. They have no architectural value. Tear them down and widen South Main Street, turning it into a tree-lined boulevard with bicycle lanes and ample sidewalks. Find money from somewhere to clean up the brownfield pollution (yeah, I know, it's not that easy a task, but let's not be stopped--if we continue to complain and protest and fight like we've done the past few months, just imagine what we could accomplish!).

I don't have any answers as to what should replace the factory buildings. It needs to be something that works well within a residential neighborhood and can function as a buffer against the FirstLight facility on the other side of the river. Imagine a greenway running along the river. That could be enough of a buffer. The Anamet property could become a mixture of condos and retail.

I took too many photos to post here, so I've got them loaded onto Picasa. You can watch them as a slideshow or you can click on this link to the page and see them individually with captions/commentary and some map locations.


Paul Vance said...

Nice job. It was great to see so many new people actively engaged. It is important that now we work together to work to bring jobs to Waterbury!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps some type of high-tech industry might work on the site. Factories of that sort generally aren't noisy or smelly, so they aren't necessarily incompatible with nearby residential areas. Especially with high-value-added products, there aren't many bulk shipments in or out, so the limited street access is less of an issue than with most types of industry.


Bryan P. Baker said...

First off, thanks for the link. Your post sums things up wonderfully from an outsiders point of view.

Secondly, I agree with iron's comment. High tech, possibly green industry would be perfect for the site. The whole area needs to be reconsidered due to changing times, but we can't just do nothing.

Joe said...

I'm pretty sure the proposed facility could be classified as "green." They were also fortunate to receive $500,000 from the state, which makes a big difference when looking at a contaminated property like that. Absent that kind of public money, the site will undoubtedly remain one of many vacant eyesores for years to come.

The company also traveled around looking for such a site that met their needs perfectly: close proximity to highways and people, which reduces shipping costs. I can't imagine a high-tech company would come along saying something like that. High tech and other high-value-added manufacturers don't care about freight costs so much. Since they're moving light goods, proximity to people and highways is irrelevant.

Residential use of the property will require a lot of remediation. On top of that, you'll need a lot of streetscaping that will cost even more money. This money might better be spent fixing up the existing neighborhood and others like it around the city.

I'm not saying that the factory was a great idea, but they certainly weren't given a chance to explain themselves with all of the opposition. Now we will have the reputation as the city that fights factories in industrial areas even in the middle of a recession.

Anonymous said...

From Ken Killer
Joe has missed the point, maybe even several points. The roads surrounding the site are, in all probability not designed to handle 50 18-wheelers a day six days a week, just for starters. They are narrow, residential, near schools and in all probabilty have an antiquated sewer system, etc. under them. These roads are not designed for heavy, continuous traffic. The truck operators, being independent contractors, will follow the shortest route between where they pick up the garbage and where they drop it off. The only protection from the smell of this stuff will be a tarp, as required by law. At last notice, smells readily escape around a tarp, polluting the surrounding neighborhood. And then of course, St Mary's Hospital, located very close to the site, now wants to institute a NO SMOKING ZONE on all streets that abut the hospital, because of the pollution it causes. The smells are apparently OK but not the smoke. The Anamet site is NOT the proper place for a garbage to energy plant in the center of a residential neighborhood. The whole idea stinks.

bill said...

Tearing down the factory buildings is a terrible idea. It's just going to leave vacant blight, and the notion that they are without architectural merit is deeply flawed. I understand that their familiarity in their decayed state has bred contempt, but nationally and internationally they are precisely the kind of unique, irreplaceable buildings that attract creative reuse. To someone on the west coast, tearing down old buildings of this sort would be akin to madness. Just look at what's been done in the old industrial cities of Germany, Pennsylvania or the UK for a little inspiration--adaptive reuse that will attract positive press for Waterbury isn't impossible. Don't give up hope.

Anonymous said...

Phoenix Soil's EPA results are the most disturbing thing in Waterbury..

Anonymous said...

Phoenix Soil's EPA results are the most disturbing thing in Waterbury..