Sunday, August 30, 2009

Campaign Events

The Democratic Primary is only a few weeks away (on September 15) and things are really heating up (especially, for some reason, on Facebook).

The Grand Opening of the Vance HQ is Monday, August 31 at 5 p.m., complete with free Frankie's hot dogs, courtesy of our Board of Aldermen candidate Frank Caiazzo.

Join us again at The Turf on Grand Street for a fundraiser on Wednesday, September 2, 7 p.m. - 10 p.m. ($20 per person).

You can check out to keep up-to-date with the latest events.

My lawn signs are finally here, so if you want one, send me an email or give me a call (I'm in the phone book as R Guest).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Park Road "Gift"?

The need for more open space in Waterbury has been a concern of mine for many years. In the past two weeks, there has been a lot of news concerning the 134 acres of forest owned by developer Norman Drubner on Park Road. It’s a beautiful stretch of land, one of the most park-like roads in the city, and one of the most endangered open spaces in Waterbury.

Drubner had planned on building 431 condominiums on the property, which provoked a public outcry from residents who feel that the city has more than enough high-density housing and not enough open space. The issue of open space in Waterbury has been a hot topic for many years: sometime around 2005, when the city was considering selling a portion of the East Mountain Golf Course for condo development, Mayor Jarjura was quoted as saying that Waterbury has enough open space, including cemeteries in his count.

Jarjura, a real estate developer, has now offered to have the city purchase Drubner’s land for $1.75 million. The property is assessed at less than $40,000. The difference between those two values has raised some instant red flags for a lot of people. Either the city has offered to pay far too much for the property, or Drubner has not been paying anywhere near enough taxes for it.

There also seems to be some confusion regarding the future of the property: Drubner was quoted in the paper on August 20 as stating that “this property is going to be preserved.” Preserving land usually means that policies, laws or zoning changes are enacted to guarantee that the land will never be developed as anything other than open space. The same article notes that Drubner envisions the land being converted for baseball fields and hiking trails, which would be a fantastic use of the property. Unfortunately, Drubner has yet to announce that this would be a condition of the sale.

More unfortunately, in the August 19 article announcing the deal, Mayor Jarjura was quoted saying “I don’t want to call it open space… I would like it to be undisturbed property. If for whatever reason the city finds itself in trouble, this would be an asset the city could sell, develop or whatever.”

It sounds an awful lot like Jarjura has no intention of using the space as Drubner now envisions, with baseball fields and hiking trails. Instead, it sounds like Jarjura intends to use the property exactly as Drubner has previously intended for himself: a multi-family development cash cow.

Further in the August 19 article, Jarjura says that he would like to see Drubner and “even himself” (in the reporter’s words) “concentrate on redeveloping the housing stock in the city’s inner core rather than bulldozing virgin sites like the Drubner property.” The hypocrisy of this makes me laugh. While I absolutely agree with the sentiment, I have never seen any evidence of Jarjura doing anything except the exact opposite. During his tenure as Mayor, Jarjura and his business partners have bulldozed virgin sites in the East End and just over the town line in Middlebury to construct new building developments. I have never once heard of them rehabbing existing buildings.

While the newspaper article printed yesterday (Wednesday August 26) suggests that the purchase of the land would end the fight to prevent unwelcome developments on the property, it also notes that the residents opposed to the development still want the area rezoned from multi-family to single-family. The reality, as described by Jarjura, is that the city’s purchase of the land will not prevent the property from being converted into condominiums or any other high-density housing. It sounds more like the city will wait until the furor dies down, then sell it to a condo developer.

The issue of whether or not the transaction constitutes a gift hinges on the appraised value of the property. Drubner, quite naturally, wants the land appraised at the maximum value he believes he would gain from developing it for multi-family housing, which would be two or three times the amount of money he proposes selling it for. The difference is what he calls his “gift”, which would perhaps be tax deductible. But, again, if that’s the true value of the property, shouldn’t he have been paying taxes for that value?

I question the ethics of waiting until after the sale to change the zoning on the property. There is clear pressure from the community to change the zoning now. The only reason for waiting is to maximize Drubner’s tax deduction. I assume that is not illegal, but it certainly does not seem ethical.

In times past, the people who donated land to the city for parks also donated endowment funds for the maintenance of the property, and in some cases also paid for the conversion of the land into public parks—Fulton Park is an excellent example of this. Why can’t that happen now?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What a Summer!

I can't believe I'm writing this, but here goes: I have not had to use the garden hose even once this summer. My front lawn is still green and grew nearly a foot in the past week.

It's late August. My front lawn, which gets full sun all day long, should be brown right now. I shouldn't have to mow it, because normally this time of year it's stopped growing. At the start of last week, I actually started to think that we might not get much rain the rest of this month.

It's a good thing that this was the year I finally made an effort to reduce the amount of damp in my basement. One section of basement wall is afflicted with mold every summer, a white, fluffy, disturbing mold. Earlier this year, I purchased some plastic sheeting and spent an hour digging a trench along the side of the house corresponding to where the mold grows in the basement. I laid down the plastic in a couple layers, at an angle directed away from the house, then buried it back under the dirt.

I wasn't sure if I had spread out enough plastic to divert the rain properly, but now, months and several feet of rain later, I believe my labor has paid off--although the basement wall is a little damp, it's not fluffy.

Next summer I'll figure out how to get rid of the basement damp completely.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Train Time!

I think I must blog about the train more than anything else these days. I guess when you're dependent upon public transportation, it become very important to you!

For the past month, the train running between Waterbury and Bridgeport has been replaced by buses to allow MetroNorth time to do some basic service work to the tracks (nothing that will increase the number of trains, just basic maintenance to keep the existing trains running). The morning bus has usually been a Peter Pan with free wifi, which was nice to have, but for some reason the a/c was always set to about 60 degrees. The morning bus was an express, which meant we got to Bridgeport in about 35 minutes. The downside was that the bus left 15 minutes earlier than the train--the upside was that I was sometimes able to catch the 7:02 from Bridgeport, getting into the office before anyone else, and the total travel time was reduced to two hours instead of two and a half.

The evening bus was always a CT Transit bus, no wifi, no express (although the only other stop was Naugatuck). It took just as long to get to Waterbury as the train did, even though the train made a lot more stops. That fact says a lot about the merits of train transportation.

I'm not the only one who prefers the train: I overheard several people talking on their cell phones, explaining where they were to whoever was on the other end of the line, and speaking very disparagingly about being on a bus instead of on the train. A few people even sounded like it was insulting to be forced to take the bus rather than the train.

Happiness should return tomorrow morning, when I and my fellow commuters finally get our train back!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Turning Them In

I took a break from work at lunchtime today to join some of my fellow candidates and Vance supporters at the office of the Registrar of Voters. We turned in 180 signed petitions, close to 3000 signatures, with more petitions to follow before tomorrow's deadline. So far it's been a very interesting experience.

I feel like a politics geek when I say this, but I am really enjoying participating in democracy, and I am really kind of glad that my first go-round as a candidate is with the petitioning challenger. I think I am learning more about the democratic process this way. It's also been an amazing experience to talk to so many people about their concerns, complaints and viewpoints.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Freight Street Gallery

I've been hoping for years that someone would put an art space in one of the many old factory buildings in Waterbury. It's been done in other cities with great success--The Nest in Bridgeport, for example.

One of the great things about using old factories for art spaces is that the roughness of the space allows artists and musicians to be relaxed. You don't have to worry about being too loud or messing up the woodwork.

Waterbury now has the Freight Street Gallery, on Freight Street which is shaping up to be a real hot spot for the city, thanks to Sin City across the street.

I checked out the gallery at the closing of the Steve Soklin/Larry Livolsi exhibit. I'd been seeing flyers and other mentions of the space for months, starting way back when it was being called Brass Monkey. Tracey O'Shaughnessy's article in the Republican-American got me finally motivated enough to actually visit the gallery.

There were more events at the gallery this weekend--the Fighting Cocks played there on Friday night, and a new exhibit opened on Saturday. My apologies for not having more info on either of those events; I wasn't able to go either night for a variety of reasons. However, here are some photos from closing of the Soklin/Livolsi exhibit: