Sidebar Middletown's Plan of Development

CHAPTER 11 - A

LAND USE COMPONENT

To achieve its own unique potential, a community must be able to respond to changing trends and conditions. A key tool in formulating policy for the best responses is the land use component of a plan of development. This part of the overall municipal plan deals with quantities of land, and the arrangement of land uses throughout the community.

The land use component is the official, graphic representation of what the Planning and Zoning Commission visualizes as the best future for Middletown. It guides the orderly, efficient and intelligent allocation of land. As a guide, it functions as a long-term framework for decisions which must be made today. It does not by itself either permit or prohibit activity. The plan is based on careful analysis of local thoroughfares, utilities, community facilities, service areas, the anticipated population and economic structure of Middletown, topography and general environmental factors here. More detailed community studies – such as reports on the central business district – are tied together by the land use plan.

Communities grow and prosper only if incremental, isolated actions are coordinated. Land must be set aside in rational arrangements and provided with appropriate services. Thus, the land use plan envisions a Middletown that might evolve in the coming years if certain policies are implemented: if zoning regulations are modified, if public and private efforts consistently work towards achieving the legally adopted community goals.

Middletown’s land use plan is strongly influenced by the realities of Middletown today, reflecting the plans of the many diverse elements that make it a dynamic community. The plan recognized continuing features of Middletown, while providing guidance for future growth. The land use component is designed to help Middletown reach one of the adopted goals of the plan of development: to encourage the appropriate, coordinated and economic uses of land.

LAND USE CATEGORIES

The land use component groups land uses in Middletown into four basic categories: residential, commercial, industrial and city open space or environmentally sensitive areas. Within these broad categories there are further subcategories. All the uses are interdependent, integrated by the vehicular plan and the surface drainage system.

The underlying principle of these land uses categories is the scarce land and building resources of Middletown. Economically feasible adaptive uses of historic structures are to be encouraged, as much as they meet Middletown’s development goals.

Residential

The plan shows three levels of housing density: high, medium and low.

High-density areas have sixteen or more dwelling units per acre. They are located on major thoroughfares, generally close to commercial areas.

Medium-density areas have five to fifteen dwelling units per acre. They are near intensively developed lands and have good access to the road system.

Low-density areas have one to four dwelling units per acre. Most of the land in Middletown is recommended for this density level. In most cases they are now low density residential. The one to four range allows flexibility in residential areas. Depending on characteristics of specific areas, there could be a relatively low one dwelling unit per acre, or there could be as many as four. The range could encourage a variety of kinds of residential neighborhoods. Truly, this density level is an effort towards meeting Middletown’s housing goal:

“To provide and maintain a supply of high quality housing which can accommodate a population of diverse economic levels, ethnic backgrounds and family sizes by providing ample freedom of choice in housing accommodation.”

Commercial

The land use component has five categories of commercial related development: Central business, general commercial, corporate office, neighborhood service and mixed-use development.

Activities which make a city a community take place in its central business district. Here are general merchandise, apparel and furniture stores, offices, major public buildings, entertainment, personal services and related commercial functions. These activities must be concentrated in a compact area. Proximity to one another allows them to complement each other, so that specialization can be provided to the community.

The Central Business District has been expanded since the 1965 Plan of Development to include entire blocks rather than part of blocks. Maintenance of a strong central town is an important goal of Middletown’s comprehensive Plan of Development. It is the foundation of an economically sound community.

General commercial areas serve a special function. These areas have stores, restaurants, offices, perhaps entertainment or recreation facilities. General commercial areas are on major thoroughfares, so they are directly linked to their markets.

Corporate office areas would be the location of home or regional offices for large corporations, such as an insurance company. It is a specialized office use in that one firm would occupy nearly all the space in the building. Corporate office areas would be able to provide key support functions to the major user of the facility.

Neighborhood service areas are located to serve residential areas and are limited in scope to avoid undermining the Central Business District. Locations are interrelated with the thoroughfare system, providing convenient access from nearby residences. Before land is rezoned to allow commercial activity, all currently proposed new roads should be constructed. Major functions of neighborhood shopping areas would be the sale of commercial goods and personal services. Examples are: food stores, drug stores, laundries, dry cleaners, beauty shops, barber shops, and hardware stores.

Areas designated as mixed use are now a complicated mixture of activities, presenting unique land use problems to the community. They have in common a multi-functional character, and intensive use of land. The category would allow single family and multi-family residences, along with limited sales and services. Careful consideration must be given to the impact of uses on neighborhoods and surrounding areas. These areas require careful planning over extended periods of time.

Industrial

The land use component consolidates the three industrial land classifications of the 1965 plan into one category. Since 1965, general environmental standards mandated by state and federal regulations have minimized many of the distinctions between light, medium and heavy industry. For city planning purposes, the one industrial classification suffices.

There are, however, important refinements to the inclusive industrial category. The first is that land held by a major utility company is recognized as a utility area. Should the land not be used for this purpose, it should be low density residential. The other refinement is that an area where there is now a natural resource extraction activity could continue extraction and the required subsequent reclamation of the land. But, when the area has been reclaimed, it is not to become industrial, but low density residential.

Institutional

Adjacent to the central business district is an institutional area. Activities there are quasi-public: churches, hospitals, convalescent homes, recreational, and some commercial activity. The area must be close to the downtown because its activities serve important support functions to the downtown. They bring people and vitality to the heart of Middletown.

Hopefully, designating an institutional category of the land use component of the plan of development would stimulate future growth of this segment of the economy.

City Open Spaces and Environmentally Sensitive Areas

Municipal open spaces and environmentally sensitive areas are important in Middletown’s total land use arrangement. They provide breaks in the urbanization pattern, enhance and protect resources and influence the economic development of the City. Land is categorized as open space / environmentally sensitive based on several criteria.

Some of the land is a part of Middletown’s official open space program. City open spaces are close to residential areas and near schools, so they are good locations for recreational activity.

Another reason for categorizing land as open space is because of its location or configuration. An example would be land-surrounding interchanges of superhighways. For most purposes, these lands are undevelopable. Their future is in providing visual relief from other types of land uses.

Some of Middletown’s land has natural and physiographic limitations which make most types of development on them not feasible. In some cases, land that has grades of fifteen percent or more has been categorized as environmentally sensitive. Generally, though, environmentally sensitive land is land that is in the flood plain, is in a flood prone or flood hazard area, is along a stream belt, or is in an inland wetland area. Locations were derived from detailed maps prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers (for the Federal Insurance Administration of the Department of Housing and Urban Development) or the Soil Conservation Service. To continue the availability of subsidized flood insurance to Middletown and to local property owners, the City must have a sound flood plain management policy.

The environmentally sensitive category of the land use component is intended to preserve the natural process of the land, rather than to authorize or prohibit specific uses. The emphasis is on how the land functions, not on what is built on it. The designation provides a framework for local government involvement, by assuring that the Planning and Zoning Commission participate more actively in the development process. Options in implementing the environmentally sensitive category are to establish an overlay zone, or to create a separate zoning designation. Amendments to the Zoning Code would be required.

Miscellaneous

There are a few other categories of the Land Use Component: schools, cemeteries, quasi-public and the public facilities land.

The Comprehensive plan of development is a proposal for the future direction of Middletown. The plan shows a community that continues its residential traditions but which carefully guides new growth in the most appropriate areas. Residential, commercial and industrial land uses are tied together by City open spaces and the environmentally sensitive areas, significant elements in quality of life.

Underlying this idea for the best possible Middletown is the recognition of the finite character is its land. Only through responsive and responsible comprehensive planning can the potential of Middletown’s land reserve be realized.

CHAPTER 11 - B

THE PLAN FOR OPEN SPACES

INTRODUCTION

The 1968 Open Space Plan answered the question – what is Open Space? – by saying “Open Space is not a negative concept, it is not land left over after development has taken place and remains only because it was not ‘of value’ for any other use. Open space is a positive force that can be used to shape and direct urban development to those areas must suited and logical. The objectives of the 1968 Plan were to fulfill three major functions: 1) conservation; 2) design; and 3) outdoor recreation.

In the Land Use Component of the 1976 Plan of Development, “the environmentally sensitive category of the land use component is intended to preserve the natural process of the land rather than to authorize or prohibit specific uses. The emphasis is on how the land functions, not on what is built on it”. Environmentally sensitive areas were generally defined as steep slopes, floodplains and wetlands or locations for recreational activity.

Protected open space areas are an important ingredient in Middletown’s total land use arrangement. The natural features and resources of the City to a great extent define the history, beauty and character of Middletown and breaks in Middletown’s urbanization pattern. The conservation and wise management of these features and resources is a major goal of this open space plan. The City should concentrate on the protection of the proposed open space systems, as displayed on the open space map, rather than acquisitions of random, unplanned and unconnected open parcels. This will promote linear development of open space systems which offers the best opportunities to protect wildlife habitat. The natural features of the City, which define the City’s character, will be preserved and unique recreational opportunities will be created.

The proper maintenance and management of these systems and an improved public awareness of the passive recreational opportunities within these existing areas is also essential. Specific areas of private land containing valuable natural features and resources should be preserved and managed as permanent open space. The preservation of these areas will help to accomplish the following open space objectives.

  1. Preserve natural or scenic resources;
  2. Land existing open space areas to create open space corridors;
  3. Protect streams and water supplies;
  4. Conserve soils and wetlands;
  5. Provide breaks in the urbanization pattern;
  6. Enhance opportunities for public passive recreation;
  7. Preserve active agriculture and prime agriculture soils;
  8. Preserve cultural and historic areas;
  9. Promote rational development;
  10. Enhance the quality of life here in the City;
  11. Create a sense of place for those natural resource features which make Middletown unique; and
  12. Promote the economic benefits of open space: increased tourist dollars, preservation of community character which gives the City a competitive edge for business relocation and a financial return to the City because open space requires fewer city services than residential development.
The Survey of Citizens in 1989 found that the acquisition of open space is of high priority to the citizens of Middletown. These findings are supported by the fact that in 1989 the citizens of Middletown overwhelmingly supported a referendum to establish a five million dollar Open Space Trust fund.

This Open Space Plan was developed through the use of a computerized Geographic Information System (GIS). Eighteen natural and cultural parameters were mapped from existing information. The Conservation Commission used this information to develop a composite map of outstanding natural resources and a map which analyzed the developmental potential of the land. The types of data used in this mapping included water supply areas, prime agricultural soils, wetlands and watercourses, floodplains, depth to bedrock, wildlife habitat, archaeological sites, sewer service area, major hiking trails, steep sloes, sites of rare/endangered species, and land use. A Special Features Map referencing places that make Middletown unique was also developed to supplement the Natural Resource Inventory.

The computer was then used to overlay this information and identify areas of co-occurrence using pre-assigned values. In addition, some data was prioritized and given a higher value in the ranking; such as watercourses and wetlands, steep slopes, aquifers and areas of known rare species.

One composite map, which resulted from the computer analysis, identified the areas within the City that have high natural resource value. The other composite map identified the areas with limited development potential. In addition, the maps identified committed open space land. To produce the Open Space plan the committed open space areas were linked where possible with the high natural resource areas and the land with limited development potential to create “corridors”. These corridors have been designed to accomplish the open space objectives articulated earlier in the chapter,

OPEN SPACE DESIGNATIONS

The areas identified on the Open Space map have been broken down into four designations. These are: committed open space areas, proposed open space corridors, wetlands and floodplains.

In addition to these areas identified, this plan also recognizes that there are numerous areas which can be classified as uncommitted open space. These areas while often not accessible to the public include private clubs, private recreation areas and private schools.

  1. COMMITTED OPEN SPACE AREAS

    For the purposes of this Open Space Plan, the term committed open space has the following definition:

    “Committed Open Spaces are those areas which are publicly owned properties, properties owned by private land conservation trusts, and private lands for which the development rights are permanently encumbered.”

    These include city recreational lands, watershed lands, undeveloped state land, Nature Conservancy land, Middlesex Land Trust land and Connecticut Forest and Park Association land. Also in this designation but not necessarily displayed on the open space map are numerous acres of private land which were committed during the subdivision process as permanent open space. These areas, which are established using conservation easements, can enhance and connect larger open space areas.

    Currently, here in the City of Middletown, there are approximately 3,326 acres of committed open space land out of a total acreage of 27,200 for the City. The ownership of these areas is broken down in the table below. For the most part, these areas are protected from development and are now only in need of careful management, including, for some areas, improved accessibility. TABLE 6.1 CURRENT ACREAGE OF COMMITTED OPEN SPACES *
    Local 1,252 acres
    State 1,529 acres
    Nature Conservancy 244 acres
    CT Park & Forest Association 281 acres
    Middlesex Land Trust 20 acres
    TOTAL 3,326 acres
    *It should be noted that some of the State and Local committed open space may include institutional or educational buildings or cemeteries.

  2. PROPOSED OPEN SPACE CORRIDORS

    The second designation displayed on the open space plan map are areas of private land recommended for open space protection. These are the areas which have been identified in this plan and in previous plans for their uniqueness, fragility and linkage potential. It is these attributes which make them worthy of some form of protection. These areas should be carefully considered by the Planning and Zoning and the Conservation Commissions when planning for the future open space network in the City. They can represent travel corridors through the urban environment which link and complement the character of adjacent open space areas. Many wildlife species use these travel corridors, which contain ample food, water and cover, to travel between the islands of committed open space and undeveloped private land in the City.

    When one reviews the Open Space Plan Map it becomes clear that the attempt is to create a corridor system of interconnected open space areas throughout the City. A comprehensive and well-managed open space system is an important factor in maintaining and enhancing Middletown’s quality of life and economic vitality. This open space system, when fully completed, will do much to serve the objectives as discussed in the introductory section of this Open Space Plan.

    Ideally the valuable open lands displayed on the open space map as proposed open space will remain undeveloped or be acquired by the City of a private land trust and held, in perpetuity, as open space. But, as mentioned earlier, the plan realizes that these private lands may very well be developed. For this reason, designating these areas as proposed open space also serves as a reminder to the Planning and Zoning Commission that these areas possess important characteristics or contain important natural resources worthy of protection. In this way, if these lands were to be proposed for development, the Planning and Zoning Commission could encourage a style of development which would result in the maximum possible conservation of environmental features, preservation of the integrity of a corridor, and dedication of the most environmentally important areas to the City of a private land trust a permanent open space.

    The proposed Open Space areas shown on the plan comprise 4,924 acres of forest land, 1,191 acres of agricultural land and 1,010 acres of already developed late (that happens to lie within the proposed corridors) for a total of 7,125 acres. Excluding the developed areas, this represents 22% of the City’s total acreage. When added to the City’s committed open space acreage of 3,326, the total is 9,941 acres of 35%. While this is a substantial amount of land, the plan recognizes that a large majority of these lands are wetlands, floodplains, and steeply sloping lands with limited development potential. For this reason, many of these lands will not require formal acquisition.

    The proposed Open Space Plan displays land within the City that is especially suitable for preservation. In each part of the City there are certain natural features that offer a “sense of place” to that area. On the Open Space Plan, these areas are highlighted by a lettering system (generally from west to east) and named for clarity of discussion only. The following is a discussion of each of these areas, explaining what is special about the area and why it is worthy of protection.

    The wetlands were ranked in July, 1982 by Purcell Associates as part of the Wetlands Analysis and Mapping Project. The rankings which are mentioned in the descriptive text that follows reference this report. The highest (most valuable wetland would be ranked #1.

    1. Lamentation Mountain

      This area has numerous natural resource attributes. The most prominent resources are the ridgeline and steep slopes, the wetlands and watercourses (ranked 9th), and forested wildlife habitat including known rare species. The Blue Blazed Metacomet trail runs along the ridgeline, from Guiffrida Park in Meriden to Spruce Brook Road in Berlin. Protection of the Mountains’ resources is the subject of a much more detailed study by a Tri-Town Lamentation Mountain Committee. The Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Development shows this as a conservation area.

    2. Highland Pond Area

      This area has been shown on many of the past open space plans. It has long been recognized as a special place because of the pond’s recreational potential and its position within the Saw Mill Brook watershed. It is also part of a natural resource corridor from Higby Mountain to Lamentation Mountain. The pond and wetland system are ranked 2nd of the Top 25.

    3. Higby Mountain

      Another part of the traprock ridge system, this area, which also has numerous natural resources attributes, is highly valued for scenic vistas. It is also part of the City’s reservoir watershed. The DEP Natural Diversity Database has documented the existence of rate species on the mountain and the Blue Blazed Mattabesset Trail runs along parts of the ridgeline traversing City and Nature Conservancy land. The wetlands on Higby Mountain which drain to the west are ranked 62nd.

    4. Richard’s Brook Wetland System

      This corridor consists of two major wetland systems. The southernmost wetland system is very highly rated in the Purcell Report. The stream which flows through the area, south to Saw Mill Brook, is named Richards Brook. It has valuable wildlife habitat. A rare species of swamp cottonwood has been noted in this area. Of the Top 25 wetlands ranked in the 1980 wetlands survey, this wetland was ranked 11th.

      The other wetland system is part of Bradley Brook and East Bradley Brook which flow north and are tributaries of the Mattabassett River. It is one of Middletown’s outstanding wetlands. As reported in the Purcell wetland survey, this area is a diverse environment, with wet meadows, swamp, marsh and pond habitats. There is a high diversity of flora and an extensive area for wildlife travel. This wetland was ranked 14th of the Top 25.

    5. Saw Mill Brook Wetland System

      This area is one of Middletown’s outstanding wetlands. It was ranked 19th of the Top 25. It is a wooded lowland brook with deep pools and very high aesthetic quality. It is part of Saw Mill Brook, which flows into the Mattabassett River. It connects to Cucia Park by way of Saw Mill Brook.

    6. T.J. Smith Park Open Space System.

      There is committed open space at T. J. Smith Park and Moody School. Active recreation is possible at the ball fields and through the park’s hiking trails. The National Co-Champion largest Black Birch tree is located in this open space system. The remainder of this proposed open space is forested land and active agricultural land. The wetlands in this area are ranked 32, 49, 55 and 84.

    7. Camp Property – Mile Lane Corridor

      The Camp Property is an exceptional piece of committed open space. It is a forested hillside. The City-owned property on Mile Lane includes both a school and an extensive wetland system (ranked 16th), which includes parts of West Swamp Brook. This wetland system connects to the Mattabassett River, although there is a drainage divide near Tuttle Road. The remainder of the wetlands in this corridor carries various rankings from 2 to 106. The proposed open space corridor includes a very picturesque hillside and valley of forest and agriculture land. It is a good example of a diverse corridor of forested and open upland as well as an extensive and diverse wetland.

    8. Old Trolley Right-Of-Way (R.O.W.)

      This is a narrow piece of land along the Mattabassett River east of Route 217. This area serves as a buffer for the Mattabassett River as well as a passive recreation area. This wetland system is also one of Middletown’s outstanding wetlands; being ranked 6th. The State Archaeologist has indicated that there may be significant archaeological sites in this area.

    9. Coginchaug River Greenway

      A management plan is being prepared for the watershed of this river under the auspices of a multi-town committee comprised of Guilford, Durham and Middlefield. This is an urban river with a diversity of wetland and aquatic habitats. It provides a wildlife corridor to the Connecticut River from the rural areas outside Middletown. Wadsworth Falls State Park, Marzalek Park, Veteran’s Park are within the corridor. The Coginchaug River wetlands are ranked 22nd.

    10. Wadsworth Falls – Veteran’s Green Corridor

      This is an urban open space corridor providing landscape relief in a highly developed area. Within the corridor are at least four (4) wetland systems; two of which are highly ranked and two are not. There are also two major groupings of trees; at the Wadsworth/DeBoer Arboretum on Long Lane and at Veteran’s Green on Washington Street. An urban walking trail is being planned which will connect this corridor with Harbor Park at the Connecticut River and with the Coginchaug River in the vicinity of Veteran’s Park and Palmer Field.

    11. Laurel Brook

      The Laurel Brook Reservoir and watershed are part of the proposed open space area as committed land. Laurel Brook flows north from the reservoir into the Coginchaug River. This corridor contains a wide variety of open land, forest and wetlands (ranked 21st).

    12. Wesley School

      This proposed open space area contains two (2) areas of committed land: Wesley School, and the Wesleyan Hills common land comprised of ponds, paths and the beech grove. This corridor also includes parts of the Long Hill Brook wetland system which was ranked 5th. The area is suitable for wildlife habitat and is part of a travel corridor to Laurel Brook Reservoir.

    13. Guida Farm – Dooley Pond

      Guida Farms Conservation Area is a City-owned open space and Dooley Pond is owned by the State of Connecticut. This area consists of active agriculture, forested areas and the pond. It is connected through utility owned and other corridors to the Crystal Lake and Sumner Brook area. The wetlands at Guida Farms is ranked 71st.

    14. Kelsey Farm Open Space System

      This proposed open space area is the scenic valley of Wet Round Hill Brook. Part of this area is already dedicated as open space within subdivisions. A good portion of it is wetland/stream habitat which is ranked 21st. Some of the land has traditionally been used for agriculture.

    15. Crystal Lake Open Space Area.

      The focal point of this area is the City-owned Ron McCutcheon Park. The Park is currently being renovated and will include both active and passive recreation. There are known archaeological sites within the proposed open space areas. The remainder of the open space is wetlands (which are unranked), stream habitat and forested areas. It is in proximity to both the Guida Farm and the Sumner Brook open space areas.

    16. Sumner Brook Valley Open Space Area.

      This stream flows north from its headwaters in Durham and Haddam to the Connecticut River at Harbor Park. There is abundant wildlife habitat in the southern sections, agricultural land uses in the central section and urban river characteristics in the northern portions. Scenic vistas are found throughout the corridor. Much of the corridor is comprised of wetlands (ranked 18th and 100) and floodplains and one parcel has been dedicated to the Middlesex Land Trust as open space. This corridor is the epitome of Middletown’s rural character.

    17. Spiderweed – Connecticut Valley Hospital Corridor

      This is a significant open space corridor. The Nature Conservancy owns a tract of land near Aircraft Road, called Spiderweed. Connecticut Valley Hospital owns the watersheds of their reservoirs and also significantly sized parcels of agricultural or forested lands near the Connecticut River. Another portion of the proposed open space is the connection to the river in the vicinity of Northeast Utilities’ property.

      There are known rare species in this corridor. Also, open fields and forested areas add to the diversity of the wildlife areas. The area has high aesthetic value and signifies Middletown’s rural character. The wetlands within this corridor have various rankings.

    18. “Laurel” Wetland System

      According to the Purcell study, this is one of the few wetlands in the city developed over metamorphic rock. It is also one of the few bogs in Middletown. The wetland area is ranked 23rd of the Top 25. Mountain Laurel and bog species are quite abundant in this area. The corridor has high aesthetic value.

    19. Hubbard Brook

      This wetland system was ranked 24th out of the Top 25. This indicates that it is also one of Middletown’s outstanding wetlands. There is a diversity of aquatic, wetland and upland habitats. The area has high aesthetic value. Because much of the area is undeveloped, this area serves as a wildlife travel corridor through Area U (described below) to the Connecticut River.

    20. and U. Connecticut River Wetlands

      The wetland lettered at “T” acts as a tidal marsh due to previous dredging. It is a valuable wildlife area, and serves as a buffer between the River and industrial areas along the River. The wetland lettered as “U” was ranked 7th of the City’s Top 25. There is a diversity of habitats, both wetlands and uplands, which gives it a high wildlife value. The Mattabeseck Audubon Society indicates that the area is a raptor habitat (including the Bald Eagle, the Northern Harrier) and the Northern Parula songbird feeds here during migration. The wetland also serves as a flood storage area.

  3. WETLANDS AND FLOODPLAINS

    The wetlands and watercourses, as shown on the official Wetlands Map, are displayed on the Open Space Plan. Some of the more outstanding wetlands have been incorporated into the proposed open space areas. For the purpose of identifying less formal corridors, all the wetlands are shown on the map. This plan recognizes that regulatory protection exists for the wetlands and watercourses in the city and outright acquisition may not be necessary.

    Also displayed on the map are the 100 year floodplains, as taken from the Federal Flood Insurance Rate Maps. These areas are also protected by local regulations, which prohibit most development.

  4. SPECIAL FEATURES

    While not a formal part of this document the Conservation Commission has developed a separate overlay map and list (available in the Planning Department) which displays special features within Middletown. This list was researched and developed by the Conservation Commission to enhance their natural resource inventory in fulfillment of their statutory duties. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all the “special places” within Middletown and the Conservation Commission welcomes input to enhance the list. This mapping has been done for the education of the public and to make decision-makers more aware of the presence of these unique areas.

    The list of special features has been grouped into four (4) categories and the mapping symbols indicate this fact. The categories are Hydrologic, Biologic, Geologic and Cultural (Prehistoric and Historic).

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