Sidebar Middletown's Plan of Development

CHAPTER 13

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 be 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 recognizes 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 of 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 unites 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.

IMPLEMENTATION

This plan is a collection of goals, objectives and recommendations aimed at providing the highest possible quality of life to as many of the city’s residents as possible. Perhaps the most difficult portion of the Plan of Development process is the implementation phase. By state statute the next mandatory review and update of this plan will be in ten years. Ideally this plan will be reviewed and updated as frequently as the Planning and Zoning Commission and the professional city planning staff deem appropriate.

This plan should be an active one, it should be frequently referenced by the Planning and Zoning Commission and their staff as well as other city officials. It represents the official Plan for the future of the City of Middletown. This plan is not intended to be all encompassing, it should represent the skeletal framework upon which decisions are made and future studies and projects are initiated.

Considering that this is the official Plan of Development for the entire city and not just the Planning and Zoning Commission, it is essential that all actions and future studies and projects initiated be in general conformance with the goals, objectives and recommendations articulated in this plan.

However, this is primarily a Planning and Zoning Commission document and therefore its implementation is the primary responsibility of the Planning and Zoning Commission. In implementing this plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission has three primary tools at its disposal. These are the Zoning Code, the Subdivision Regulations and a Capital Improvements Planning Program.

ZONING

(Planning and Zoning Authority C.G.S. Title 8, Chapter 124)

The city’s Zoning Ordinance was adopted in 1927 and has been amended many times. To meet today’s needs there should be a major update of the existing Zoning Code. The Zoning Code update must be coordinated with the Plan of Development and designed to carry out its goals and objectives. Zoning in Middletown is very different from that in the average urban community. Middletown contains both a compact downtown area and all degrees of development from urban to rural. The Plan of Development provides for a continuation of the rural character in outlying sections of the city and the Zoning for these areas should be designed to carry out this objective. In other areas the Zoning should provide for and promote the varied kinds of development and re-development envisioned in this Plan of Development.

SUBDIVISION REGULATIONS

(Planning and Zoning Authority C.G.S. Title 8, Chapter 126)

The Subdivision Regulations are basically a technical guide which provide for the proper layout of lots, open spaces, sidewalks, drainage systems, water and sewer lines and streets in subdivisions. The existing City of Middletown Subdivision Regulations are also in need of major revisions. These regulations should be amended as soon as possible so as to conform to the goals and objectives of the Plan and to promote he orderly, efficient and the most aesthetically pleasing subdivision of land.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS PLANNING PROGRAM

(Planning and Zoning Authority C.G.S. Title 8, Chapter 126 and City Ordinance 26-2)

Community facilities and public services are an essential ingredient in the overall makeup of the community. These facilities contribute greatly to the overall quality of life for the residents of the City of Middletown. Community facilities can range from public schools to storm sewers to police stations. Nevertheless, whatever the facility may be, it is essential that the future policy and requirements for each type of facility are well understood and anticipated well in advance.

Capital Improvements Planning is the multi-year scheduling of public physical improvements. The scheduling is based on studies of fiscal resources available and the choice of specific improvements to be constructed for a period of five to six years into the future. A capital improvement is commonly defined as new or expanded physical facilities that are relatively large in size, expensive and permanent. Capital Improvements should include only those expenditures for physical facilities with relatively long term usefulness and permanence.

This type of capital improvements planning will highlights, well in advance, future expenditures so that they can be budgeted for to insure that the fiscal position of the community is sound and that public facilities are provided in an efficient manner which maximizes the quality of life for the residents of Middletown.

The benefits of an effective capital improvements planning program include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. A better scheduling of public improvements that require more than one year to construct.
  2. Ensures that plans for community facilities are carried out.
  3. Provides an opportunity, assuming funds are available, to purchase needed land before the cost goes up.
  4. Provides an opportunity for long range financial planning and management.
  5. Helps to stabilize tax rates through careful department management.
  6. Helps avoid such mismanagement as paving a street one year and tearing it up the next to install a sewer line.
  7. Offers an opportunity for citizens and public interest groups to participate in decision making.
  8. Contributes to better overall management of city affairs.
Unfortunately, this type of Capital Improvement Planning is greatly under-utilized in Middletown and for the most part, all of Connecticut. Very few communities have an active, healthy and well-financed capital improvement planning program in place.

(Planning and Zoning Commissions Authority to initiate a Capital Improvements Planning Program)

It is the opinion of the Planning and Zoning Commission as articulated in this Plan that there is a need for a resurgence of a Capital Improvements Planning Program in the City of Middletown. Presently there appears to be no truly organized mechanism for decision making. Every department and agency is on its own to achieve its interests without evaluation against any overall plan. The Planning and Zoning Commission is the Commission designated with the authority to plan for future needs. As mandated in the State Statutes, Section 8-23 the Plan of Development for the City of Middletown may include a schedule and budget for public capital projects. While the Capital Improvements Planning Program is not presently proposed as a part of this Plan of Development it is strongly recommended that such a program be initiated in the City of Middletown. The Planning and Zoning Commission has the authority to enforce such a Capital Improvements Planning Program in both the State Statutes and the City Ordinances. It is required in the City Ordinances, Section 26.2 and the State Statutes Section 8-24, that all proposals for capital improvements must be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission for conformity with the Plan of Development and the proposals impact on the coordinated development of Middletown.

However, the focal point of the Capital Improvement Plan process is the Common Council. The Council has the ultimate decision on whether capital improvements are to be funded. In making these funding decisions, the Common Council should refer to the proposed Capital Improvements Plan as a management review system and rely heavily on the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation.

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