Friday, May 31, 2013

Local Author Speaks About Farm Preservation

James Powers, a Wallingford native and Durham resident (shown at left), will discuss his new book, Saving the Farm: A Journey through Time, Place, and Redemption at Wallingford Public Library on June 10th.
Powers, a history teacher at Guilford High School, says his maiden effort as an author details how a farm in that Shoreline community was preserved in the face of development. It also the story of 10 generations of the Dudley family in Guilford, he said.
 “Above all,” Powers said, “Saving the Farm speaks to the need for our communities to renew their sense of place and work to preserve our disappearing historic and cultural resources that make us who we are."
The June 10th program begins at 7 p.m.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

What's In A Name? Only W/S Development Knows For Sure

What's the difference between a lifestyle center and an outlet center?

 The residents of Cheshire will find out sometime within the next two weeks, as Massachusetts-based W/S Development rolls out details of its plans for some kind of shopping area at the intersection of Interstate 691 and Route 10 in the town's North End to officials

 But until late Thursday evening, we had every reason to believe that what was in the works was a lifestyle center called the Shoppes At Cheshire, retail development's answer to recreating a town center environment on a more grand scale (see the artist's rendition at left).

There was no reason to believe otherwise. W/S Vice President of Development Louis Masiello told the New Haven Register earlier this year the only element that had changed from when the developer got its initial approval for the project in 2008 was that plans for 146 condominium units had been shelved because of concerns about that segment of the real estate market.

Masiello said W/S was retaining the remaining features of the complex, including:

—A multi-screen movie theater with underground parking

—An organic grocery store of about 50,000 square feet

—A health club
—A large bookstore chain.
But that all may have changed Thursday when the company put out a press release in which W/S stated its intention "to bring top designer and brand name outlets to the Cheshire project."
“The decision to build a destination outlet center is in large part due to the very strong retail interest in the project and the success of outlet centers today” said Mark Roberts, senior vice president of leasing at W/S.. “With its convenient highway location and super regional access, the project is perfectly positioned within the state for outlet retail."

The idea of an outlet center certainly runs contrary to what W/S had laid out before Cheshire's Planning and Zoning Commission. although not dramatically so.
Clinton Crossing and Tanger Outlet Center in Westbrook are outlet centers, where shoppers are lured with prospect of getting deep discounts on designer clothes and other brand name goods.

 W/S pitched a  product that seemed to be much more similar in style to Evergreen Walk in South Windsor or The Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton, which is a W/S property and is shown at right.
The name of the Cheshire project has changed. It's now going to be called "The Outlets At Cheshire." and it's going to have 585,000 square feet of retail space, up from the 500,000 W/S had previously said  would be developed.
Will all these changes matter to the PZC and consumers in the surrounding area?
 Probably not, since W/S says the complex will generate $1.6 million in annual property tax revenue and create 400 jobs during the construction as well 1,100 permanent full and part-time jobs in the businesses that populate it. In an economy that is still struggling to get back on its feet, Connecticut will take whatever jobs it can get.
Of course, it is a municipal election year and with Republicans holding a 6-3 advantage on the Cheshire Town Council, it will be interesting which political party moves to stake out the position as opponents of the project, particularly with the changes that W/S has proposed.
Hopefully, W/S Development officials will explain themselves further later on Friday. But one can make an educated guess that after having to shelve the project for almost five years because of the worst recession in a generation, W/S is proposing to take what the market will bear and is abandoning the idea of an upscale shopping mecca in favor of attracting the bargain hungry masses.
Tweaking the focus of the project ever so slightly could also be an attempt to keep Westfield Properties, the owner of the place most folks in northern New Haven County know as the Meriden Square Mall, from  taking up legal action. The Meriden mall is located a little less than five miles from where W/S is planning its outlet center and Westfield Properties had threatened, prior to the PZC 2008 approval vote, to go to court to block the new retail center.
An outlet center might be viewed as less of a threat to Westfield's Meriden mall. which is all indoors and is spread across two levels.
Cheshire Economic Development Coordinator Jerry Sitko said Thursday that W/S had a number officials in town, but he didn't say why. Now we know the reason.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Settlement In Sexual Discrimination Case Finally Announced

More than a month after the New Haven Register first reported that Wallingford Town Council had agreed to settle a sexual discrimination case in which a female police officer claimed she had been denied a request for light duty after she became pregnant, a settlement in the case was officially announced.

As part of the town's settlement with Annie Balcastro, she will receive an unspecified amount of money, according to the Connecticut office of the American Civil Liberties Union. officials. Because Wallingford does not provide light duty opportunities for its officers, Balcastrowas forced to take an upaid leave of absence.

“I was relieved when I learned that Connecticut protects pregnant women in the workplace,” she said in a statement. “You shouldn't have to choose between working and starting a family.”

The sexual discrimination charge was filed last June after Wallingford Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio denied  Balcastro a light duty assignment.

Mayor William Dickinson Jr. said he supported the chief's decision as well as the  council’s vote, which he called “a business decision.”

“It would not have made sense for us to litigate this matter because our insurance company was urging us to settle,” Dickinson said.“If we had not settled and a ruling had gone against us, the town would have been solely responsible for any financial damages."

Dickinson said he supports Dortenzio’s policy “because if we offer light duty to one person, than you have to offer it to everyone.”

“If you want to be a police officer, you have to be able to do all the work that entails,” the mayor said.

Dickinson said Bolcastro was offered clerical work with another town department during her pregnancy. He said the town has faced similar legal challenges before and “we’ve prevailed in every one of those.”

Sandra Staub, legal director for Connecticut's ACLU chapter, the pregnant employees in all types of jobs need to "understand their right to be accommodated under the Connecticut statute, particularly women in jobs traditionally held by men."

The complaint charged that the police department’s unwritten policy of denying accommodations to pregnant officers violated state and federal civil rights laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Connecticut law states that it is a discriminatory practice for an employer “to fail or refuse to make a reasonable effort to transfer a pregnant employee to any suitable temporary position which may be available.”
Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, said "the ability to stay on the job is key to women’s equality in the workplace.”

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