There is no place for you in Newtown if you have a modest income. The houses are too expensive. Rentals are nonexistent. And the town has a set of zoning regulations designed for an affluent demographic that keeps the local population homogeneous and upscale. Fortunately, state law provides a reasonable alternative for developers to overcome the town’s resistance to providing affordable housing. The only problem with all of this, however, is that none of it is true.
If we can believe the lore, there once was a time when one could stand atop Holcombe Hill and see Long Island Sound. These days woodlands block the view, and there are only the seagulls in grocery store parking lots to remind us that we live in a coastal state. And that may be part of the problem, according state environmental officials. When Long Island Sound is out of sight, it is also out of mind in a state bent on robust economic development.
In this relatively snowless winter, we suppose it makes sense that this year’s inversion of our seasonal expectations might itself get inverted with a major snowstorm at about the time when we normally expect a January thaw. Mild winters are not the ones we remember in New England, but they confer blessings on those of us attached to daily routines, and they keep the insurance adjustors at bay. They offer the sort of devalued benefits we take for granted without any special note or accounting. But what of the great disruptions that come sweeping across the Midwest and up the coast setting off blizzard alarms and team coverage in weather centers and newsrooms everywhere? Is there some benefit to the sudden paralyzing complication of a snowstorm beyond the adrenalin buzz?
As town and school budgetmakers assemble the 2015-16 budget line item by line item, they are girding themselves for upcoming hearings on their spending plans, beginning with a February 3 hearing on the school budget. Newtown residents — at least those residents who vote in budget referendums — seem to think their tax burden is heavy enough. They traditionally balk at tax rate increases of anything more than a percent or so. No matter how well crafted or justified school and town budgets may be, they are a hard sell. So we were not surprised to see the eager gathering of local officials at the C.H. Booth Library January 13 to hear the siren call of Robert Santy, president and CEO of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC), who defined economic development as “building wealth for a community and its residents.”
There are two ways to look at the recent move by Governor Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature to increase in the state’s minimum wage. It is either a lifeline for those living on the margins of the state’s economy or a rope too short to pull struggling families out of economic hardship and stress.
On January 1, the lowest rate in Connecticut for most hourly wage earners increased from $8.70 to $9.15 an hour. The new minimum wage law will also allow for incremental increases over the next two years, culminating in a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour for workers who punch the clock. The increase, according to the governor, will ensure that “no one who works full time lives in poverty.”
Wading into the alphabet soup of Newtown’s zoning regulations can be hazardous to your wakefulness. But as the Planning and Zoning Commission seeks to move beyond its legally precarious AHD with a MUMI-10 as a buffer against the state’s AHAA, which ultimately led to a court-ordered approval in 2011 of an MIHD in Sandy Hook Center, one distinct message emerges from the accumulating jumble of acronyms: Newtown is trying very hard to stay alert to its obligations to provide a wider variety of affordable housing stock to its residents.
The New Year has begun, bringing with it hopes and resolutions meant to erase the folly of the previous year (or years). It is an annual event, celebrated in this part of the world by the turning of the Gregorian Calendar page from December to January.
The negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed in Bridgeport Superior Court December 13 by a survivor and the families of nine of the 26 people killed two years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School hopes to move the discussion of guns and gun violence away from the politically charged precincts of legislative hearings, social media and other freewheeling forums (yes, editorials too) into the more ordered setting of a court room. It is not that courtrooms are immune from the distortions of polemics and grandiloquence, which have distracted this country’s debate on guns. Legal proceedings, in fact, are known for these high rhetorical arts. In courtrooms, however, no matter how high the words are piled, it is evidence that is supposed to tip the scales.
As fall began to take its final bows this week, winter was waiting in the wings, hastening the old season’s slide into history with sleet, ice, and snow. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, it appeared that someone had run Zambonis over the roads in much of the state, turning the morning rush into a cautious creep. Then snow frosted the landscape again on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Winter asserts itself in this way as no other season does. It imposes itself on our pace, on our schedules, and on our certitude. It threatens to break our appointments with its implicit threat to break our arms and hips by shifting the ground beneath our feet and the road beneath our cars. It loosens the connections we have to make, and, at times, cuts us off one from another.
In the ten years since Newtown purchased the state-owned property that served Connecticut for more than 60 years as a psychiatric hospital, the evolution of 186-acre campus at Fairfield Hills has been mostly municipal. The site is now the seat of Newtown’s government. Attempts to stimulate commercial interest there, however, have sputtered. The one notable exception was the opening of the 86,000-square-foot Newtown Youth Academy in 2008. But now, there is even talk of an eventual town takeover of that facility as well.