The following post contains opinions from reporters.
As we look back on 2017 in the lower Naugatuck Valley, all I can think about is . . .
I really need to clean my house.
Are we out of coffee?
How many people can a 3-foot grinder feed?
With that being said, here are The Valley Indy’s top stories of 2017, at least according to Eugene Driscoll and Ethan Fry, the two reporters.
Oh, but before we begin, please note this list is sponsored by the ValleyGivesBack.org, a new way to support nonprofit causes from The Valley Community Foundation.
Visit the website right now for more info.
OK, here we gooooo!
— Eugene Driscoll
’Zeke’ Wins In Derby/Democrats Implode
Reporter Ethan:Two years after losing the election for Derby mayor by 112 votes, Rich Dziekan returned to the race.
This year he not only won, but won big, beating two-term incumbent Anita Dugatto by more than 500 votes and leading the GOP to a majority on the boards of Aldermen and Education.
Reporter Eugene: And the Derby GOP continues to hold a majority on the Board of Apportionment and Taxation, the group that approves the budget and sets the tax rate, a function often obscured during election year.
Ethan: A litany of factors led to the turnaround, but whatever the causes, Dziekan’s victory means the lower Naugatuck Valley is now totally Republican in terms of chief elected officials, an embarrassing development for a Democratic Party that should be representing the working class.
Eugene: I don’t think party ideology plays much of a role at our level, though I think some of the nastiness from the national insanity trickled down into the Ansonia race.
In Derby, the Democratic Town Committee was divided, and a bunch sided with Dziekan over Mayor Dugatto on Election Day.
Cassetti Wins Big After Rough-and-Tumble Campaign
Ethan: In Ansonia, David Cassetti won a second straight landslide victory to become the first Republican in the city’s history to be elected to three consecutive terms as mayor. But his 1,797-vote margin of victory belied the tone and tactics of a much more heated campaign.
For example, one of the mayor’s supporters was caught on video pestering a downtown business owner about political signs. Another followed the Democratic nominee Tarek Raslan for two miles while notifying police Raslan was driving an unregistered car. There was even a weeks-long controversy over the planning of a candidates forum at the high school.
Eugene: I was bummed that the race got so nasty at times, including in our comment section. I think the Trump-Clinton civil war mentality infected some of the supporters on both sides.
Modern politics is to view the opposition as the enemy to be defeated. And, of course, the media is evil.
I dunno, we’re all in this together, people.
I was extremely happy the candidates debated in our office. Next time we’ll have air conditioning and better audio.
Of course the big lesson from the race is — people like Mayor Cassetti and what he’s doing in Ansonia.
They like that he’s a cheerleader for the city, and that he is willing to talk to people about what he’s trying to do.
They like the fact the administration is creative — things like opening a winter park and organizing “Rock the Valley,” announcing every new business on Facebook . . . it builds a sense of community and something to rally behind.
Violence In Ansonia, Derby
Ethan: In August a 21-year-old Naugatuck man with deep Derby roots was killed after being shot several times on Anson Street.
Police are investigating both cases, but have not yet announced any charges.
During his campaign for mayor, Rich Dziekan, a retired Hamden cop, promised to do more to engage with residents of the beleaguered neighborhood. Now he must follow through on that pledge.
Mayor David Cassetti and Police Chief Kevin Hale called a meeting at the Workplace’s offices on 4th Street at which a crowd of more than 60 people spilled out the door. Hale said cops would work to be more visible in the area, and several people in attendance said they would work to reform a block watch in the area.
Eugene: It was interesting to see the very different reactions to the gunplay in Ansonia and Derby. Ansonia held a community meeting and talked about it in public.
Dorm Plan For Marshall Lane Manor Riles Neighbors
Ethan: Marshall Lane Manor, a nursing home in Derby, closed in 2015.
In April, a company approached the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission with a new plan for the property — as a dorm for students from foreign countries attending private schools in the state.
At subsequent meetings concerning the plan dozens of neighbors have spoken out against it, and an appeal has been filed in court challenging a zoning change adopted by the commission paving the way for the application to go forward.
The commission approved the site plan Dec. 19.
Eugene: All I can say is that the commissioners were in a tough spot. Derby needs to grow its grand list, and what can you do with an old nursing home that keeps it on the tax rolls?
That being said, the neighbors had valid concerns.
Contrary to popular belief, “NIMBYism” isn’t always a bad thing. Residential neighborhoods should be preserved and protected.
Zoning laws are to communities what speed limits are to highways.
Shelter Ridge Approved, Election Fallout Ensues
Ethan: Controversy attending another land use matter also played out across the Housatonic River in Shelton. When a sprawling mixed-use development application on a wooded 121-acre property was approved in March by the Planning & Zoning Commission, leaders of Save Our Shelton, a group organized in opposition to the project, vowed to take their displeasure to the polls.
I was very skeptical, considering the same refrain is heard nearly every year at budget time only to see the same incumbents re-elected again and again in a city where Mayor Mark Lauretti has been in power since people used CompuServe to get online.
But when ballots were tallied Nov. 7, longtime P&Z Chair Ruth Parkins, who voted to approve the project, lost her seat on the board, and the candidates endorsed by SOS won.
Meanwhile, two SOS members have since appealed the P&Z’s approval to Superior Court, with a trial on the matter tentatively scheduled for next April.
Valley FOI Missteps
Ethan:During the Shelton P&Z’s review of Shelter Ridge a disturbing trend was revealed: the city was not publishing minutes of a half-dozen of the board’s meetings concerning Shelter Ridge and other matters, leaving residents who couldn’t be at the meetings in the dark about what had transpired at them.
The Valley Indy appealed to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, which ruled in July that the city had violated the state’s FOI Act. It was the second freedom of information faux pas by Shelton of 2017, with the commission ruling in May that the city’s pension board played games with transparency law.
Shelton wasn’t alone in terms of Valley governments losing FOI cases. Derby’s police commissioners are appealing the commission’s ruling that a disciplinary report about the police chief written by a lawyer must be disclosed to the public. And Ansonia settled an FOI complaint filed by the local Democratic Town Committee chairman regarding a “single-party caucus” held in Mayor David Cassetti’s office prior to a special Aldermen’s meeting four days before Christmas.
Eugene: Didn’t we lose a complaint or two against Ansonia?
In general, the press is nothing more than a conduit for the people. About 130,000 people live in the lower Valley. Part of our mission, I think, is to make sure public information remains public, even if the public isn’t paying attention.
New Businesses Show Signs Of Much-Needed Economic Life
Ethan: Reading this recap so far, you might be thinking “Wow, the person who wrote this must be a real bitter cynic, lingering on tragedy, fighting, mishaps, and misery.”
After reading it back myself, I’d be tempted to agree with you.
Eugene: I thought jogging and quitting smoking would put you in better moods. I’ve long suspected you’re the Kylo Ren of hyperlocal news.
Ethan: I promise that’s not the case. I like to see good things happening too. The problem is, with a two-person newsroom it’s difficult to devote as much time to telling those stories as there is to reporting on so-called “negative news” — which should really be called “news that people actually read.”
So it’s important for me to note that there have been positive developments in the lower Valley in 2017. In terms of longterm impact, the most important is probably a number of new or expanding businesses, and not just on Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton.
Bad Sons Beer Company is flourishing in a former factory on Roosevelt Drive in Derby. At the other end of Route 34, the Tipsy Tomato now makes the best pizza in the Valley. Seymour juggernaut Connecticut Basement Systems expanded yet again.
Ansonia’s “restaurant row” has new members like the Valley Eatery and Massimino’s will eventually move to a new building under construction on Main Street. Around the corner, the venerable Banko’s Music store was renovated under new ownership. The Farrel Corp. opened a pristine new headquarters, and a rug pad manufacturer is moving into some of Farrel’s former space.
Has all this economic activity made the Valley a utopia? Obviously not. And it’d be great if this activity were associated with more high-paying full-time jobs. But any business is preferable to an empty building or storefront, and in places that are facing a multitude of challenges, one can say that there is some positive momentum. Let’s hope it continues in 2018 and beyond.
Eugene: There has been some tremendous redevelopment projects in Derby and Ansonia.
BAD SONS brewery transformed an underutilized property on Roosevelt Drive into a destination. It’s amazing to see, and I hope it continues along that stretch of Derby. I live basically above that road, and it’s a mishmash of confusing uses bordering a residential zone. The brewery fits nicely there.
I can’t say enough about Calvert Safe & Lock on Roosevelt Drive, too. It’s a beautiful building. I had my house painted and I used that new building’s color as inspiration. The Calverts turned an old dump into a great new space.
And kudos to Ansonia for “Ansonia ReCharged.” Government marketing attempts are traditionally awful, but the concept Ansonia is using isn’t just a cliche.
Main Street in Ansonia is rebounding. I used to be worried about leaving our Main Street office at night. Now there are often cars on the street after dark.
I could go on and on, but I won’t.
Ethan: HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Eugene: Merry Christmas! Or, if this publishes after Christmas, happy New Year!