Cheshire’s top stories of 2017 included charter changes, planned medical building, fatal plane crash

Cheshire’s top stories of 2017 included charter changes, planned medical building, fatal plane crash

reporter photo

CHESHIRE — Developers proposed a medical office building for a prominent piece of South Main Street property in 2017, Republicans expanded their majority on the Town Council in municipal elections and voters approved changes to the Town Charter.

Cheshire is one of five municipalities that send trash to Covanta Energy's transfer plant in Wallingford. The towns declined an offer by Covanta in January to shut down the Wallingford plant and send trash to Covanta’s Bristol location.

Covanta approached the municipalities — Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, Hamden and North Haven — last year to propose moving trash processing to the company's trash-to-energy facility in Bristol. The plan also called for Covanta to close its 10-acre transfer station on South Cherry Street in Wallingford. The company is under contract to process trash from the five municipalities until 2020.

In February, education officials pitched their plan for overhauling the town’s schools, including $423 million in new or renovated buildings over the next 15 years. School district leaders said state grants, maintenance savings and staff reductions would make the total cost of the project for Cheshire taxpayers around $231 million.

School officials argued that delaying the plan would also increase the cost of construction as well as add years to school buildings that are on average more than 66 years old. The first part of the plan calls for the construction of a new middle school that would accommodate sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Darcy and Humiston schools would be closed. Chapman may be closed or repurposed, according to the recommendations adopted by the Board of Education. A new Cheshire High School would be built and the old one demolished.

In March, Cheshire received the results of a state arbitration decision that could save the town more than $850,000 on a four-year teachers’ union contract. The Town Council rejected a negotiated agreement between the Board of Education and the Education Association of Cheshire, saying it was too generous considering the town and state’s financial situation.

The education board’s deal would have awarded raises between 3 and 3.2 percent each year. Arbiters agreed with Cheshire’s arguments on salary increases in the first year of the contract. 

Cheshire resident Joseph Tomanelli died in an airplane crash in April while practicing “touch and go” landings with his son at Meriden-Markham Airport. Tomanelli, 56,  was flying a single-engine Cirrus SR22.

Witnesses saw the plane's first practice landing, when it touched down on the runway at a faster-than-normal speed, bounced twice and took off again. The plane circled around for another landing. During the second landing, the plane touched down at a slower speed, lifted off 10 to 15 feet, then dropped to the ground. The plane became airborne again before veering left and crashing through the airport's perimeter fence and catching fire.

The Town Council voted in May to prohibit tobacco use in town parks after a recommendation from the Parks Commission. In 2016, the Parks Commission recommended the prohibition of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, electronic cigarettes, vapor devices, chewing tobacco and snuff at all parks. Commission members said they wanted the measure to be symbolic as well as keeping smoke and tobacco smell away from non-smokers and children. The council approved the ban in a 7-to-2 vote.

In June the Town Council voted overwhelmingly against a $106.4 million plan for a new middle school, the first in the education board’s master plan for new or upgraded schools. Councilors cited a doubling of the town’s debt and the impact on taxpayers, particularly with a $12 million cut in state aid looming.

July marked the 10th anniversary of the Petit killings. The family house is gone, but friends and neighbors in the Sorghum Mill Drive area mostly remain. A memorial garden on the Petit property is a reminder of the three women who were killed 10 years ago and is one of the many projects residents have undertaken together following the crime.

After details of the crime emerged, police around the state started talking, planning and training to prevent such a scenario from happening again. The 2007 crime resulted in changes to police protocol and their response to home invasions and kidnappings.

Betsy Fox, former Historic District Commission chairwoman, resigned in August following a Town Council vote to allow the demolition of the Chapman house on land next to Bartlem Park purchased this year.

Fox had strongly opposed the demolition, saying the Victorian-era farmhouse could be used for storage or meeting spaces and should be preserved as part of Cheshire’s agricultural history. She resigned from the Historic District Commission saying she couldn’t work with a council that ignored preservation. The council said saving the house would have required costly remediation of a building for which there was no planned use.

Fireworks returned to the Fall Festival in September after a one-year hiatus. Sponsors and a raffle helped raise money for the fireworks. Last year the festival had a laser light show as a safer alternative. This year fireworks were shot from the newly bought Chapman property. Town officials were worried last year about the possibility of fireworks damaging the Community Pool roof.

The chamber and businesses around town sold raffle tickets for $25 to help raise money for the fireworks.

Developers submitted plans for a medical building on a long-vacant property on South Main Street in October. Plans for the 41,000 square-foot medical office building on the former site of the Cheshire Cinema have grown to include the next-door 7-Eleven, which will be demolished to make way for more parking.

Cheshire Medical Associates LLC submitted plans for the two-story building, which is designed to conform to the architecture in downtown.

Powered by David Veleber's narrow victory over District 1 Democratic incumbent Michael Ecke, Republicans added a seat on the Town Council during November’s election. Republican incumbents Rob Oris, Tim Slocum, Paul Bowman and Sylvia Nichols picked up four of the five at-large seats, and now hold a 6-3 advantage on the council. Republicans previously held a 5-4 advantage.

Voters supported ballot items to pay for school and road upgrades, but rejected a $1.5 million plan to bring water service to undeveloped land near Interstate 691. Town officials had hoped that bringing utilities to the north end of Cheshire would draw investors after W/S Developers pulled out of a plan to build a shopping center.

Voters also approved changes to the town charter, except making the Town Clerk an appointed rather than elected position. Charter changes were recommended by a charter revision commission.

After fierce criticism from some parents, the school district suspended an online learning platform pilot. Summit Learning ended Dec. 22.

Parents had a host of criticisms about Summit Learning, which included increased screen time for students, inappropriate content linked from the site and privacy concerns based on Chan Zuckerberg Initiative funding for Summit. Teachers and administrators had recommended a Summit pilot program for fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students.

The program’s future is unclear although school board members said there were portions of it that had benefit. The education board will discuss Summit after the holidays.

Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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