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Students Present Development Plans for United Water Property [Poll]

David E. Owens Middle School students present plans for what they would develop on the 13-acre United Water property.

Since that includes a 70,500 sq. ft. supermarket, a 4300 sq. ft. bank and 221-unit multi-family housing complex with a 428-space multi-level parking garage and a pool on the 13-acres of land known as the United Water property, it seems as if the entire town is engaged in the conversation of what should go there. The children of the town are no exception.

social studies teacher, Peter Galasso, challenged his class to design and develop a plan for how they would utilize the 13 vacant acres based on the articles that they have been following in Patch--from the filing of the site plans to the progress of the zoning board of adjustment hearings. 

Of the 15 designs presented on Tuesday, the majority included these overriding themes: flood prevention, berms, a recreation center and a field of dreams. A recreation center was prevalent in most of the design plans, the recurring argument being that there is no safe place for the youth of New Milford to go and "hang out" in a "safe environment." 

All of the designs included an affordable housing component, although some were designed as apartment complexes while others were designed as townhouses. One presentation dedicated the housing units entirely to seniors as a way to alleviate any potential for further overcrowding of the school system. 

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The commercial component of the site plans differed, with some designs dedicated to independent shops and restaurants, while others included large chain stores and franchise restaurants such as Outback and KFC. One plan designed a mall on the 13-acre property, another had the "Fun In Inn," a hotel resort with a pool, movie theater, gym, bowling alley, football and soccer field designed to be a center of profit for the town of New Milford. 

Most of the plans included a new . However, one plan traded Shop Rite for a Walmart, and another traded Shop Rite for a Trader Joe's to "open horizons for different tastes" in New Milford. One design focused on the bank because "all the new money coming in from the commercial development has to be put somewhere." Many included underground parking garages not only to provide an alternative to above-ground parking, but to allow adequate space for the field of dreams.

There were plans that dedicated a substantial amount of property for open space to be used as a sanctuary for wildlife and as a permeable buffer between the buildings and the river where water from storms can be absorbed to alleviate potential flooding. 

Evident among all of the presentations was the amount of thought, creativity and collaboration that the students put into designing their site plans. Evident also was their mature grasp of the pertinent issues being discussed by the attorneys, zoning board members, experts and residents regarding the fate of the 13 acres of the United Water property and the stake that they have in its future.  

Ulises May 23, 2012 at 04:52 PM
B.Barbagallo, there's nothing I love more than current events and it's a great exercise the students are engaging in. With that said, they are being encouraged to do exactly what United Water stated the reason for our town's flooding - and that's overdevelopment. Here are the minutes from that meeting. http://www.newmilfordboro.com/attachments/180_approved%20minutes%2011.28.11.pdf What the teacher, the developers, and our officials are clearly avoiding are the facts. This property is the town's 100 year flood plain. Here's the link to the boro's flood map. http://www.newmilfordboro.com/attachments/180_approved%20minutes%2011.28.11.pdf So, I'm not ashame for what I said because this development will lead to increase flooding, higher taxes because of over crowded schools, higher taxes because our police force will need to increase, higher taxes because our volunteer fire department will no longer be volunteer, higher taxes because our roads will need constantly need of repair because of all the traffic, plus that traffic by our high school and senior citizen center will put them in harms way. Development in a flood plain is more than flooding and I'm not a shame of making you know why. SOD!
Ulises May 23, 2012 at 04:55 PM
James, yes, I brought in a flood plain, thank you for reminding me. But the town should have never allowed the development of these neighborhoods 50 years ago and they should allow it now.... I don't know how man times I've stated that here.
Ulises May 23, 2012 at 06:43 PM
james, Sorry for all the typo's. I meant to say: Yes, I brought in the flood plain, thank you for reminding me. But the town should have never allowed the development of these neighborhoods 50 years ago and they should not allow development now...
Lori Barton May 23, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Sorry but this poll really needs a third option: Passive recreation space. Why should the only choices involve building on a flood plain?
Nancy May 23, 2012 at 07:13 PM
This is a joke right? A teacher giving the kids a project to do without telling them all the facts. Lets get real, if you're going to teach something let the kids know everything but then again why single out the kids when the developers dont seem to know the answers. Uli you are right!
Jeffrey DelVecchio May 23, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Quote from the above article: "David E. Owens Middle School social studies teacher, Peter Galasso, challenged his class to design and develop a plan for how they would utilize the 13 vacant acres based on the articles that they have been following in Patch--from the filing of the site plans to the progress of the zoning board of adjustment hearings. ". Explain to me how there are any missing facts. As far as I can tell, the articles on Patch are fact filled especially if you include the comments. This teacher should be commended for having his students do a project based on something important in the community rather than something out of an outdated text book.
Denise May 23, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Yeah, I grew up in NM too. That's why the students sell drugs to one another because they have nothing else to do...ie:no recreation center, movie theater etc. Anyone who believes there are no drugs being bought & sold in this town is a fool. When I was in HS there were drugs also but we had weekly rec dances, etc...what happened to them? Jeanette-did someone actually say to you get out of town?
Denise May 23, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Lori-We all know that they want a passive recreation park at the old Water Works Building, I wonder how this will happen when we all know that the WWB is under water when the rains come hard & heavy & the powers that be at the Oradell Dam do their "thing"
Ulises May 24, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Mr. DelVecchio, the facts are that the developer is making its case on a flood map that's outdated (exhibit #23, I believe). The boro's map clearly puts this property in our 100 year flood plain, that's a fact that the the developer is trying to circumvent. The teacher has been commended by many here too, that's a fact too. The Patch reports are on the testimony that have transpired and the facts are the testimonies are flawed because they admitted, which is a fact, the town is not in any violation of affordable housing, yet in their opinion we need more. So, it's upsetting for those, I guess unlike you, that see this development as a bad things for so many reasons, and those reasons are facts that our children are not aware of.
Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 02:58 AM
As a student who partook in this project, I have several things to say. Starting off, the students who made proposals were of ages 13-14, so it's not like this was an afternoon project done in an afternoon. Second of all, Mr. Galasso is of no fault at all when it comes to the information. While he did give us the basic premise of the situation, he left 90% of the research to us, merely giving us questions to answer as well as the time to answer any additional ones we may have ourselves. Any and all research was done by us. And lastly, many have been pointing out the flood-related problems. It's worth noting that several groups did give a remedy for the flooding in their proposals. This wasn't stated in the article, but the Patch had no way of knowing what the readers would and would not focus on. The article also fails to state that some plans involved a trade off with what is currently the high school track and football area, which perhaps could also help with the flooding if executed correctly.
Ulises May 24, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Anonymous, great job. My apologies if comments of mine offended you, Mr. Galasso, your classmates, or anyone in town. It's just that I, and many passionate friends of mine, feel that our children's and senior citizen's future are in jeopardy, if the land by the high school gets developed. After reading your comment, I now hope Mr. Galasso continues to keep his class update-to-date on this topic and all the challenges to stop overdevelopment.
Ann Piccirillo May 24, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Thank you so much, Anonymous, for joining the conversation. As a member of the class who worked on this project, your voice is of extreme value. The intent of my article was to give an overview of the assigned project and let readers see the level of creativity and maturity of thought that went into each presentation. Each team of students addressed the issue of flooding and included berms and/or a natural barrier of permeable land to absorb the water. And some did indeed trade land with the High School in an effort to relieve flooding. In assigning this challenge to his students, Mr. Galasso did something remarkable. He offered his students guidance, but encouraged them to go forth, research the topic and use their ingenuity and creativity to arrive at a conclusion that, in their opinion, would most benefit the town. The students approached the assignment with great seriousness and maturity in that they clearly understood the weight of the issue within the borders of New Milford. They also voiced their opinion because they wisely understood that they, too, have a stake in what will happen to that land. After all, they're the ones who will ultimately inherit the burden of any decision made. I commend Mr. Galasso for assigning a project so relevant to the lives of his students. I applaud him for giving them the autonomy to think for themselves. And let's not forget that they are actively engaged reading everything we write--as Anonymous has so rightly pointed out.
Mary McElroy May 24, 2012 at 06:20 AM
Let's take a deep breath for a minute & put this into perspective. This was an assignment given to 8th graders. My first thought is how creative on Mr. Galasso's part & how lucky these students are to have a teacher who forgoes the boring boilerplate research paper & gives students an opportunity to examine a topic & present a plan that is both meaningful and relevant to them as citizens of NM. I'm sure that each student who took part in this assignment made a personal connection to the UW property just as each of us has done. Like us, these kids are vested & interested in what's going on there, so kudos to Mr. Galasso for using this interest as a real learning opportunity. Rather than learning about the environment, flooding, planning, zoning, over-development, affordable housing, etc. from a book, they've now examined examples from their own town, researched them & formulated a plan. Do their plans have to be ones that we adults agree with? Is that the most important point? Or do we want to get our kids to THINK? The students did research; they thought about the developer, UW, the environment, flooding, taxes, the school system & alternative plans. The most important thing to me-did the assignment get them THINKING? What better way is there for students to learn about important issues then assigning a topic of interest that they can actually connect with in their own lives. Isn't that when real learning takes place? Good job Mr. Galasso-we need more teachers like you.
Mizz Flanagan May 24, 2012 at 07:35 AM
Hopefully Mr Galasso's intentions were not propagana targeted at their taxpaying parents to give way to this area to being the "utopia" of every New Milford's residents dream, which would indicate it should in some way or another be developed...point is, it shouldn't.... so why feed the children with a thought of what would you do...with some children saying it should have some sort of development on it....perhaps his lesson should have come after Irene..."Students here is your assignment...what can we do for the flood victims of our town?" If they theorized /volunteered about that and THEN Mr Galasso presented his recent assignment...perhaps the answers would be quite different.
Joanne May 24, 2012 at 06:22 PM
I agree with Mary. Kudos to the teacher and the student for researching and presenting different solutions to a current problem. They may not be agreeable to all, but that is another life lesson for them to learn, you can't make everyone happy or agree with you. Shame on the adults in this group for attacking the work of children. SOD is a great organization coming from a group of people who have personal and difficult experiences in the flood zones of New Milford. Perhaps SOD members should offer to go educate the students in this class on their grass roots organization and all that you hope to accomplish, rather than making comments and attacking children's homework through this type of forumn.
Ulises May 24, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Joanne, you are absolutely right. I admit, I overstepped with my own comments. Your suggestion is a good one and I hope the BoE will allow SOD the opportunity to educate our students about our concerns with the development of this property.
Anonymous2 May 24, 2012 at 08:02 PM
14 year olds
Jeffrey DelVecchio May 24, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Ulises, please don't think I support the current development plans for the UW property, because I do not. I don't think I have ever said that. What I am saying is, this article is about a teacher having his students do a project based on a highly debated local topic using commonly available information. For that, he should be commended.
Anonymous2 May 24, 2012 at 08:35 PM
As a participant of this project conducted by the Eighth Grade Honors Class, I can assure you that this project was in no way a projection of propaganda. My classmates and I feel that this wonderful assignment succeeded in teaching us about zoning, government, and civics, which we were already learning at the time, This project did not come from out of the blue. In addition, these proposals were in no way our idealistic "Utopian" plans for the property. Resulting from much business research, recognizable demand interpretation, and overall thought, the groups taking part in this effort (well most of them, anyway) included the structures that they felt would best benefit the citizens of this town. By the way, I am a different student than the last "Anonymous" that commented.
Ulises May 24, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Mr. DelVecchio, thank you for not supporting the current plan. I too commend Mr. Galasso for engaging his students and thank you Anonymous for making me realize this.
Anonymous42 May 24, 2012 at 11:06 PM
You know what?!?! IT IS CUTE
Anonymous42 May 24, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Yes. The students were well informed about all the ins and outs of the situation. The issue of COAH was mentioned several times, so the final designs did have a variety of things that could be built in the area.
Anonymous42 May 24, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Jeffrey - Thank you for defending Peter Galasso's actions. He is a wonderful teacher and deserves all the praise he gets. Go Bison!!
Anonymous42 May 24, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Thank you for understanding.
Anonymous42 May 24, 2012 at 11:16 PM
I'm proud to be able to say that you're a fellow classmate of mine. Students like you and me have a duty to show that the class we have is worthy of much acclaim, and you did a fine job of doing so now.
Mary McElroy May 25, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Ulises, your strong feelings are understandable given your experiences with flooding but as you can see when it comes to Mr. Galasso, many of us, both parents & students alike, feel very strongly about his abilities as a teacher. He's one of the most admired teachers in our district; this year he was named not only teacher of the year at the middle school but also the district teacher of the year - both honors well deserved because this is someone who always goes above & beyond for NM kids both in and out of the classroom. So keep playing hard ball with UW & Heikeman - we love that about you-but leave Mr. Galasso alone!!!
Ulises May 25, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Mary, I agree and I've said it here more than once that I stand corrected now. Thank you.
Denise May 25, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Joanne-Perhaps if the teacher that gave this assignment had given the students ALL the information regarding the project you wouldn't be saying shame on the adults for attacking the work of the students.,SOD is not only a group of people who have had personal & difficult experiences in the flood zones of NM, but people who don't want Hekemian building a debacle on the UW site. The idea of having SOD members educate the students on ALL information that is available is ideally a good one.
Anonymous2 May 25, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Denise, I am positive that my fellow classmates and I were extremely cappable of researching the material needed to construct the completed project, and any future assignment. Honesly, what is the purpose of any project if the inscructor decides to supply all information that should be left to the participants? I am aware that many individuals of this town have been affected by flooding, but the students are in no way oblivious to the issue of flooding. I can name several students in my class that have been affected greatly by flooding.
Kaitlyn C. May 25, 2012 at 09:08 PM
As one of Mr. Galasso's students, I have found that he is one of the best teachers I have ever had! He is very involved in his classes and cares for his students! I don't think he deserves ANY negative comments!

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