Kelley statue backers get P&Z approval for Mystic River Park

Stonington - Despite opposition by member Ben Tamsky, who said it violates zoning regulations, the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday night to allow the placement of a life-size bronze statue of late Boston Marathon champion John Kelley in Mystic River Park.

The commission had to decide whether the statue, which would be located at the corner of Cottrell and Washington streets, could be placed within required building setbacks. While regulations allow items such as flagpoles, signs, tennis courts, ornamental wells and gravestones in the setbacks, there is no mention of statues.

Tamsky said that while he did not oppose the idea of a statue, his responsibility was to uphold the regulations, which do not make an exemption for a statue. He said a statue would be considered a structure and could not be located in a setback.

Commission member Frances Hoffman said the statue is more like a flagpole or gravestone than a building, while commissioner Bob Mercer said it's not possible to list every possible exemption in the regulations.

The John Kelley Memorial Fund, which has raised about one-third of the estimated $90,000 cost of the statue, will now apply for a zoning permit from the town and work with zoning officials to make sure the statue does not block the sightlines of motorists. Spyros Barres, the fund's treasurer, said it would not.

Fund officials are trying to obtain approval from the Mystic River Park Commission to put the statue in the park. That decision is expected next month.

Kelley, the 1957 Boston Marathon champion, two-time Olympian and former Fitch High School English teacher and coach, died in August 2011.

In other action, the commission unanimously approved a zoning permit for owner Stephen Vacca and his nephew James Lathrop to renovate the long vacant building at 2-4 Mechanic St. in Pawcatuck and use it as an office and retail outlet for Phoenix Oil, Lathrop's oil, heating, refrigeration and air conditioning business on Taugwonk Spur Road.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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