Groton Council Does A 360 On Parking Lot Issue

Groton — They flipped. They flopped and flipped again.

After receiving a barrage of correspondence and calls from downtown Mystic merchants –– including a plea from the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce –– the Town Council on Tuesday revisited its position on whether to endorse leasing a town-owned parking lot to a developer looking to rebuild at the former Central Hall Block site.

This time, the council gave the developer what it wanted to move the redevelopment plans at 18-22 W. Main St. through the local land-use process. By a 7-2 vote, the council agreed to reverse its March 7 decision that had rejected leasing the lot.

Historic Mystic LLC wants to build a four-story building at the former burned-out Central Hall Block, consisting of six street-level retail shops and 16 residential condominium units.

The developer went before the council's working Committee of the Whole on Feb. 28 to gauge whether it would be receptive to letting the developers use the nine-space public lot on Gravel Street, right behind the project site, for a staging area for construction, then allowing it to be used as a fenced-in, private lot to exclusively serve the residents of the proposed development.

The developer walked out that night with a slim 5-4 vote that supported his request. A week later, on March 7, that endorsement fell apart when the council, with one member absent, was unable to muster the necessary five votes to ratify the committee's decision.

With a 4-4 tie vote, the notion of leasing the lot was defeated, with Councilors Frank O'Beirne Jr., John F. Scott IV, James L. Streeter and Elissa T. Wright voting against. Shortly after that decision, councilors began to receive an onslaught of calls and correspondence from downtown Mystic merchants and residents asking the council to reconsider its position.

As a result, Streeter agreed to resurrect the issue for a revote. Streeter said that when he voted against the project during the Committee of the Whole and again on March 7, he was doing so out of concern that Mystic, already struggling with the problem of limited parking, would lose more parking if the public lot was leased to a developer.

“If the business community supports it, I guess my concern for parking is a moot issue,” he said.

He and Scott voted along with Councilors Peter J. Bartinik Jr., Heather Sherman Bond, Catherine Kolnaski, Paulannn H. Sheets and Mayor Harry A. Watson Jr. to endorse the developer's use of the lot.

O'Beirne and Wright remained resolute in their opposition. Wright said she especially objected to the idea of preventing public access to publicly owned lands. Wright also noted that the town-owned lot has been mentioned as a potential area for the landing of any possible water taxi or shuttle boat that could help move people around downtown Mystic.
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