Another chapter in Seaside story

It's been more than a decade since Waterford voters resoundingly rejected an offer to buy and preserve the 36-acre waterfront property that was once the Seaside Regional Center.

The first selectman at the time, Paul B. Eccard, notified the state after that Jan. 23, 2001, vote that the town would waive any claim to the property.

The town had its chance and decided to pass, something a handful of townspeople have ignored or forgotten.

Yes, Waterford residents have a responsibility to monitor private development of the Seaside property, but not to try to block it.

The latest flap comes as a result of developer Mark Steiner's request to amend plans he agreed to years ago, before the project was temporarily derailed.

Mr. Steiner had planned to renovate Seaside's old, and yes, architecturally significant buildings as age-restricted condominiums, and to improve public access to the shoreline, adding a fishing platform, small park and parking.

Now the developer is before Waterford's Planning and Zoning Commission, saying he no longer wants to be forced to sell only to occupants 55 or older; and if necessary he wants the OK to demolish some of the old buildings. It's not surprising the business plan has to change because the economy has changed, and the buildings have further deteriorated, during a long delay caused by the state's flip-flops on the future use of the property.

Ideally, Mr. Steiner will be able to preserve the Cass Gilbert-designed structures and should make every reasonable effort. But if due to years of neglect and deterioration that is impossible, he should have the flexibility to demolish and try and recreate them.

The housing market has changed since Mr. Steiner first proposed the project. The condominiums will be more marketable if their sale is not restricted to
seniors.

One advisor suggested the development could attract as many as 11 children. That will have little impact on schools.

The one promise Mr. Steiner made that townspeople should hold him to is public access to the waterfront. Right now there is a locked gate at Seaside. If the property is developed as planned, the public will be able to visit the shoreline and see the spectacular Long Island Sound view again.

Another added benefit would be new tax revenues for Waterford.

This saga has gone on too long. If Mr. Steiner is able to purchase the property, Waterford should do all it can within the land-use regulations to see that it is successfully developed.

That is essentially what voters decided to do in 2001.

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