Some borough neighbors balk at Old Lighthouse Museum expansion plans

Stonington - A group of borough residents is opposing plans by the Stonington Historical Society to renovate and expand the Old Lighthouse Museum and are asking that changes be made to the approximately $2 million project.

The residents met on Thursday night and are slated to meet with historical society officials on Monday. Ed Smith of Omega Street, who is leading the opposition with neighbor Jesse Diggs, said their group is comprised of about 35 residents, many of whom plan to attend the historical society's next public forum on the plans scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 1. at the Woolworth Library and Research Center.

The historical society wants to construct an 827-square-foot glass enclosed addition to the 2,442-square-foot museum to provide a properly sized entrance lobby as well as handicapped access and bathrooms.

The lobby would overlook Little Narragansett Bay and Sandy Point and create a ticket, shop and exhibit area.

Smith, a longtime borough resident who is a member of the historical society, said his group has four major concerns.

One is that the glass-enclosed addition is not in keeping with the stone lighthouse and the surrounding neighborhood.

He pointed out that when the Kimmerle family, which owns a house next to the lighthouse that became known as the black house, sought borough permission to install numerous windows, the historical society opposed the plan.

Smith said plans done for the historical society by a Boston architectural firm shows that new bushes would restrict access to the seawall while trees planted along Water Street and the north side of the property would block views of the water.

He said there are also concerns that after the historical society spends money on walkway and landscaping, it will restrict access to the lighthouse lawn, which is popular with residents and their dogs.

Another concern is the size, frequency and duration of some of the special events held on the lawn.

Finally, he said there are indications that the stone wall along Water Street will have to be altered to create a drop-off area for handicapped visitors.

Because the museum is a nonconforming use in the residential zone where it is located, the history society needs to obtain a variance from the borough Zoning Board of Appeals to expand its use.

A hearing was slated for August but was canceled after the neighbors met with the historical society and expressed their concerns. Smith said it does not appear that the historical society has altered its plans to address the concerns of his group. A new hearing could be held this fall.

Society President Rob Palmer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Smith said his group has no problem with renovating the existing museum or constructing an addition that conforms with the design of the existing lighthouse.

"We're trying to work with them," he said, referring to historical society officials. "We have to live here, and they have to live here. So it's a friendly discussion."


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