Pawcatuck issues aired in atmosphere of congeniality

Stonington - It was the kind of meeting where no concern about Pawcatuck was too small to air publicly - everything from how much longer it might take for Connecticut Light & Power to repair several downtown streetlights to the status of Fred Blackhall's long-vacant commercial building on West Broad Street.

About three dozen people pulled up stools and crowded into booths at Mel's Downtown Creamery where, with 45 RPM records dangling overhead and an ice cream machine humming in the background, residents spoke their piece and listened to updates from several town department heads.

First Selectman Ed Haberek said he called the meeting in the casual setting to emphasis the good in Pawcatuck, "a thriving downtown business." He was joined by Planner Keith Brynes, Human Services Manager Leanne Theodore and Public Works Director Joe Bragaw and members of various commissions.

Police Chief J. Darren Stewart and Capt. Jerry Desmond talked about the drop in drug-related crimes and rearranging of beats to focus on specific areas with high call volumes - the hot spots. They have also worked to addresses disorderly conduct and loitering - which Desmond said creates the perception of an unsafe area.

Ron O'Keefe, a 79-year resident, said he'd had his car broken into twice within a short period of time, something that had never happened before.

He asked if a more visible police presence were needed.

"I wonder why can't the patrolmen get out of their cars and walk the beat," O'Keefe said. "Wouldn't that be helpful?"

Desmond and Stewart said police see increases in activity when bars close in Rhode Island and a flood of people head to Connecticut for the extra hour bars are allowed to stay open. They are also working with the Westerly Police Department on a shared camera system - possibly with an intercom "to talk to the people who are loitering," Desmond said.

Many residents agreed that the economic development in downtown Pawcatuck could be helped along by a crackdown on some undesirables from that "place down the road," a reference to the Elm Tree Inn, and by cracking the whip on some building owners who have let their properties become eyesores.

Ice cream shop owner Mel Goggin said she loved the downtown area but was a bit frustrated by the view outside her front window, a brick building that has sat vacant for years.

"We need that light to turn on over there," she said.

Haberek said the town has tried the "carrot" approach first and more recently "the stick," with little in the way of results.

Bragaw said he continues to work with CL&P on an overall plan for upcoming tree pruning to avoid the wholesale destruction of trees while addressing issues involving power lines.

g.smith@theday.com

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