Mystic merchants still unhappy over Streetscape

Groton - Merchants in downtown Mystic told the Economic Development Commission Thursday that the town's planning department is hard to work with and that they don't see how the second phase of the Mystic Streetscape project can start when the first phase isn't done.

Leo Roche, owner of the Harp and Hound pub on Pearl Street, said there's a utility pole outside his store that's unattractive, and something should be done about it. He also told the commission the light poles on West Main Street were supposed to have hardware on them for merchants to hang flower baskets or signs, but the hardware was never installed.

"It's kind of aggravating for the people downtown," he said, adding, "I just don't get it."

Rick Norris, chief inspector and project manager for the streetscape, said the first phase of the project is done. Norris gave a presentation in the Town Hall Annex during a separate meeting Thursday, shortly after the merchants left the commission meeting.

The town awarded a contract last month to a Ludlow, Mass., company to start the bulk of the work of the beautification project along Water Street by March 31. Norris said the start date was delayed slightly, but the contractor is confident it will be done by the end of June.

The project will include extension of sidewalks, granite curbing, landscaping, drainage and on-street parking improvements along Water Street.

Work will extend from the entrance to the Mystic Art Association to the intersection of Water Street and Noank Road.

Norris said the hardware hooks the merchants are upset about have not been installed because he is waiting for a plan from merchants about how they would be used.

He said the hooks are not intended for short-term use, and it makes no sense to put them up with nothing hanging from them.

Norris said he is also aware of the utility pole outside the Harp and Hound, and the public works department may be able to put up a screen to cover it.

But he said the department must have the time and money to do it.

The second phase of the streetscape project comes after a longer and more involved first phase that was plagued by repeated delays and, combined with downtown bridge repairs and a recession, took a toll on businesses.

Judy Hartley, president of Downtown Mystic Merchants, said some shops didn't make it.

"The ones that did make it, even though they might have seen kind of a nice summer ... I hear from them, and it's not enough to pay back the credit card debt they took on to stay in business or the loans they took out," she told the economic development commission.

Rod Desmarais, a partner in the group trying to rebuild the Central Hall block building, said he couldn't get cooperation from the town during the first phase of the streetscape to do simple utility work. He said the town's planning office caused him further difficulty by requiring repeated design changes.

"If you want economic development, you've got to make some sweeping changes," he said.

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