Placing service above politics in Stonington
As I leave the office of Stonington selectman, I wanted to share my thoughts as to where the town finds itself.
Recently I experienced the scenic beauty of Stonington while canoeing on the beautiful Wood Pawcatuck River Watershed. I came away believing both conservation and development are possible. I spoke of Ecotourism in 2015 as a future opportunity in our region. After this excursion, I am more convinced as to the potential.
The credo of the optimist is always, “in adversity there is opportunity.” We live in perilous economic times in Connecticut, but if managed properly the future of Stonington, and the village of Pawcatuck in particular, can be bright.
Pawcatuck has had an underperforming Grand List since the mid-1980s. Yardney leaving in recent years was, many felt, a final nail in a waiting coffin. Instead, with the vision of the committed like Lisa Konicki of the Ocean Chamber of Commerce, we stand a chance to lead a village to economic recovery. Working together and across party lines, much has been accomplished.
We have fixed the archaic and unacceptable lack of Internet access that existed.
As our town entered the implementation phase of our Plan of Conservation and Development, changes to zoning regulations were undertaken to address the unique needs of Pawcatuck. Change included allowing a newly hired professional director of Town Planning to coordinate, attract and develop an area with significant economic potential.
The result was the biggest zoning changes for Pawcatuck since the mid-1970s. The Campbell Grain Mill coming down and the recent sale of the Blackhall building, combined with the old Higgins building opening with beautiful new apartments, provide signals to potential developers and investors.
The Pawcatuck River is not only a boundary marker of two states, it is an economic opportunity for a truly New England experience. An experience of downtown specialty shops, quality restaurants and a scenic beauty of a blue-collar New England remnant of another time.
Ecotourism opportunities and quality businesses exist in a scenic river watershed that simply does not exist anywhere but here. The Downtown of Westerly/Pawcatuck is found in a location proximate to the beaches of Westerly, the historic attractions of Mystic, vineyards and two casinos. Truly unique business opportunities await our community.
Stonington has been frugal and planned for a rainy day. Our tax burden is low. Our schools are excellent and we have invested in school improvements. And we currently are preparing a Boat Park on the Mystic River that will be unique.
Politically, we must focus on our town and not partisan politics. The banter in Hartford and Washington has to be put aside for the reality that all parties in Stonington, be they Republican, Democrat, or unaffiliated, will see each other in the community and at the grocery store.
Citizens should demand their public officials conduct themselves with decorum and restraint and focus on the community.
If together we keep our collective focus on preserving the scenic beauty of our community, keeping taxes affordable, and providing the funding to support quality schools, Stonington will flourish.
Elected leaders must always put the interests of Stonington above the interests of political parties. It can be done. The voter must demand it.
Mike Spellman is a Stonington selectman. He is not seeking re-election.
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