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Rethinking Mystic's Exit 90

Mystic's so-called Golden Triangle — the area around the Interstate 95 Exit 90 interchange — is chock full of hospitality businesses. The area is far from hospitable, however.

Its tangle of traffic-clogged intersections, seas of asphalt surrounding shopping centers, restaurants and hotels, confusing webs of business driveways, and roads designed more for speed than walkability, combine to make the area one that is daunting to visitors and a place locals avoid. It is the gateway to the state's prime tourist attractions of downtown Mystic, Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, but its noisy, congested atmosphere and some tired-looking 50-year-old commercial buildings present an image at odds with the welcoming, quaint and peaceful locale most Mystic-bound visitors seek.

Crossing streets there can be hazardous. Sidewalks are non-existent in many places. And the sidewalks that do exist are made impassable in the winter by ice or piles of snow.

"I see families with small children scurrying across Coogan Boulevard," Stonington Economic Development Commission Chairman David Hammond said, referring to the four-lane, highly traveled road on which the aquarium, Olde Mistick Village shopping center and numerous restaurants and hotels are located.

The commission has now embarked on a challenging but worthwhile project to reshape the area in which most commercial development dates to the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of the automobile-focused developments of a half-century ago, the commission now envisions a neighborhood that is inviting to pedestrians and bicyclists, makes the most of its location on the Mystic River and connects to nearby wooded, natural spaces. Further, the vision includes redevelopment of older, tired looking properties to reduce the environmentally unfriendly sprawling parking lots and add apartments and condominiums that will bring something new to the neighborhood: full-time residents.

While the Triangle isn't currently an area many people call home, this vision is more than an intriguing idea. Clearly, a foundation of services and infrastructure exists there that make it ripe for residential development as long as walking and biking trails are added to transform it to a more pedestrian-friendly zone.

There already are, for example, medical offices, a grocery store, a movie theater, restaurants and the extensive trail system of the Coogan Farm in the immediate area. It also is located less than two miles from all the services of downtown Mystic. Most obviously, it's near Interstate 95, making commuting easy for those employed at Electric Boat or at other locations in New London, Groton or Westerly, Rhode Island.

The Economic Development Commission is seeking comments on its ideas and visions from both visitors and residents. The Mystic 2030 Gateway Survey is available through the commission's website at stonington1649.com. The surveys, which should take only a few minutes to complete, will be available until a planned 6 p.m., Oct. 25 meeting at the Olde Mistick Village meetinghouse. At that time, the commission will discuss its longer term vision for the area and how that vision could connect to a planned rewriting of the town's zoning regulations.

Hammond said the plan is currently in the idea phase. Community input and buy-in is integral for the plan to move from ideas to reality.

We commend the commission for embarking on this project and thinking boldly about this area. We urge residents, business owners and visitors to be part of the conversation by filling out the survey and attending the upcoming meeting. This plan could transform an area that long has been an economic powerhouse for the town to one that also would be a place people want to call home.

In announcing the survey and the commission's plan recently, Hammond hit just the right tone. He said of the Exit 90 area: "Visitors should have an 'Ahh, we are here' moment that makes them feel welcomed and pleased to arrive at this beautiful, relaxing New England town."

The current work is the first step to achieving this goal.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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