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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Boathouse proposal got better with time

    From the start, our editorial board supported the Mystic River Boathouse Park project, which won voter approval in 2016. It was a good project then and it is a good one now. Yet it had its flaws, which we acknowledge.

    But this is still flinty New England, with citizens close to their local government who question proposals, find the flaws, and demand they either be corrected or that their elected leaders move in another direction.

    The boathouse and park project, which will convert a small parcel of land just north of the Mystic Seaport into a public space, is better for that democratic process.

    Abandoned were plans for a boathouse with a contemporary design that did not complement the historic area. Replacing it is a more aesthetically pleasing barn-themed design.

    Plans call for incorporating an historic building on the property into the boathouse, rowing center, and park. This approach follows initial plans to raze the house, to the horror of historic preservationists.

    An evaluation of soil contamination tied to industrial uses will lead to a site cleanup.

    Utilizing the boathouse and rowing center will be the Stonington Community Rowing, a nonprofit rowing club, and the Stonington High School crew team.

    The park part of the project, meanwhile, will offer public access to the Mystic River for sculls, kayaks, and other non-motorized craft. The park itself should be a wonderful place to relax, take a stroll or to utilize for educational programs. It will be a significant improvement on the already attractive area.

    Some work remains. First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough reports about $500,000 remains of the original $2.2 million expenditure approved by voters, enough to finish the park and have it open a year from now. A $750,000 state grant is paying for the environmental cleanup.

    Stonington Community Rowing is raising the $2.5 million necessary to construct the boathouse and rowing center. It says it is halfway toward its goal. The town is proposing a 25-year lease agreement with the organization once funding is in place and the facility built.

    Under the plan, the organization would gift the boathouse to the town. In return, the town would lease the property to the organization for $1 a year. As owner and landlord, the town will be responsible for upkeep. A town meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Stonington High School to seek approval of the arrangement.

    It seems a fair arrangement, with the rowing advocacy group responsible for privately funding construction of the facility and administrating programs there, with the town responsible for maintaining it. Residents will get a chance at town meeting to ask their questions and challenge presumptions. It is all part of the process.

    Though long delayed, we remain confident Stonington will end up with a public space for which it can be proud, something that will prove to be an asset for decades to come.

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