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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Don’t slam the door on Starr Street proposal

    New London’s downtown commercial district is pockmarked by empty buildings, so when a reasonable proposal is submitted that calls for renovating and returning empty space to productive use, it deserves careful and serious consideration.

    One such proposal now in the hands of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission was made by downtown businessman and city native Rod Cornish. Cornish, who has owned and operated the successful Bank Street restaurant Hot Rod Cafe for 17 years, bought a vacant former church building on Green Street in April. He proposes to renovate the stately granite structure for use as an event venue.

    At an Oct. 20 zoning commission public hearing on the plans, however, a group of Cornish’s would-be neighbors, most of whom live behind the former church building on historic Starr Street, presented a formidable block of opposition to the plans. They said they don’t want to hear loud music into the wee hours of the morning and are concerned about trash, groups of smokers gathering outside the building and increased car and foot traffic.

    “We are very concerned about the location being open after 10 or 11 p.m.,” Frank McLaughlin, acting president of the Starr Street Association, said during the public hearing. “Loud music after those hours and potential disruptions as patrons leave the venue will impact the neighborhood negatively.”

    While we agree that Starr Street residents presented some legitimate concerns about the plans - no one would be eager to be awakened by late-night loud music, for example - we also believe that Cornish’s proposal is an overwhelmingly positive one for the city and its downtown district. The former Apostolic Cathedral of Hope has been vacant for years and, before Cornish and a team of his workers cleared the site, it was blemished by tangles of unsightly weeds climbing around its facade.

    Renovation of the building would mean more money in the city’s tax coffers and would fill the demand for more event space in the city. The location also offers ample parking in the municipal lots just across Green Street from the building.

    As for concerns about overly generous hours of operation during which loud music might threaten neighbors’ peace and quiet, we believe these could be addressed through regulation and do not necessitate scrapping the project.

    The application to allow for a change of use from a church to a restaurant/convention center listed hours as extending from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, but David Preka of Advanced Group in Groton, who is Cornish’s builder for the project, told the zoning commission that those hours represented what is allowed and not the actual planned hours of operation.

    Cornish has a long track record as a dedicated and reliable downtown business person who wants what’s best for his home city. We urge Starr Street residents to take him up on his offer to meet and discuss his plans with them. We further ask that residents listen to both Cornish and Preka with open minds and that all parties aim for civil discourse and possible compromises.

    The public hearing on the proposal will reconvene on Nov. 17. That leaves plenty of time for the parties in this dispute to work out their differences to help pave the way for redevelopment of an historic structure into a new and exciting entertainment venue to serve as a draw for downtown New London.

    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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