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Smiler's Wharf neighborhood under siege again

You would think that residents of Stonington's Mystic Bridge Historic District, after a summer spent protecting their charming neighborhood from a goliath development — the proposed hotel, apartments, townhouses and restaurants known as Smiler's Wharf — might have been allowed a bit of a breather.

But, no, the town has cued up another big proposal for the historic district, this one changing the main thoroughfare in and out of the neighborhood to a one-way street.

This proposal to allow only southbound traffic on Cottrell Street is actually a remnant of traffic changes planned to accommodate the massive Smiler's Wharf and all its new visitors and residents, a one-way speedway through the old neighborhood.

And since the Smiler's developers, after withdrawing their unpopular plans, have promised to return with a new scheme, this change for Cottrell Street seems like a setting of the stage for that.

It only first surfaced with the Smiler's proposal, and it is clearly meant more to accommodate tourists and new development than the people who have lived here, some their whole lives, and kept the torch burning in what's left of a historical village on the Stonington side of Mystic.

Worse, some complain, the Cottrell Street change appears on an agenda for a hastily called special meeting of the Stonington Board of Police Commissioners, planned for 5 p.m. Thursday at police headquarters.  The commissioners moved their regular meeting from next week, when they could not muster a quorum, to a special meeting this week, with an agenda posted for the first time Tuesday.

Apparently an engineering study of the proposed Cottrell Street change, commissioned by the Planning Department, is now finished and a vote to enact by the police commissioners, the town's traffic authority, could now happen any time. Thursday will be the study's first public airing.

What's the rush? Instead of an obscure agenda item for a special meeting, how about scheduling a full public hearing on the issue, with a lot of public notice, in November or December?

The Cottrell Street change is being pitched as a way to add some parking spaces and lower traffic "conflict points."  With that concept, you might as well make the whole town one-way.

Clearly, traffic congestion and parking are increasingly big problems in Mystic, and changing traffic patterns and creating new parking options should be looked at in an overall comprehensive study involving both Stonington and Groton. This looks instead like a bone to a developer who wants the town to improve traffic flow to his site, with the town paying for the engineering study necessary to make it happen.

Residents in the historic district, where First Selectman Rob Simmons helped a developer get a no-wait permit for demolishing a building contributing to the neighborhood's status on the National Register of Historic Places, are used to shabby treatment by the developer-enabling town.

Emails were flying this week, though, as neighbors worked to get the word out and encourage as many as possible to turn out for the meeting. If you have nothing important to do Thursday night, come on down and help them. Tell the commissioners there is no rush.

That street along the banks of the Mystic River has accommodated two-way traffic since there were more horses than cars. Neighbors are increasingly under siege by growing waves of tourists, who take what's left of street parking.

Now imagine the town making it even harder to navigate your way to and from home, instead of considering things that might make their village life better, like the speed bumps and resident parking spaces they have sought.

The good news is that there is an election looming, and all voters can consider the way the people who live in and curate one of the town's last pieces of historic Mystic have been treated this year, as they enter the voting booth.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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