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    Local Columns
    Friday, March 24, 2023

    OPINION: Make the scene of Mystic marina fire a park

    It’s hard to forget the ill will exhibited by the owners of the now-burned-out Seaport Marine property toward the Mystic community three years ago, after they were forced to withdraw their plans for a massive development to be known as Smiler’s Wharf.

    Worried residents, from both the surrounding neighborhood and the town at large, had turned out to fill auditoriums for hearings on the zone change request for the property, objecting to the many ways the huge development violated local planning rules and state environmental policy.

    “As longtime residents and business owners in Stonington, it is both disappointing and frustrating to be publicly attacked for wanting to reinvest in and make our village of Mystic a better place,” John Holstein, Abby Holstein Boardsen and Harry Boardsen, principals in the project, wrote to planning officials in finally withdrawing their application.

    They complained in their withdrawal letter that the “vehemence” of objections by some in the community became personal.

    The owners went on to withdraw their traditional donation of the use of some of the marina property for a popular annual town festival, Mystic Eats Riverside Food Festival. It forced the cancellation of the charity-benefiting festival that year.

    The Day’s Editorial Board noted at the time that the move was akin to the classic tale of the kid who takes his ball home because the game didn’t go the way he wanted.

    “No one likes that kid” the editorial noted, suggesting that the owners made it harder for themselves to return in the future with new development plans that would require community input.

    That day, given the huge fire which leveled the dilapidated and blighted buildings at their downtown Mystic marina this week, appears now to be fast approaching.

    As the post-fire planning begins, I would urge the property owners to think about the interests of the community, and the development limits of a property in a flood plain, zoned for commercial marine use.

    Maybe the best use of some of the property, in addition to boat slips and storage, would be an extension of the adjacent Mystic River Park.

    The community has done it before — raised the money and organized a park — and can do it again.

    The town could apply for grants or bond/borrow the money, and the owners could sell at a price that reflects the development challenges of the flood-prone site.

    It would be an excellent investment for the community. No one ever regrets the creation of new park space. It would compensate the owners for their investment in the property.

    Visions of valuable condos and hotel rooms probably still cloud the owners’ hope for their property. But I would urge them to go back and review the extensive public hearing testimony for the Smiler’s Wharf project before they put everyone through another zone change fight.

    The death knell for that plan or any other like it was a letter from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

    DEEP said it would never approve the kind of sea wall the developers were envisioning for the flood-prone property, especially since that would increase the flood risk for the adjacent historical neighborhood.

    The state also noted that the plans contradicted the town’s own comprehensive planning, replacing a rare commercial marine use with uses not water dependent.

    The owners bought a marina in a location zoned for that use. They are not entitled to anything else, especially when it is not allowed by state and local regulations.

    Why not repurpose some of that scorched property that isn’t appropriate for other uses and sell it to a grateful community for expanded park use?

    Be the kid that brings the ball back to the game.

    This is the opinion of David Collins


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