OPINION: Riverfront public access is lost in Mystic
I know a lot of attention has been paid recently to the change to the Stonington riverfront in Mystic brought on by the catastrophic fire at Seaport Marine.
But there has been another worrisome change on the river in Stonington in the last year that happened much more quietly, I would say even insidiously.
It is inhibiting the public’s ability to walk along the river in this busy part of downtown Mystic.
The pedestrian pier/boardwalk along the Mystic River, just north of the Route 1 drawbridge, was rebuilt, rather grandly, with new pilings and spiffy wooden decking.
It replaced one that did seem on the verge of rickety. The new pier, like the older one it replaced, runs along the river in front of S&P Oyster Restaurant and Bar and a large condominium complex.
WIth the completion of the new boardwalk/pier came a new gate _ it’s not locked but there’s a bungee cord wrapped around the latch _ located between the section of boardwalk in front of the restaurant and the stretch in front of the condos.
The new gate doesn’t have a sign that says Keep Out. But it might as well.
I’m a pretty plucky guy, but even I wouldn’t open a latched gate and walk in front of some private condominiums in a place I was visiting as a tourist, unless I saw a sign saying it was OK.
And yet that section of the boardwalk in front of those condos has been open and accessible to the public for decades, almost certainly since they were built.
Providing public access to the waterfront is usually the tradeoff, under the terms of coastal management laws, that allows non water-dependent uses of the waterfront provided the public is permitted some use.
It seems that someone in the condominium management must have decided recently that the rebuild of the pier was a good time to renege on the public access promise, and a gate would be a subtle way to do that.
I got a prompt response this week from Stonington Planner Keith Brynes when I asked about the new gate, and he said the town will research the issue of public access there and reach out to the condominium management.
It seems the town takes the issue seriously, and I hope that’s the beginning of the end of the nasty gate.
There is a small sign on the ground beyond the gate saying it may be used by visitors, but the implication is that would be visitors to the condos, not the public. And really, the sign is almost invisible.
There is no reason for a gate. It should come down.
Brynes also reported that they reached out to the owners of the restaurant property, and those owners have agreed to new public access signs where a path leads from the sidewalk from the drawbridge down to the riverfront boardwalk.
That’s certainly welcome progress in welcoming the public to the Mystic waterfront.
There was an attempt not too long ago to keep the public away from a riverfront boardwalk in front of riverfront condominiums on the Groton side of the river, south of the Route 1 bridge.
The town acted promptly in that instance, too, and a sign welcoming the public beyond the fence in front of the condos was installed then and survives to this day.
It’s fine to invite tourists to the shops, bars and restaurants of Mystic. But it’s important, too, to let them experience at least a little of the waterfront.
I’m glad to see both towns take that notion seriously, since it’s the law.
This is the opinion of David Collins
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