Rezoning approved for Mystic River Boathouse Park site

Mystic — The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval Tuesday night of an application by the town to rezone the Mystic River Boathouse Park paves the way for the redesign of the controversial boathouse being planned for the Route 27 site.

The commission agreed to rezone the 1.5-acre parcel from residential development on 10,000-square-foot lots to a Maritime Heritage District, which was created in 2005 to reflect the unique design of the adjacent Mystic Seaport Museum property.

The MHD zone allows buildings of up to 45 feet tall with no front or rear yard setbacks and 5-foot side yard setbacks. The new zone requires the commission to hold public hearings and approve applications for both a master plan and site plan for the park and the boathouse. It also gives the commission wide discretion in deciding what it will allow on the site. The MHD can even allow for the rejection of the design of the boathouse.

In 2016, taxpayers approved $2.2 million in bonding to create the public park, while a private group of rowing supporters is raising money to construct the $2.5 million boathouse, which will be home to the Stonington High School crew team and the Stonington Community Rowing Center.

Several issues have slowed the creation of the park, including residents criticizing the boathouse design as too modern.

Because the RH-10 zone restricts the height of the boathouse, as well as where it can be located, and because the boathouse calls for rowing shells on the first floor and training space on the second, town officials and the boathouse architect have said there was no height left for a more traditional pitched roof in the original design. In addition to the small site, designers have to contend with being along a river and a state road and in a flood plain, all which come with their own unique set of requirements. In all, the town needs to obtain 23 separate permits from various local, state and federal agencies for the project.

The new zone, with its larger building footprint and taller height restriction, also may allow the project architect to incorporate into the boathouse design a home and garage on the site, which are part of the Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District and may not be able to be demolished.

Commission alternate member Lynn Conway expressed concern that the town would be setting a precedent that other RH-10 landowners would seek to take advantage of. She suggested the commission get a legal opinion from the town attorney before voting but the commission went ahead and approved the application.

Conway also said she did not buy the town’s argument that it cannot design a boathouse to meet the requirements of the RH-10 zone.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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