Large crowd expected Monday for Smiler's Wharf hearing

Mystic -- In what is expected to be the largest turnout for a public meeting here in at least 30 years, a huge crowd is expected to pack the Stonington High School auditorium at 7 p.m. Monday for a public hearing on the controversial Smiler’s Wharf plan.

The hearing had been slated for May 28 but was postponed after residents filled the Mystic Middle School cafeteria, exceeding its 300-person capacity and forcing the move to a larger venue.

The developers of Smiler’s Wharf are seeking to rezone a 7.5-acre portion of Seaport Marine’s 11-acre site off Washington Street from marine commercial to Neighborhood Development District.

A summary of the master plan for the project submitted by Noank Shipyard, the owners of Seaport Marine, calls for the demolition of all buildings on the site except for the popular Red 36 restaurant.

The master plan calls for construction of a five-story, 45-unit hotel; a 16,590-square-foot, three-story marine service and community event space; a three-story, 200-seat restaurant; six-story, 25-unit apartment building; 16 townhouses; six units of multifamily housing; a kayak rental building; an open-air plaza; a park; 120 boat slips; a 200-foot public boardwalk extension; 130 feet of new coastal access; a new boat basin that will require the removal of 13,000 square feet of land and a new bulkhead to protect against storm surge.

In his report on the project, Town Planner Keith Brynes summarized the pros and cons of the project for the commission.

He listed the possible positive impacts as increased property tax revenue, grand list enhancement, jobs, and increased spending at other area businesses; enhanced coastal public access in the form of the extended boardwalk, park, slips and boat basin; enhanced protections from storm surges due to new bulkhead, tidal wetland enhancements including a living shoreline, elimination of marina uses such as boat repair which present environmental risks, added parking spaces in downtown assuming parking demand does not exceed supply, aesthetic improvement of new buildings, boardwalk and park over dilapidated buildings and boat storage; replacement of current non-conforming structures with new buildings that comply with floodplain requirements, additional housing units needed per a regional housing study and possible increased property values for neighbors.

Brynes listed the possible negative impacts as traffic impacts on the surrounding area, parking impacts on neighboring streets if parking demand exceeds supply and off-site parking plans do not materialize or are not well managed; environmental impacts if development leads to negative impacts to coastal waters and tidal wetlands; possible obstruction of homeowners’ coastal views; aesthetic impacts of tall and large buildings adjacent to historic residential neighborhood; loss of some marine commercial activities; demolition of older marine commercial structures and a house that is not part of the adjacent Mystic Bridge National Register Historic District and addition of new commercial and residential buildings in a flood hazard area subject to storm surge. 

The developers say the project will increase tax revenue and jobs for the town, increase public access to the water and improve coastal resiliency.

Opponents say the project lacks enough parking and would increase congestion in the Washington Street neighborhood. They also maintain the project does not conform to the town’s Plan of Conservation and would damage the character of the village pointing to plans that show the apartment building will be the tallest building in Mystic at 72 feet high.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has recommended the PZC not rezone the property and that it is appropriately zoned for a boatyard use. It added that rezoning the site will adversely impact the upland water-dependent use and place residences in a flood zone which would expose more people and property to risk.

There is also a moratorium on new sewer hookups because the Mystic treatment plant is reaching capacity. This means the project could not open until the town completes a planned $1.7 million project to divert sewage to the underused borough plant.

The Town of Groton Planning Commission as also said the project “appears to be significantly out of scale and character with existing and new development within the Downtown Mystic area.”



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