Residents continue attack on Smiler's Wharf project

Mystic — The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission resumed its public hearing on the controversial Smiler’s Wharf on Monday night with more opponents urging the commission to reject the application.

As they had done on June 17, opponents attacked various aspects of the project from its effect on the character of Mystic, the environment and flooding to increasing traffic and congestion. Several said they do not oppose new development in Mystic but object to the scope and density of the Smiler’s project, which they say is not in compliance with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

In addition, opponents presented a petition signed by owners of at least 20 percent of the property within 500 feet of the site to the commission. If the signatures are certified, this would force the commission to approve the zone change application by a 4-1 vote instead of a 3-2 margin.

Many in the crowd of about 150 people, about half of that which attended the June 17 hearing, spoke for several hours and many of their comments were met by raucous applause. More than 80 people had signed up to speak against the project.

After hearing from all the residents who signed up to speak and listening to Town Planner Keith Brynes report on the application, the commission continued the hearing to Tuesday, July 16 at 7 p.m. at Stonington high school. At that time the commission will ask questions of the developer and the developer's attorney Bill Sweeney will offer his rebuttal to comments made about the project. Once the commission closes the hearing, it will have 65 days to make a decision.  

Noank Shipyard is 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 and obtain approval for the master plan for the site.

The plan calls for the demolition of all buildings on the site except for the popular Red 36 restaurant and 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; a 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 would require the removal of 13,000 square feet of land and a new bulkhead to protect against storm surge.

Resident Jim Friedlander told the commission that the Smiler’s Wharf project would give up more of Mystic to the tourists.

“Local residents lose out and the tourists win again. This will be another nail in the coffin,” he said.

Mystic attorney Robert Dixon said that since buying the property in 2005, the Holstein family has let the property fall into disrepair so the owner can now say it needs to demolished and rebuilt.

He accused the developers of “demolition by neglect.”

Resident Laura Graham urged the commission to not “let this developer’s bad idea ruin our town.”

“Most people in this room wouldn’t want a 74-foot-high hotel and 200-seat restaurant next to their house,” she said.

“Zoning is a promise,” she added. “When a family puts their life savings in a home they count on town officials to protect them.”

Other speakers told the commission they need to ensure the project does not exacerbate the already bad traffic and parking situation in the neighborhood, flooding in storms or impact the Mystic sewer plant, which is at capacity.

David Snediker, who lives across Washington Street from the project, said the opponents are not naysayers who oppose any project as they have chosen to live in the village.

“But this plan is so flawed, it’s unbelievably out of scale in Mystic,” he said.

Snediker said that boatyards are booming across the Northeast and if the boatyard is dilapidated, it’s because its owners allowed it to.

He said closing the boatyard will forever remove it from the inventory of boatyards and undermine the local economy while also violating the state’s Coastal Area Management Act.

Claire Sartor, who has lived across the street from the boatyard for 50 years, called the project an “unabashed, in-your-face assault on downtown Mystic and our small neighborhood.”

Sartor said people from across town are opposing the project, not just those in her neighborhood.

“People are outraged; they’re pissed and they're angry," she said. “People tell me they feel sorry for me that I live in Mystic. That’s never happened to me before.”

Her husband, Paul Sartor, told the commission it has an easy decision, “a no-brainer” as the project should have been dead on arrival.

Sartor charged the developers had no discussions with the neighbors before submitting the project and were told it was a done deal.

Resident Quentin Snediker, who heads the shipyard at Mystic Seaport Museum, told the commission that  "boatyards and marinas are historic assets in this community. It's why people come her. To lose it will diminish that cultural asset."  But former PZC Chairman Chuck Sneddon told the commission that the project would actually add more boat slips to what exists  now on the site. Seaport Marine plans move it boat maintenance  work to its sister operation at Noank Shipyard.,

Another former PZC Chairman Ben Tamsky presented the commission with a draft of a resolution to deny the project.

Resident Bill Lyman urged the commission to reject the project and have the developer come up with a plan that does not generate the opposition being seen for the current application.

Town Planner Keith Brynes also gave the commission a detailed analysis of the many areas it has to take into account in reaching a decision including granting waivers for a 24-foot height limit in the NDD zone and 50-foot non infringement area from tidal marshes.

Supporters of the project who spoke on June 17 say it will increase the grand list, create jobs, revitalize a property that contains deteriorating boatsheds, increase public access to the water and improve coastal resiliency.

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 would result in the loss of water-dependent uses and place residences in a flood zone which would expose more people and property to risk. The DEEP has said it will not approve new bulkheads or flood control structures for the site if a hotel or residential development is built there.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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