Smiler's Wharf developers donate to nonprofit impacted by Mystic Eats cancellation

Mystic — The developers of the controversial Smiler’s Wharf project have made a $2,000 donation to the Giving Garden at the Coogan Farm Nature & Heritage Center to make up for the money the nonprofit was expected to receive from the canceled Mystic Eats festival.

Organizers of Mystic Eats canceled the Sept. 7-9 event after the Holstein family, which owns the Seaport Marine property where the now withdrawn Smiler’s Wharf project would have been located, said organizers could not use the property for beer and music tents as they had done for free over the past 15 years. The Downtown Mystic Merchants organization, which runs the event, had said a portion of the proceeds was slated to go to the Giving Garden, which provides tons of fresh produce each year to people in need.

The Holsteins’ decision to not let Mystic Eats use the property came after a large group of residents opposed plans for Smiler’s Wharf at public hearings and on social media, with some opponents charging that the family had purposely let the marina become run-down so they could then seek to redevelop it.

In a letter to the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission withdrawing their application in July, John Holstein, Abbey Holstein Boardsen and Harry Boardsen, the principals in the project, wrote that “We especially feel that the comments of some select opponents, which have been fundamentally unfair and directed personally, are divisive and damaging to the reputation of this close knit community.”

“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. Reasonable people can agree to disagree as to whether Smiler’s Wharf should have been approved, but the efforts of some in their opposition to the project to try to destroy our reputations as well as those of elected officials, Commission members, and town staff have no place in civil public discourse,” they wrote.

In their letter to the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, which oversees the Coogan Farm center and the Giving Garden, Abbey Holstein Boardsen, Harry Boardsen and the Holstein family wrote: “Our apologies that your organization was impacted by our family’s decision to withdraw from the 'Mystic Eats' festival. As lifelong residents of Stonington we appreciate the work your group puts into your property and programs that benefit the community. We hope this makes up for any void in your funding and helps in the continuance of your great cause.”

Karen Stone, the nature center’s advancement committee chairwoman, responded with a letter acknowledging the $2,000 donation by check.

“We are deeply grateful for your support of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and the Giving Garden. Thank you!”

The Smiler’s Wharf project had called for rezoning a 7.5-acre portion of Seaport Marine’s 11-acre site off Washington Street from marine commercial to Neighborhood Development District and obtaining approval for the master plan for the site.

The plan had called 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. Services now located at Seaport Marine would have been moved to Noank Shipyard.

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

Opponents attacked various aspects of the project, saying it would damage the character of Mystic and the environment, and expose buildings to flooding while increasing traffic and congestion. They also criticized the height of the buildings, one of which would have been 72 feet tall. They stressed the project was not in compliance with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development and the state’s Coastal Area Management Act.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection recommended the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission 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.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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