Stonington selectmen approve boathouse park compromise

Stonington — The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday formally endorsed an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office to preserve a house on the Mystic River Boathouse Park property that is considered to be a contributing factor to the Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District.

It was the last Board of Selectmen’s meeting for two-term First Selectman Rob Simmons, whose term ends Nov. 18. He decided not to seek reelection.

Under the agreement with the state, the house will be moved 90 feet north along Route 27 and restored to historic standards. It will be connected, by a small glass structure that will contain a rowing trophy room, to the two-story boathouse, which now appears to resemble a traditional New England barn with a cupola in preliminary sketches. A meeting will be held Dec. 7 to unveil the design to the public.

The agreement removes a major hurdle for the development of the park. The original pan called for the demolition of the house and garage and construction of a boathouse whose modern design was intended to reflect the industrial heritage of the former Rossie Mill across the street. Residents largely criticized the design of the boathouse, and the organization raising money to build it withdrew the design and has been working on a new one.

Meanwhile, state historic officials told the town it could not tear down the house and garage because they are contributing structures to the historic district. This effectively blocked the town’s original plan. Simmons has since been working to reach a solution with state officials.    

At Wednesday’s meeting, Selectman John Prue said, “I don’t love that we’re keeping the house.”

“Me either but I can’t say that,” joked Simmons, who earlier pointed out the house had been substantially damage in the 1938 Hurricane and rebuilt in 1945. Today, it contains modern characteristics such as a sliding glass door.

But Prue added he did not think the town could get a better deal done and it was negotiated in the best interests of the town.

Simmons called the new plan a “terrific compromise.”

“I’m looking forward to the day when I can go down to the park and watch my wife row,” he added.

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. With the historic preservation issue now resolved, the town will need further approvals for the work, including from the Planning and Zoning Commission and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“It’s taken a bit longer than we would like but this is a project that will be a force in the community for decades,” said Nick Kepple, a member of the Boathouse Park Implementation Committee.

Prue, whose term is ending on the board, added that as long as the town “keeps shooting for big things like the boathouse park, it will help sell the Stonington brand.”

j.wojtas@theday.com

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