Stonington zoning board OKs boutique hotel at Mystic Seaport
Mystic — In a 3-2 split vote Tuesday night, the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans by Mystic Seaport Museum to demolish its Latitude 41 restaurant and construct a three-story building with a restaurant and boutique hotel closer to the Mystic River.
The commission made the decision on the $12 million project after a three-hour public hearing during which Seaport representatives outlined their plan, the Eastern Connecticut, Greater Mystic and Ocean Community chambers of commerce spoke in favor of it and a few residents expressed concerns about traffic on Route 27 and the 41.5-foot height of the hotel.
Commissioners asked numerous questions about windows, parking, traffic impact, lighting, flood elevation and other issues.
In the vote on the five separate approvals needed for the project, commission members Lynn Conway and Ben Philbrick voted in opposition, saying they were concerned about the height of the hotel, its impact on views of the Mystic River and that it did not conform with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. Members Gardner Young, Fred Deichmann and Chairman David Rathbun voted in favor of the project.
After Conway said the hotel would have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, Young disagreed, saying, “You’re getting rid of an ugly restaurant and putting up a beautiful hotel.”
The project calls for a 26-room hotel and a 160-seat restaurant with banquet space that would accommodate 250 seats, as well as a guest cottage. Plans also call for a pool and outdoor patio with seating overlooking the river and an existing dock.
The hotel/restaurant would be built by the Greenwich Hospitality Group, whose principal, Charles Mallory, a former member of the Seaport’s board of trustees, developed the Stonington Commons project in Stonington Borough. It will be called the Delamar Hotel.
Plans call for the demolition and construction to begin in 2021, with an opening in the spring of 2022. Latitude 41’s lease runs through the end of this year. On Tuesday, the Seaport’s project team showed access to the site via a shared driveway from a parking lot that would serve the adjacent Mystic River Boathouse Park, which remains in the planning stages.
There will be eight valet parking spots along a circle in the front of the hotel, with the rest of the parking across Route 27 in the large museum lot. The project’s traffic engineer stated the hotel/restaurant would generate 12 more cars entering or leaving the property onto Route 27 per day, even though the restaurant would have fewer seats and require less parking than Latitude 41.
The first floor of the new hotel/restaurant will be 2 feet above flood elevation, compared to the current situation in which Latitude 41’s basement and restaurant both lie in the flood plain. The basement of the 55-year-old building floods frequently. The new building’s elevation also will meet the 2-foot-above flood elevation that is expected to be required by the state and would accommodate a 20-inch rise in sea level predicted for the area by 2050.
In a letter the town received Tuesday, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection again expressed a number of concerns involving placing residential units in flood zones and allowing a non-water-dependent use on the property.
It said careful consideration should be given to placing a hotel with guests in a flood-prone area and said the town needs to develop a plan to evacuate guests if needed. Development of such a plan was one of the nine stipulations the commission attached to its approval. The museum already has an emergency management plan that could be amended to include the new building.
During the hearing, museum President Steve White told the commission that the project was one of the results of the museum’s strategic planning process designed to determine how best to use its assets to contribute to the future of the museum and enhance its financial stability. He said the hotel would be an attraction in the destination tourism market.