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Mystic River Boathouse Park project moves forward

Stonington — The proposed Mystic River Boathouse Park project, which has made little progress since residents approved a $2.2 million bond to buy and develop the Route 27 site in 2016, has now taken two major steps forward.

On Wednesday, the Board of Selectmen voted to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Stonington Community Rowing Center that delineates the obligations of both parties in the development and operation of the public park. The agreement is expected to help the rowing center raise funds as it formalizes its ability to use and develop the town-owned site, as well as the town's responsibilities to create the park. 

Meanwhile, First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said this week that the town plans to submit an application for a state grant of just under $1 million to fund the environmental cleanup of the site located just north of Mystic Seaport Museum's Latitude 41 restaurant.

"These are big steps," Chesebrough said, adding the agreement will help bolster the town's grant application.

The project has been beset by delays due to having to clean up underground contamination, the need to preserve a historical home on the site and the impact that would have on the park design, and controversy over the initial design of the boathouse, which would serve as the home for the Stonington High School rowing team and the community rowing center. The boathouse design is being redone to incorporate the historic house.

Chesebrough said this winter that the town has $534,719 left from the $2.2 million bond to spend on the project. In addition, the town has about $50,000 left from a $200,000 state grant to conduct an environmental assessment of the property and obtain permits.

Mike O'Neill, the director of rowing for the Friends of Stonington Crew, called the agreement a "huge step forward" for the project.

The Friends of Stonington Crew has created the Stonington Community Rowing Foundation, which is awaiting approval for its nonprofit status, to manage the boathouse operation. The friends group then will focus on supporting the Stonington High School crew team.

The memorandum of understanding states that "Investing in this property to create a flourishing public park will be a community asset for generations to come" and through the town partnering with the rowing center, "community members of all ages and abilities will have an opportunity to utilize competitive, recreational, and adaptive rowing programs."

It states that use of the park grounds, boat ramp and public dock will be free to the public. There will be a fee for the rowing center programs to ensure their sustainability. The fee will give program participants access to the boathouse, rowing shells and equipment, rowing docks, training equipment and coaching.

The agreement states it will be used to draft a proposed lease agreement for the rowing center, which will be voted on at a future Town Meeting. A separate agreement will detail items such as construction management and insurance.

According to the agreement, the town will be responsible for completing actions required by the State Historic Preservation Office such as surveying and relocating the house on the site, remediating the contamination and completing the site work for the park.

The town also will complete the engineering, permitting and construction of the public boat ramp and dock and allow the rowing center to lease the boathouse for small gatherings and activities, including team banquets and fundraisers, in order to help pay for its programs.

The town will maintain the park property, exterior of boathouse and house, including restrooms, and provide the rowing center with the use of the park and access to the Mystic River during practices, races and other events.

The agreement states the rowing center's responsibilities are based on its ability to raise money and generate revenue from the operations of the boathouse complex for fitness, education and group activities.

The rowing center is responsible for working with the town to finalize the design of the boathouse and house, provide architectural construction drawings for the house and boathouse complex to gain town and state approval, manage the construction of the boathouse, renovate the exterior of the house to State Historic Preservation Office requirements in conformity with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and local zoning restrictions.

The rowing center also will design, permit and build the rowing dock, pay for the utilities for both buildings and bathrooms, manage activities at the park, boathouse and house complex and provide fee-based rowing programs for fitness and recreation to the community. It also will maintain a shared schedule of programs and events with the town to maximize the park’s use for the community and obtain a permit to close the park during major events and regattas.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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