Hear voices of Noank before regulating its guests
There once was a time when you could not truly call yourself a “Noanker” unless you were born here. The village has been my home for 56 years. I’ve raised my family here, even served multiple terms on the board of directors of the Noank Historical Society. I spent hours at the museum absorbing the village’s black and white photographic history and learned years ago how the village was, in fact, on “the wrong side of the tracks,” with its rowdy taverns, bohemians, shipwrights, artists, and lobstermen with their ripe bait barrels.
On a hill above The Seahorse was Blue Meadows vacation cottages. There were four churches, and a busy grocery store. Every fourth of July there was a chicken barbeque and fireworks show at Noank Shipyard. Ours was the kind of close community folks today yearn for. There were boarding houses and folks rented the ells of their homes to visitors and shipyard workers. Ray Coon’s Mobil was a busy place where one could buy gasoline, a bag of potato chips and a bottle of cold soda. We rode our bikes to Noank School and skated in the park. Many weekends, we watched feature movies, like “Captains Courageous,” in the basement of the Baptist church.
We were the children of, among others, lobstermen, long haul truckers, and a tugboat captain. My mom ran an antiques store on Main Street. Later in life, she told me that the best gift she was able to give me was my independence. With a degree in communications, I stayed in Noank, and with a few friends and neighbors, revived the Abbott’s cannery. Zoning eventually forced us out of the village and, from New London, we grew the company across America. My flower and vegetable garden now flourishes on the footprint of where the cannery once stood, and where my professional career began.
I was fortunate to be able to buy one of the few remaining multifamily homes in the village; I now live in one of the apartments and rent another long-term. Last summer I decided to furnish a vacant unit and host short-term guests. The pandemic had decimated my commercial lighting business, which at the time consisted of hotels and New York City office and apartment buildings. The extra income helped me through a very tough time.
From July 2 through Dec. 31 of 2020, I hosted 39 guests for a total of 148 nights. Many came from the Mystic train station by Uber, and others parked their cars in a dedicated off-street space. Neighbors told me that they never noticed people coming and going.
Visitors and car traffic are not unique to Noank. After all, four boatyards and the same number of restaurants draw thousands every summer weekend, and so it’s hard to understand how a few dozen short-term rental guests could ever upset the balance and rhythm of our village.
It seems that regulation of short-term rentals is inevitable, so let’s act like friends and neighbors, and learn from each other’s experiences. This will require a zoning commission able to listen to and treat us with respect for and attention to the real facts, not myths, about short-term rentals. Many of us have not felt listened to — let alone represented — by our elected officials.
In the process, let’s try to understand each of our motivations, which deal mostly with offsetting punishing property taxes and retaining our family homes. Absent empathy, common sense and open dialogue, we run the risk of destroying the true essence of our village and its quirky charm, and of forgetting our history. Some of us remember our behatted village oracle, Mary Virginia Goodman, who was once quoted as saying, and I paraphrase badly, “Most never come to Noank without a reason.”
We have many reasons to want to live in — and love — our community. I hope that we can all agree that we are not, nor will we ever become, a gated community. Let’s embrace our common truths and try to listen to each other. In so doing, we might avoid destroying the true essence of what has led us to this place and to this crucial time.
Ben Greenfield lives in Noank.
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