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Proposed $10 million in bonding only for Smiler’s Wharf

Joe WojtasMay 22, 2019

Stonington — A pending state Senate bill that would provide up to 10 million in bonding, does not specifically mention the Smiler’s Wharf project being proposed for the Seaport Marine property off Washington Street in downtown Mystic.

Instead, the text of the bill states the proceeds of the bonding would be used by the state Department of Economic and Community Development to provide a grant to the town for “infrastructure, waste water management, opening public access and economic development along the Mystic River.”

The bill was referred to the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee in January and no further action has been taken on it since. The legislature is scheduled to wrap up its business on June 5.

On Tuesday, Simmons said that while he supports the Smiler’s Wharf project, neither he nor town Director of Planning Jason Vincent had anything to do with Seaport Marine seeking the bonding to help with the redevelopment of the site.

He said marina owner John Holstein and co-manager Harry Boardsen had submitted a request to DECD last year to provide funding for bulkhead and public access improvements. Simmons said if the grant is approved, DECD requires that the town administer the grant for the state.

Simmons wrote a letter to DECD Deputy Commissioner David Kooris last October supporting the request and confirming the town would administer the funds if they were approved.

Simmons said the bulkhead would help minimize the flooding risk for downtown Mystic properties due to sea level rise. Improving the town’s coastal resiliency and collaborating with private entities to do so are among the recommendations of the town’s Climate Change Task Force.

Simmons said that half of the structures at risk are considered historic properties.

“We are hopeful that this grant will leverage private investment along the bulkhead, and in doing so enhance this highly-valued public access, to be enjoyed by the community and the many visitors that are attracted to this beautiful neighborhood,” Simmons wrote to Kooris.

Last week, the Stonington Economic Development Commission voted unanimously to endorse the Smiler’s Wharf project after Boardsen and his team again outlined plans to demolish much of the 11.5-acre site and redevelop it with a second restaurant, a marine services building, a 50-room boutique hotel and a mix of 47 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes.

Plans also call for a large boat basin and bulkhead to accommodate additional docking space and an 800-foot-long public-access boardwalk, event building, plaza and kayak pavilion. The plan has no retail space.

Opponents, many of whom live in the Washington Street area, maintain the project does not conform to the town’s Plan of Conservation, damages the character of the village, would increase traffic and does not have enough parking, which means cars would end up in front of their homes. They also charge that many of the residential units will become short-term rentals and be marketed through Airbnb and VRBO.

The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on a master plan application for May 28 at 7 p.m. at Mystic Middle School.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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