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Can Stonington remove National Register buildings for Boathouse Park?

November 13, 2018

Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons has been floating an idea for removing the two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places that stand on the site of the planned Boathouse Park, suggesting they be sold for 40,000 from $200,000 in grant funds form the Department of Economic and Community Development for an environmental assessment of the site. Presumably more grant money could be sought for a cleanup, however much that might cost.

Using the existing buildings seems immensely practical.

If fact, Stonington High School rowers are already using the old blacksmith building to store rowing shells. It seems like a perfect reuse of the industrial building, which, with some restoration, could be a handsome showpiece at a gateway into town.

Surely architects could find a way to reuse the residential building on the property for the community events envisioned as park uses. There is a broad tradition of this, and to see a good example of it you need to look no further than the successful transformation of Coogan Farm, just a short distance away on Greenmanville Avenue.

I couldn’t reach the architects for the controversial modern boathouse building, Anmahian Winton Architects of Cambridge, Mass.

Chad Frost of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture of Mystic, which has done site planning for the boathouse project, told me they didn’t try to save the existing buildings because they couldn’t accommodate the uses planned.

He offered a version of the China plan for moving them.

“They do not fit the purpose for what is needed there,” he said. “We can find a way to selectively remove and celebrate the buildings.”

I find it troubling that official Stonington is so blind to the significant historic resources of the town, features that ultimately drive tourism and economic development.

Just last month, the owners of the Whaler’s Inn in Mystic demolished part of a residential street on the national register with the help of town officials. A town building official, with the stroke of a pen, eliminated a town policy requiring a waiting period before demolition, on the same day he signed the demolition warrant for the buildings located on a site contemplated for a parking lot.

The Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District highlights a village of Mystic and the town’s history, one that celebrates Stonington’s significant textile industry, which brought so much prosperity and so many immigrants here from Germany and Italy in the late 19th century, as shipping waned.

Why tear down a significant part of that history to erect a building that a lot of people already don’t like?

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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