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Overflow crowd prompts Smiler’s Wharf meeting postponement

Joe WojtasMay 29, 2019

Mystic — The public hearing on the controversial Smiler’s Wharf project was postponed to June 17 after hundreds of people packed the Mystic Middle School cafeteria on Tuesday night, exceeding the room’s maximum occupancy allowed under the fire code.

The cafeteria was filled with several hundred people 10 minutes before the 7 p.m. hearing was scheduled to start. Many people were still in the hallway outside. Cars filled the grounds of the school and were lined up along Mistuxet Avenue.

Fifty-four people has signed up to speak before the announcement was made to continue the hearing.

Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman David Rathbun apologized for the postponement but said the crowd exceeded the 300 allowed under the fire code.

The commission officially opened the hearing and then continued it to Monday, June 17, at 7 p.m. in the Stonington High School auditorium.

The turnout was the largest for a meeting here since the spring 2014, when an estimated 550 people filled the high school auditorium and spilled over into the adjacent commons for a public hearing on the proposed budget.

The developers of Smiler’s Wharf are seeking to rezone a 7.5-acre portion of Seaport Marine’s 11-acre site off Washington Street from marine commercial to Neighborhood Development District.

As summary of the master plan for the project submitted by Noank Shipyard, the owners of Seaport Marine, calls for the demolition of all current buildings on the site except for the popular Red 36 restaurant.

The master plan calls for construction of a five-story, 45-unit hotel; a 16,590-square-foot, three-story marine service and community event space; a three-story, 200-seat restaurant,; six-story, 25-unit apartment building; 16 townhouses; six units of multifamily housing; a kayak rental building; an open-air plaza; a park; 120 boat slips; a 200-foot public boardwalk extension; 130 feet of new coastal access; a new boat basin that will require the removal of 13,000 square feet of current land and a new bulkhead to protect against storm surge.

Developers say the project will increase tax revenue and jobs for the town, increase public access to the water and improve coastal resiliency.

Opponents say the project lacks enough parking and would increase congestion in the Washington Street neighborhood. They also maintain the project does not conform to the town’s Plan of Conservation and would damage the character of the village.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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