Seaport Marine, Planned Site of the Smiler's Wharf Development (Credit: CT Examiner/Hewitt)

Business and Residents Split on Smiler’s Wharf in Mystic

in Stonington

MYSTIC — The stark contrast between the residential community’s opposition to the Smiler’s Wharf proposal and the business community’s support of the project continued at a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on Monday night at Stonington High School auditorium. 

The commission heard opponents to the project who hadn’t had a chance to speak at the June 17 hearing. The opening of the public hearing had been originally scheduled for May 28 at Mystic Middle School, but more than 300 people showed up, exceeding the fire code, resulting in the change to June 17 at the high school, where about 400 people attended. 

Husband and wife, Harry Boardsen and Abbey Holstein, and her family — the owners of the 11.2-acre Seaport Marine site in Mystic — seek to change the zoning from MC-80, or Marine Commercial, to NDD, Neighborhood Development District as part of a masterplan approval. 

Jim Friedlander, a lifelong resident of Mystic, said a project like Smiler’s Wharf would put “another nail in the coffin” of the local residents losing out, while the “tourists win again.” 

The project includes: a 5-story, 45-unit hotel; a 3-story combined marine service and community event space; a 3-story, 200-seat restaurant; a 6-story, 25-unit apartment building; a 3.5-story, 16-unit townhouse complex; 3.5-story, 6-unit multi-family residential building; a kayak rental facility; an open-air plaza that would serve as a public gathering space; 120 boat slips; a 200-foot extension of public boardwalk and a new boat basin requiring excavation of 13,000 square feet of land. 

About 150 people attended Monday’s meeting where about 25 people spoke in opposition to the project. At the June 17 meeting, about 32 people spoke in favor of the project and about 45 signed up to speak in opposition, but due to time constraints, some had to wait until Monday night. 

Proposed location of Smiler’s Wharf in Mystic (Credit: CT Examiner/Hewitt)

Between the two hearings, about 70 residents expressed concerns about the project’s effect on the quality of life in Mystic, especially increased traffic, density and congestion, as well as environmental and safety  issues related to the site’s location in a floodplain.  

Jim Friedlander, a lifelong resident of Mystic, said a project like Smiler’s Wharf would put “another nail in the coffin” of the local residents losing out, while the “tourists win again.” 

Resident Bud Thayer said the scope, scale and density of the buildings, some of which would be 74 feet and 64 feet, were inappropriate for Mystic.

Resident David Snedicker, who lives 150 feet from the proposed hotel, said the project was presented to the neighborhood as a “done deal.”

Claire Sartor, who has lived on Jackson Ave. for 50 years, said that her opposition to the project had town-side support.

“This is so incredibly important to my quality of life, to the life of downtown Mystic and to our community and especially our neighborhood,” she said. “This application is an unabashed, in-your-face assault to downtown Mystic as I know it and most especially to our small neighborhood.”

Former Planning and Zoning Chair Ben Tamsky created a draft of a resolution to reject the project, had it printed on bright orange paper and distributed it to the commission. 

Opponents to the project also gave the commission a petition signed by owners of at least 20 percent of the properties located within 500 feet of the site. The petition, if certified, would force a supermajority 4-1 vote to approve the project  instead of the standard 3-2 majority.

The project has been unanimously supported by the town’s Economic Development Commission as a means of growing the Grand List, part of a strategy to combat rising town expenses and falling state revenue sharing. Both the president and the chair of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce also endorsed the project. 

“Everyone thinks we’ve had no regard for the neighborhood or the town, everyone thinks we’re a developer coming in to make money,” he said. “Not one neighbor has contacted us, that is one of the heartbreaking things about this project.” 

In a conversation Monday afternoon, before the hearing, Boardsen said the project will generate  between $120,000 and $300,000 in revenues to the town, depending on whether families with school-age children live in the development.

“This type of development most likely will not attract families, people who are wanting to relocate with 2 or 3 children,” he said. “It’s for people who are looking to downsize into a smaller, manageable place. Their kids have left or are in college. These are weekend places, vacation places.” 

Boardsen said the development will also have other financial positives for the town, such as $630,000 for tie-in fees to the town’s sewer system. However, with the Mystic plant operating at or above capacity, the town currently has a moratorium on new sewage tie-ins in Mystic until an inflow and infiltration study is completed and preparations are made to send some of Mystic’s sewage to the town’s borough plant, which has additional capacity. 

Boardsen said that he has attempted to engage with the neighborhood through emails and mailers but nobody has contacted him. 

“Everyone thinks we’ve had no regard for the neighborhood or the town, everyone thinks we’re a developer coming in to make money,” he said. “Not one neighbor has contacted us, that is one of the heartbreaking things about this project.” 

He said it was “important to look at this thing from 10,000 feet, to look at us as a company.” 

The commission continued the hearing to July 16 at 7 p.m. at Stonington High School. Once the hearing is closed, the commission will have 65 days to make a decision.