Developer Withdraws Smiler’s Wharf Application Prior to Mystic Hearing

in Stonington

STONINGTON — In a three-page letter to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday morning, the developers of the Smiler’s Wharf project formally withdrew their application for a zoning change on their 11-acre Mystic site for an ambitious project that would have comprised a 5-story hotel, a 6-story apartment building, a 200-seat restaurant, townhouses, a marine services building, an extended public boardwalk, a new boat basin and bulkhead.

Since its public hearing began on May 28, the project has received extensive negative public commentary focused on the scale of the buildings compared to the surrounding neighborhood, as well as other issues. In contrast, many in the business community supported the project, including the town’s Economic Development Commission and the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce.  

In the letter, Noank Shipyard Inc. President John P. Holstein, General Manager Abbey Holstein Boardsen and General Manager Harry Boardsen III, wrote that they still believed in their “vision for a vibrant mixed use waterfront development” for the property, but acknowledged “the public opposition to the project, the vehemence of which admittedly caught us off guard given the lack of public engagement through May of this year.”

The letter addressed three points raised by community members. First, the developers said while they had personally reached out to neighbors to review the project before it reached the public hearing stage, but the public provided little or no feedback. However, the letter said, the lack of feedback was misconstrued later as the developers’ lack of effort to reach out.

Secondly, the company said it had invested $15 million into Seaport Marine and the site since 2004 and had not willfully let the boat repair and storage facilities deteriorate, as alleged, so that they could claim an advantage in the land use permitting process. 

Third, Boardsen and the Holsteins said the May 28 DEEP letter that recommended rejection of the project was misinterpreted in a number of ways. DEEP’s letter did say that future building of coastal and flood erosion barriers to protect residences would be not be permitted, but did not suggest new bulkheads would be prohibited, they said, adding that the project’s enhancement of in-water marine uses and the addition of public access boardwalk also would have compensated for any diminishment of water dependent uses. 

The developer said it intends to step back from the project and will return to the commission at a future date with options for the site. 

Reached by phone Tuesday morning, Boardsen said he had no further comment.

Jason Vincent, director of the planning for Stonington, also gave no comment on Tuesday. 

Reached by phone Tuesday, Laura Graham, of Pawcatuck, who opposed the project both at hearings and on social media said, “I’m just grateful that they’re doing the right thing, grateful that we can finally stand down.”

Matt Beaudoin, co-owner of Mystic Knotwork on Cottrell St., said Tuesday he was supporting the Holstein and Boardsen families in their work to find a plan for the site. 

“I’m supporting the family and the process to find the thing that makes the best fit for the town.” I’ve attended four or five presentations over the past year and a half in which they were taking feedback from the community and was looking forward to see how they could incorporate the new ideas they were receiving into a subsequent plan. I do hope they submit a new proposal soon and that they get more input earlier on in the process.” 

Reached by text on Tuesday, Dave Hammond, chair of the town’s Economic Development Commission, which had given the project unanimous support, said he was discouraged with the lack of community collaboration.

“I am disappointed that the community can’t work together to find a path forward that works for everyone and is good for Stonington,” he said.