STONINGTON — In a series of close votes Tuesday night, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved Mystic Seaport Museum’s plan to demolish the Latitude 41° restaurant and build a three-story, 27-room boutique hotel and restaurant on the same parcel.
The museum owns and leases the 1.36-acre site at 105 Greenmanville Ave. where Latitude 41° Restaurant & Tavern is located. The new building, named the Delamar, was designed by architect Bruce Beinfielld of Norwalk, Conn. The proposed hotel will be set closer to the Mystic River than Latitude 41°, leaving space for a circular driveway in front with valet parking.
The Greenwich Hospitality Group, headed by founder and chief operating officer Charles Mallory, who was a long-time trustee of the museum, will lease the property from the museum. His company owns and operates Delamar hotels in West Hartford, Greenwich and Southport.
Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport Museum, told the commission that Latitude 41° was built in 1964 and suffers from flooding problems on a regular basis.
“We realized the best step was to replace the building, not renovate it,” he said.
The new hotel and restaurant are part of the museum’s 2016 strategic plan but also reflect the area’s growing destination tourism industry, White said.
“For the J.M.W. Turner exhibition, 91,000 people came to Mystic in the dead of winter — that’s an 89 percent increase in visitors — think of the positive impact on the region when things are slow,” he said. “It’s people coming 12 months a year, not five months of the year.”
The new hotel will be built at two feet above flood elevation and will have a much smaller kitchen servicing only the hotel and restaurant and will no longer include catering.
The new restaurant, including the bar, banquet space, secondary banquet space and lobby will seat 530, or 260 less than the 790 seats at Latitude 41°. The new facility will need 199 parking spaces instead of the current 263, a difference of 64. With 395 parking spaces available in the north lot, 15 spaces nearby the building and 75 spaces behind Rossi building for valets to park, there will be no shortage of parking for the project.
Mark Vertucci, a traffic engineer with Fuss & O’Neill engineering, said traffic studies for the project showed an increase of 12 trips in the morning, seven trips in the afternoon and 12 trips on Saturdays.
“The project will not significantly impact traffic operations. It’s almost a wash with what the site is currently generating,” he said.
James Tennant, who said he has lived on Hinckley St. for 35 years, said the traffic engineer had underestimated the quantity of traffic on Route 27.
“Commercialization is increasing and traffic is rising,” he said. “This will add more traffic. These numbers are way off.”
James Short, of Denison Ave., said the proposed traffic patterns, which include turning left across two lanes of traffic, would not work well, especially not for out-of-town visitors. He suggested reconfiguring the traffic so that the egress aligned with the stoplight at the north parking lot entrance.
Chad Frost, a principal of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture in Mystic, who is designing the site plan, said the amount of added traffic was minor compared to something like a Dunkin Donuts, which would add hundreds of trips per day.
Keith Brynes, town planner, recommended the application be approved with several stipulations including the developer create an evacuation plan for the site and consult with the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority concerning water flow projections since the Mystic sewage treatment plan has been running close to capacity.
Lynn Conway, a commission member, said the height of the building would have a negative impact on the river environment.
“The water is a neighborhood. This project will change the vista,” she said.
Conway voted against all five motions to approve the application. Commissioner Ben Philbrick voted against three of the motions. However, all five motions did pass, by either a 4-1 or 3-2 vote.
Afterwards, Conway said “I think we’re losing the character of the town, piece by piece.”
White said he was pleased the commission approved the application.
“On behalf of the museum and the board of trustees, we’re ecstatic that the project is going to move forward. This has been part of our master planning vision for quite some time and Latitude 41° as a building has been compromised for quite some time and it’s made our programming and delivery of a quality visitor experience difficult. So, this is great for us, we believe it’s wonderful for the region, it will bring commerce to the region in the same way that the Turner exhibition did a lot for the local economy and this will just keep that momentum going,” he said.