176 Boston Post Road, Old Lyme (Credit: Google Map Data, 2020)

Town Reaches Compromise on Private Boat House Near Hains Park in Old Lyme

OLD LYME — A private group of rowers who purchased a property abutting Hains Park to store their shells reached a temporary agreement with the Parks and Recreation Commission on June 4 that will allow limited access to Rogers Lake. 

On June 23, 2019, Blood Street Partners, LLC, a group of six rowers, purchased a two-bedroom, 1,350-square-foot house at 176 Boston Post Road for $152,000. The partners’ idea was to construct a two-story storage building for about 24 one- and two-person sculls while keeping the house in place on the .22-acre, commercially-zoned lot. 

The partners wanted to portage their sculls, which are about 24 to 33 feet in length, to the docks in Hains Park by exiting from the back of the Boston Post Road property. Hains Park is a town park designated for sole use by Old Lyme residents. 

Gregory Hack, of Old Lyme, who is one of the partners, presented preliminary plans to the commission on December 5, 2019. The partners then came before the Zoning Board of Appeals on February 18 to request a variance. That request was approved on the condition that the partners obtained a Special Permit to allow the construction of a storage “marine facility” for rowing shells. 

The Park and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to oppose the project on April 15, explaining that “commercial entities are not allowed to use town-owned public parks” as well as safety and liability issues of portaging 26-33-long sculls in the park. The commission also said Hains Park is designated solely for use by Old Lyme residents except for activities allowed under an agreement between the town and District 18 that includes the Old Lyme Rowing Association and is limited to certain areas of the park. 

At the April 15 meeting, the commission also voted unanimously to require all boats “exceeding 15 feet in length to enter and exit Hains Park via the boathouse driveway” and to prohibit “the portaging of boats exceeding 15 feet through the portion of Hains Park containing the playground, picnic, and bathing areas.”

An informal meeting was held at the property on May 15 at the request of the Blood Street Partners in an effort to negotiate a revised proposal that would address the commission’s concerns. The meeting included Commission Chair Bob Dunn, First Selectman Tim Griswold, commission member John Flower, Parks and Recreation Director Don Bugbee, Blood Street Partners member Michael Furgueson, neighbor Tom Leddy and Hack. 

At the May 15 meeting, the discussion turned to scaling down the project to about eight shells stored in a one-story building. The idea was also raised that the sculls could, with permission, be portaged along a 10-foot-wide strip of land belonging to the adjacent neighbor, which would provide the rowers access to the Hains Park parking area. 

At the June 4 meeting, Commission Chair Bob Dunn reiterated that the project raised a number of issues, including the fact that a marine facility is a commercial use and the policy of the Old Lyme Parks and Recreation department is that no commercial businesses are allowed to use park property on a regular basis. 

“Allowing a commercial business to use town property on a regular basis would set a bad precedent,” Dunn said. 

Commission member John Flower said the property would not function as a scull storage facility if the town decided to install a fence along the property line of Hains Park. 

“It doesn’t make any logical sense for any board to approve the use of town property for a property to function,” Flower said. 

In a compromise, the commission decided to rescind the “15-foot rule” from sunrise to 9 a.m., which will allow rowers to cartop their sculls to the Hains Park main parking lot. However, the new rule stipulates that all cars and rowing shells leave the park by 9 a.m. 

“We’re concerned about what happens after 9 to sunset … because we would prefer not to have these large 27-foot boats going through the park when Old Lyme residents are there just enjoying the park and doing all the different activities you can do in the park,” Dunn said.

Hack requested that the commission form a subcommittee to work out remaining issues with Blood Street Partners LLC, but Dunn said the commission would not set up a committee to work with a private club or group. 

Hack said the property will operate as a residence and not a marine facility. 

“Using this as a private residence for the partners and perhaps a few friends is something we’d want to do going forward,” Hack said. 

Dunn asked that Hack pursue permission to use the neighbor’s 10-foot-wide strip of land for safe portaging. 

“That will get you closer to the property and the parking lot and taking boats to the docks,” Dunn said. “If you can get some sort of communication from the owner that it’s okay for you guys to use that land that would alleviate our concerns about walking the boats through Hains Park property.” 

He also asked Hack to contact the neighbors to hear their concerns. 

“Then we could feel more comfortable that neighbors won’t mind a scaled down version of this if you get positive statements from them,” Dunn said. 

The commission also asked that Hack provide proof of liability insurance. 

Dunn said he was concerned that only the Blood Street Partners use the facility and that it not be rented out to others for profit. 

“We really feel that any boats would only be owned by the six members of Blood Street LLC and that you have no more than eight boats,” Dunn said. “It’s for owners only. You mentioned you wanted to open it up to some friends, that is not the best idea.” 

The commission authorized attorneys to draft an agreement that will limit the project to eight boats and include liability insurance provided by the partners to cover the portaging of shells on Hains Park property. Usage will be limited to sunrise to 9 a.m., with feedback from neighbors provided to the commission. 

The agreement will be temporary and can be rescinded by the Parks and Recreation Commission for noncompliance.

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