As public grows impatient, Boathouse Park committee prepares to share more details of  development

As public grows impatient, Boathouse Park committee prepares to share more details of  development

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STONINGTON — A public presentation of the Mystic River Boathouse Park design will be given Oct. 11 at Latitude 41, 105 Greenmanville Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. A second presentation will be also made in Pawcatuck at a time and place to be announced.

Plans for the presentations were approved by the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee last week. 

First Selectman Rob Simmons, who chairs the committee, said there was a public perception that the project was moving slowly. But the issues were complex, he said.

“We are moving in accordance with our schedule. We may have slipped a few weeks but we have also encountered some ‘interesting variables,’” he said. 

Some of the “variables” included working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation on permitting issues along Greenmanville Avenue, Route 27, which is a state road. The town must also develop a remediation plan with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for an environmental cleanup on the site, which was formed largely of slag hauled years ago from the Rossie Velvet Mill across the street.

Voters approved the acquisition of the 1.5-acre property at 123 Greenmanville Ave. in September 2016 and the town bought it for $1.67 million in Januard 2017. 

Currently the Friends of Stonington Crew, a nonprofit that supports the Stonington High School crew team, is raising $2.2 million to build the Hart Perry Boathouse on the site. The boathouse will house the high school crew team and become a community rowing center.

In April, Friends of Stonington Crew chose Anmahian Winton Architects of Cambridge, Mass., known as AW, to design the boathouse. Chad Frost, principal of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture of Mystic, released a conceptual master plan for the site in June. 

On Monday, using Frost’s conceptual plan and AW’s initial designs for the boathouse, Mike O’Neill, vice chairman of the implementation committee and director of rowing for Friends of Stonington Crew, presented the committee with an initial plan for the boathouse inspired by Community Rowing Inc., a boathouse on the Charles River in Boston, which was designed by AW. 

O’Neill said the firm was given a limited budget, limited space and limited time, which he said matched the limitations of Friends of Stonington Crew. 

The Hart Perry Boathouse will have a 45-by-100 foot footprint, with the upper floor larger than the lower floor in square footage, O’Neill said. 

One corner of the building will be aligned with the velvet mill’s “bump-out” directly across the street, creating a “gateway” into the Mystic Seaport area. The boathouse will also be the same height as the mill building. 

“It relates the building to something else near it, it pulls the building away from the water, providing a lot of space behind the building for the park and space for parking,” he said. “It makes for a kind of natural transition as you’re coming down the Greenmanville Avenue, where you see these two corresponding buildings on either side of the road.” 

The conceptual plan also included a public bathroom at street level and a crew workout room on the second floor. 

The crew team has been storing its equipment in the warehouse on site for five years and, because the site has no dock, the teams also “wet-launch” the boats into the river during the summer, when the Seaport dock is not available to the team, said O’Neill. 

Mike Crowley, committee member and chairman of the Recreation Commission, said that because the crew teams are already using the site, people have been asking when the public can start using the property.

“Now that the rowers are using the park, when can the public use the space?” he asked. “People are asking, why can’t I just go down there and have a picnic?”

Committee member Nicholas Kepple, a lawyer, said the issue is the town’s liability. 

“The key distinction between the kids being there and the public at large wandering around,” he said, is that the team members are supervised by adults. 

The future relationship of the rowers and the town will need to be carefully defined, Kepple said. 

“Essentially the park will be wholly administered by the town and then a portion of the site is a public-private partnership,” he said. The town will delegate the running of a community rowing program. The rowing group will also be required to show a plan of how the boathouse will be run and that plan must be vetted by the Board of Selectmen and other town officials. 

Steve White, committee member and president of Mystic Seaport, said that for transparency as the project proceeds, it would be helpful to give the public a timeline with projected dates of each phase of the project.

Having a presentation in Pawcatuck was key in engaging the whole town in the process, Crowley said. “You don’t want to make this just a ‘Mystic thing.’ Pawcatuck is part of it,” he said. 

O’Neill said, “It would be good to spread the word as much as possible. More than half of our rowers come from Pawcatuck.”


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