The Old Lighthouse Museum today. | ( Photo by Daniel Hyland )
December 19, 2016 12:27PM
By Brooke Constance White
Sun staff writer
STONINGTON — The Old Lighthouse Museum is one step closer to building an expansion to allow handicapped access after the Borough Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved an amendment that will allow it to grant a special use permit to nonconforming uses that serve the public.
Without the amendment, which the commission initiated, it could not legally approve any expansion plans for any nonconforming use seeking to come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unlike most public hearings where some speak in favor and others speak against, the only members of the public to speak Tuesday night were in favor of the amendment.
Commissioner Don Maranell said he thought it was the first time that the commission had ever had a hearing in which there was no one in disagreement.
“I’m proud of the community for coming together on this,” he said. “It’s a well intentioned amendment to our regulations and I think we are very smart to just vote ‘yes.’”
A large group of neighbors submitted a letter, which was read aloud by resident Nate Smith, in support of the amendment. They thanked the commission for accomplishing three major goals: applying the amendment to all public buildings, allowing otherwise prohibited expansion in order to comply with the ADA, and fashioning the language so that property owners are prevented from expanding under the guise of ADA objectives.
“This was a primary concern of the neighbors and we thank the commission for hearing that concern,” Smith said.
Michael Schefers, president of the Stonington Historical Society Board of Directors, thanked the commission for its consideration of such an important issue.
“The board fervently desires to accommodate this need and provide ADA compliance and accessibility for locals and state, national and international visitors,” he said.
Attorney Mark Branse, who represents the historical society, also expressed satisfaction with the amendment.
“The idea is that an expansion should have the intent of bringing a property into ADA compliance and I think this amendment achieves that purpose,” he said.
Borough Attorney Robert Avena said he and the commission worked hard to wordsmith each word in the amendment.
“This is really quite progressive,” he said. “When we looked for other towns that are trying to do this, it was hard to find other examples. We worked hard on this and I’m comfortable with where we came out.”
The amendment will go into effect on Feb. 1.
According to Branse, the society will file the same plan that was presented last spring when it applied for the text amendment.
The 495-square-foot addition would include a handicapped-accessible bathroom, gift shop and ticketing area. The proposal includes repair work to some areas and upgrades to improve the climate control system.