Editorial: Highs and lows from last week

Editorial: Highs and lows from last week

The Westerly Sun

LOW: “We don’t do brands in Stonington.” For that comment, Robert Birmingham, a member of Stonington’s Architectural Design Review Board, wins Quote of the Week. He was criticizing the design of the Hartford HealthCare building proposed for the site of the former Maple Breeze Park on Liberty Street in Pawcatuck. The rendering showed a nice enough building, in a sort of suburban office park style, that a West Hartford architect described as distinctive to the big health care system. “People know it’s a Hartford Healthcare building without even seeing the sign,” he said. That didn’t sit too well with the board, with Chairman Michael McKinley and other members saying it was out of character with Stonington, or even with the style of buildings in downtown Pawcatuck.

Say what? Have the board members taken a stroll on West Broad Street lately to check out the vacant Laura’s Landing, or the Elm Tree Inn, or even the former Citizens Bank building, to name a few. There is a cohesive New England look — a “brand,” if you will — that distinguishes other parts of town, like Mystic, and the borough, and there are many fine older homes in nearby neighborhoods of Pawcatuck. But the commercial aspect of downtown Pawcatuck is not, in our opinion, something that many residents would insist on replicating along the busy Liberty Street / Route 2 corridor where Hartford Healthcare wants to set up shop. The architects have already incorporated brickwork and finishes to better blend in, and more changes are in the offing, at the insistence of the board. We’re hoping these accommodations can help expedite this project: New businesses, fresh construction, and more competition are beneficial to the community.

HIGH: The proposal is still in the early stages, but if Stonington enacts an ordinance to regulate or ban the use of plastic straws and single-use plastic bags, it could become the third town to do so in Connecticut. Westport, in Fairfield County, led the way in 2009, and Greenwich will follow later this year. Plastics have long been classified as pollutants under the federal Clean Water Act, and under the law local governments can establish rules aimed at reducing trash loadings into bodies of water. The issue is particularly important in coastal communities because plastic in its many forms is a global threat to marine life.

Rhode Island already has seven towns that prohibit the use of thin-film plastic bags by retailers — Barrington, Newport, Middletown, Jamestown, Block Island, Portsmouth and Bristol. South Kingstown will become the eighth on Jan. 1 with a ban that will apply to plastic carryout bags (garbage bags and those for prescription drugs, pet or yard waste would be exempt). As in other communities, young people in South Kingstown made their voices heard on this issue, and most businesses who were surveyed said they favored the ban, too, according to the Narragansett Times.

If this cause is good for business, it follows that it must be good for politics, too. The latest proof came in the form of an announcement Friday from Gov. Gina Raimondo that she would hold “office hours” at several state beaches this summer, starting today at Scarborough, where she intended to “sign an executive order aimed to reduce reliance on single-use plastics that often end up in Rhode Island’s waters.” Could it be that the state Department of Environmental Management is going to curtail its practice of distributing thousands of small plastic garbage bags to beachgoers? Stay tuned ….

LOW: More than 20 months have passed since Westerly voters rejected the school district’s $38.5 million school redesign project, but raw feelings on the part of its staunchest proponents have not gone away. That much was clear last week when the School Committee finally settled on a new proposal that does a 180 on the most contentious point of the 2016 plan: the future of State Street School. The vote was 4-3, with  Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, Patricia Panciera and Marianne Nardone opposed. They were against a “new build” at the State Street site, and still are. Panciera and Nardone are seeking re-election, State Street champion Gina Fuller is not. The committee’s lack of unity undoubtedly affected the outcome of the 2016 referendum, and with the composition of the board due to change this fall, the Grade 3-5 plan for a brand-new State Street School seems anything but assured.


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