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5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Westerly

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Downtown reality vs. perceptions in Pawcatuck

The message was loud and clear during Monday’s meeting to discuss any and all concerns related to downtown Pawcatuck: absentee and neglectful landlords need to be pressured into doing the right thing — cleaning up their properties.

Initiated by Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek and hosted by Mel’s Creamery, a success story in the heart of downtown, the meeting was a chance for residents to ask questions of town leaders, police officials, department heads and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and to offer suggestions.

Much of the discussion focused on the same topic that every other meeting about downtown Pawcatuck has focused on — loitering, petty crime, unkempt properties, and how to get landlords of those properties to show some respect for their neighbors.

Stonington Police Capt. Jerry Desmond touched on a point we all have to admit: the primary problem may be one of perception rather than reality when it comes to crime in the downtown area, although two people at the meeting said their cars were broken into recently. Places like the Elm Tree Inn and the vacant Laura’s Landing bar don’t do much to forward the concept of a quaint New England downtown, but not everyone owns a home and drives two luxury cars. Some folks create their own bad luck, for sure, but just as many have had more bad breaks than good through no fault of their own.

We are a diverse town and that’s not a bad thing. It’s simply our reality.

But what is also real is the eyesore of Laura’s Landing just across the street from the successful Mel’s. And owner Mel Goggin offered firsthand experience of watching folks avoid walking in front of the former and long-vacant bar as they walk through downtown. She’d love nothing more than for the place to have some life in it again, or, as she put it, for the lights to come on over there again. She said the lights have come on at a number of properties that spent some time vacant recently, and she’s pleased in general with how things in the area are shaping up.

Perhaps the most unfortunate reality, however, is that there is little that town officials can do to reverse the situation with these buildings. Haberek has tried the cajoling approach and the tough guy approach with these building owners. As long as the taxes are being paid and the fire marshal can find no violations, there is little that can be done.

On a day-to-day basis, however, the truth is that no one need feel threatened while walking from one side of the river to the other. During the warm months there is often a “gang” of motorcyclists who park their bikes together on the bridge and hang out watching the world go by, but they are largely of the senior set and cause no problem at all except maybe for taking up most of the parking on the bridge to the detriment of the retailers and restaurants there. There are definitely “regulars” with small brown bags who frequent the downtown area and Donahue Park, but aside from reminding others of how fortunate they are they pretty much stick to themselves and cause no harm.

What needs to happen is a continuation of private sector investment in downtown. Residents need to shop and eat downtown. We have a good deal of that already and we need to keep the momentum going. An abundance of legitimate activity surely will drive out any illegitimate activity.

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