MYSTIC — Parking has always been a problem in Mystic and always will be.
That was the observation of a participant in a public workshop Thursday exploring the pros and cons of changing the traffic patterns on Cottrell, Washington and Willow streets, which could result in additional parking spaces.
But broader parking issues, such as those connected with Seaport Marine’s planned redevelopment of its 11.5-acre site on Washington Street, also crowded into the conversation. If approved, the Seaport Marine project would include a public-access boardwalk, commercial space, housing, a hotel and a restaurant. The proposal is on the agenda of the Architecture Design Review Board at 7 p.m. Monday at Town Hall.
With the future of their neighborhood on their minds, about 50 local property and business owners shared their thoughts, concerns and questions Thursday night at the forum held at the B.F. Hoxie Fire Station Meeting Room. The session was led by Jason Vincent, Stonington's director of planning.
The new traffic pattern under consideration would change Cottrell Street to a one-way road heading south from Route 1 ( known as East Main Street locally), and to make Washington Street one-way heading east and Willow Street one-way heading north to East Main Street. The configuration would create a traffic loop that would enable the installation of angled parking spaces along Cottrell Street.
The intersection at Route 1 and Cottrell has been rated an “F,” the lowest rating, by traffic engineers, and is also dangerous to pedestrians, Vincent told the attendees before they broke into small groups to brainstorm ideas.
“Cars have a hard time getting places in that intersection,” he said. “And traffic engineers don’t rate pedestrian safety, they just rate how quickly cars can get through the road.”
In her small group, Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Chamber of Commerce, said that making Cottrell Street one-way could provide important improvements. But she wanted to see parking restrictions so that the spaces turned over enough to benefit businesses.
“It’s definitely a net gain on parking and it reduces potential crash opportunities,” she said. “I think the key thing is not just the net gain in parking but how long do you let them park: Is it a two-hour, a three-hour, or all day, so you don’t have abuse.”
James Short, who lives in the neighborhood, said creating more parking along Cottrell Street would have a positive impact, but if Seaport Marine doesn’t provide enough parking for its customers, then parking in Mystic will go from bad to worse.
“Parking is notoriously tight in Mystic, especially during the summer tourist season,” he said. “When this development goes in, the main point is to make sure these developers have enough on-site parking for what they’re trying to do because if they don’t do that, it’s going to be a bigger mess.”
Vincent gathered questions from the participants, reminding them that the purpose of the workshop was to gauge the level of community interest in the idea. If the community deemed the idea worthy, he said he would seek funding for a traffic and parking study, keeping the workshop participants’ questions and observations in mind.
Participants asked broad questions, such as: What is the problem we’re trying to solve? Who benefits from making these changes? Are there more practical solutions?
Others made specific observations, such as that drivers’ sightlines exiting from Willow Street onto East Main were inferior to the sightlines from Cottrell Street.
A Willow Street property owner suggested that the town convert the Fourth District Voting Hall, a 0.6-acre site at 10 Broadway Ave., into a public parking area.
Genevieve Triplett, co-owner of Mystic Pet Shop, at 18 East Main St. on the corner of Willow Street, said she uses Willow as a loading zone for 18-wheeler trucks that frequent her business. If Willow were made one-way, the trucks would not be able to maneuver around the Cottrell and Washington Street loop, and she would have to resort to unloading on East Main.
“We will have to unload on Route 1, and if that’s happening at 3 o’clock on July 4th weekend, commerce has to happen — it’s jobs, it’s state taxes, it’s property taxes, commerce is happening,” she said. “My concern is the acceptance that Route 1 is going to be my loading zone. I don’t think that would be a benefit to traffic flow.”
Tom Norris, who lives in the neighborhood, asked if it was feasible to have Groton and Stonington work together to solve parking and traffic issues.
“Things we do on this side of the river are going to impact the other side and vice versa, so hopefully we can at least talk to each other,” he said.
Wrapping up, Vincent said he would talk to community leaders about the ideas generated by the workshop and would communicate with participants in the future.
“I heard a bunch of ideas I hadn’t thought of myself and that’s why we have programs like this. We only get better by talking about things and challenging each other’s opinion on things,” he said. “I believe a stronger community is when people are engaged and feel empowered to make decisions in their community, and that’s my commitment to you folks.”