STONINGTON — A special Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on the proposed Smiler's Wharf project had to be rescheduled Tuesday night when hundreds of people showed up, overfilling the space at Middle Middle School.
The meeting will be held June 17 at 7 p.m. at the Stonington High School auditorium.
The session was intended to address proposed zoning changes for the proposal at the downtown Mystic waterfront. If approved, the zoning would change from MC-80, or Marine Commercial, to NDD, or Neighborhood Development District.
People were still trying to squeeze their way into the doorway of the auditorium when Stonington Director of Planning Jason Vincent announced a few minutes after 7 that the room was “close to or near capacity” and the meeting would have to be postponed. An announcement of the new meeting date and place was made a few minutes later.
“This has never happened in this room before, and we’ve been here since 2007,” said town planner Keith Byrnes. “It just goes to show the level of interest.”
The property to be developed is an 11.5 acre site on Washington owned by Noank Shipyard and Seaport Marine, which are seeking a zoning change to build a hotel, restaurant, residences and new boat basin, which would be phased in over the next five years.
The plan also includes an 875-foot public boardwalk that would connect with the boardwalk of Mystic River Park, which is 460 feet long. A public plaza and park would be located in the center of the complex.
The project would be required to provide over 300 on-site parking spaces.
The plan has been controversial because it would require changes in the downtown traffic pattern, new infrastructure to ensure coastal protection, and added sewage capacity. There has also been debate about its visual impact because of building heights.
Joan Durant, who lives Jackson Avenue, near the site, said, “we’re just very concerned about what’s going on here. I’m hoping this commission has empathy toward this neighborhood.”
“We have enough problems with parking in this area,” Durant said. “They want to put parking across the street from me.”
Lynn Rajewski, who works at a business near Mystic River Park, said she was concerned with the possible increase in traffic and subsequent parking problems.
“We have a parking lot outside the building, and come mid-June we have a hard time parking in that lot,” Rajewski said. “So what is going to happen if this goes forward?”
Tom Defanti also noted that the project was “not in keeping with the charm and character of the area.”