MYSTIC — Because Stonington has no 90-day demolition ordinance, it was legal for the Whaler’s Inn to demolish its buildings on Cottrell and Haley streets and to propose a three-story restaurant and parking lot for the properties.
Even though Stonington has never had a demolition-delay ordinance, the town’s previous building official, Wayne Green, specified a 90-day waiting period on the Whaler’s Inn building permit, which was corrected by the town’s current building official, Lawrence Stannard, according to Stonington Director of Planning Jason Vincent.
“By state law, the only way you can delay an applicant who has a legal right to get a demolition permit is if you have an ordinance, but we don’t have an ordinance,” Vincent said. “Our building permit said that we did — it was not true — so our new building official correctly fixed that. He followed state law.”
Vincent said the location of the three buildings in the Mystic River Bridge Historic District did not protect them from demolition. Of the buildings, only a duplex at 3 Haley St. was classified as a “contributing resource” to the historic district. John’s Tavern, at 9 Cottrell St., and a residential home at 1 Haley St., which had been torn down and rebuilt in 1994, were not included in the classification.
On Jan. 27, Westerly architect Paul E. Larson presented plans to the Architectural Design Review Board for a three-story restaurant slated for 9 Cottrell St. and a parking lot that would cover the Haley Street properties.
The design of the building exterior was “influenced by the scale, proportions, materials and details of the existing architecture throughout the Mystic area,” Larson wrote.
The proposed building’s footprint is 62 feet long and 38 feet wide, or 8,445 total square feet, and includes a full-height flood-proof basement. The building will also have a total of 1,500 square feet of exterior balcony space.
Federal Emergency Management Agency zone regulations require the bottom of the new building’s structure to be elevated at least 12 feet above sea level. The building’s first floor will be elevated six feet above the sidewalk. The building height will be under 40 feet to comply with Stonington’s zoning regulations.
The building will be compliant with the American Disabilities Act, including having an elevator with handicapped accessible restrooms on the first, second and third floors, as well as an entrance ramp on the south side of the building that will be accessible from the rear parking lot.
At the meeting, board member Christopher Thorp said that with the demolition of the homes on Haley St., it was important to “knit back the streetscape” and recommended the Whaler’s Inn team hire a landscape architect to enhance the Haley Street design, focusing on “larger elements rather than smaller, decorative features.”
Board Chairman Michael McKinley said the “urban courtyard quality” of the site should be enhanced from both the inside and the outside, focusing on the improvement of pedestrian connections.
During public commentary, Rod Desmaris, owner of 11 Cottrell St., said that while the building design was attractive but his main concern was the repair of the Haley Street streetscape, which was damaged by the demolitions.
Jim Santos, of 5 Haley St., asked that a solid wall be added to the rear of the restaurant’s upper floor balcony to mitigate noise. He also expressed concerns about drainage overflow onto other properties and asked that the parking lot fence be landscaped on both sides.
Bill Scheer, of 4 Haley St., said reflective noise was an issue in the neighborhood and expressed concern about underground infiltration of stormwater leading to wet basements.
Unlike the Mystic River Boathouse Project, proposals for the restaurant and parking lot were not on the radar of the State Historic Preservation Office because no federal or state funding was involved, Vincent said. The boathouse project, located in Mystic’s Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District, has two buildings classified as contributing resources that are under consideration for demolition. The historic office and the town are currently working together to create a workable solution.
Concerning whether the town should have a demolition-delay ordinance, Vincent said it was up to the town officials or a qualified petition from residents to initiate the process.
He said some nearby municipalities have delay ordinances that were enacted in reaction to the demolition of historic buildings.
“You have to understand what New London went through — they went through urban renewal where they tore down about half their downtown and Norwich tore down even more, so preservationist groups formed,” he said.
“We’ve never had that pressure here," he continued. "Our historic societies are not preservationist groups in terms of preventing things, they’re advocacy groups about stories and narratives.”
In August, the town also enacted FEMA's exemption of historic properties from floodplain regulations, which benefited 600 properties, Vincent said. By changing the review period from five years to one year in January 2018, the town also helped owners of properties in the floodplain, who are limited to investing only 50 percent of the property's assessed value during the period.
The architectural board is an advisory body. The Planning and Zoning Commission will vote on the Whaler's Inn's final design, but a hearing has not been scheduled yet.