STONINGTON — At a public hearing Tuesday, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to rezone the Mystic River Boathouse Park property to the Marine Heritage District, a move that will provide increased architectural flexibility in the height and size of future boathouse designs.
The commission approved a master plan amendment to change the 1.5-acre property at 123 Greenmanville Ave. from Residential High Density, known as RH-10, to the Marine Heritage District, or MHD.
The RH-10 has a height limit of 35 feet, whereas the MHD’s height limit is 45 feet. In October, Anmahian Winton Architects of Cambridge, Mass., presented a contemporary, two-story flat roof design for the boathouse that was limited to the height of the Rossie Velvet Mill, located directly across the street at 112 Greenmanville Ave. The building received mixed reviews, with many residents asking for a design reflective of Mystic’s maritime history and culture. With the MHD’s increased height limit, the boathouse design could now accommodate a more traditional peaked roof, which some residents requested.
The new district would help decrease restrictions on the project, which is already impeded by the need for 23 permits and other limitations, Jason Vincent, director of planning for the town, told the commission.
“It would provide for more creativity in the process,” he said. “Creativity is needed because site is very small, it’s on the coast, in the floodplain. It’s also on Route 27, a state highway, which brings in the DOT.”
Vincent said the project’s infrastructure will also need to reflect the town’s coastal resilience plan, which was adopted in March 2018.
The change in zoning did not include a request to build a building, put in parking on the property or alter the landscape in any way, Vincent said.
“Those things will come back to the commission under the master plan process,” he said. “We do not know that date yet because we’re not ready to submit the documents.”
Commission member Lynn Conway asked why the zoning change needed to be done at this point in the park’s design process, before seeing the master plan.
“Are we putting the cart before the horse?” she asked.
Conway said she was also concerned changing the zoning would set a precedent in the area, possibly prompting others who want zoning changes to expect approvals from the commission.
“I think we should get town lawyer’s opinion before we make decision,” she said. “I would not like to see us put into a box or a corner without fully understanding the ramifications.”
Vincent said it was important to provide the correct regulation oversight and parameters for design for the implementation of the park, otherwise the town could pay for design work that would accommodate the RH-10 zoning district and later need to redo the work for the MHD, costing the town money.
“We’re just looking for a regulatory framework,” he said. “Designers still look at code because that’s what they have to do.”
With the new zoning district in place, the designers can move forward with the masterplan for the park, he said.
The park design will require a public hearing for the masterplan and site plan.
Stonington established the marine district in 2005 to provide Mystic Seaport with a zoning district “that legitimizes its existence, provides flexibility for long term planning, meets the needs of residential neighbors and enhances public input,” according to Tuesday’s Meeting Summary Report.
In Sept. 2016, Stonington voters approved a $2.2 million bond to create the park and in Jan. 2017 approved the $1.67 acquisition of the 1.5-acre property.
The $2.5 million boathouse will be funded by Friends of Stonington Crew, a nonprofit that supports the Stonington High School crew team. Named the Hart Perry Community Rowing Center, the boathouse will honor North Stonington resident Hart Perry, who was regarded as an influential rower, crew coach and advocate of the sport. Once it is built, Friends of Stonington Crew will donate the boathouse to the town and lease it back for $1 per year for use as a community rowing center and home for the Stonington crew team.
The zoning change will go into effect on March 11.
In other business, the commission unanimously approved the conversion of a commercial unit to a residential unit at 34-38 Mechanic St.in Pawcatuck. The building is owned by Jim Lathrop, who owns Best Energy at 4 Mechanic St. Because the area is zoned PV-5, mixed use is allowed, making it possible for the residential space to be converted back to commercial use if a future property owner requests the change.