News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 21, 2012
Land deal could bring parking behind Stonington Town Hall

by Alice Wilkinson

Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris presented an offer from Mimi Gerstell, owner of the Tewksbury Building, to trade some of her land to the town in return for an easement on town property at the November 19 Stonington Selectmen’s meeting. The particulars of the trade will likely be put to town voters in December for approval.

The advantage to the town from the deal is more parking spaces, a possible corridor to the Pink Street parking lot from the town hall property and better control of runoff from storms, which currently runs under the town hall as well as along both sides.

The advantages to Gerstell are that she would get an easement from the town to put an additional septic tank for her building on a corner of the lot the town owns. A new tank is needed because of the increased water use in the building, now that there are apartment buildings upstairs where Commercial Fisheries News used to be located. The Harbor Café is open more hours than in the past as well, increasing its use of water.

The area under discussion runs behind both buildings, and is largely unused. The town’s space is currently too small for more than two cars, but with the addition of the donated space, will accommodate about 14 cars.

Although that is not a large number, Billings-Pezaris said it would accommodate the people who work in the building, and at least get their cars off the street. It would also provide additional handicapped spaces and make their use easier.

Billings-Pezaris said the current handicapped parking alongside the town hall is not usable by many people who are hesitant to turn around to get out of the narrow space, and the lack of parking disenfranchises people because of that. She pointed out that the demographics indicate that the town is getting older.

The drainage issue, which is common to both buildings, will be somewhat alleviated by the re-grading of the area, which will need to be dug up for the installation of the tank, anyway.

Billings-Pezaris was emphatic that much of the green space currently behind the Tewksbury Building will be left, and that a fence will need to be built to protect the privacy of the neighbors.

The selectmen discussed using the proposed donated easement across the back of the Tewksbury Building to connect the parking lot on Pink Street to the lot behind the Town Hall, and possibly creating a one-way traffic pattern, going in on Pink Street and coming out next to the Town Hall.

Before anything can be done with the property it has to be accepted by the town. Billings-Pezaris said there are a number of other issues to be decided by the voters, and that a special town meeting could probably be arranged by the middle of December.

One of the other issues which has been discussed almost every year is downtown parking. The selectmen are working on another ordinance which they will be discussing at future meetings.

That didn’t prevent board Chairman George Stevens from saying, “No parking on the south side of the street.” Selectman Chris Betts disagreed, saying, “I am pro-business. I don’t want to do anything to affect the businesses downtown.” The suggestion that the sidewalks be pulled up and put in the middle of the street (where most people walk, Selectman Richard Larrabee said) was not taken seriously, although Betts said, “We’d have to put up guardrails to stop people falling off.” They did agree, however, that Main Street is really too narrow for parking on both sides.

The other ordinance which needs voter approval is the clam ordinance. Right now the price for an off-Island commercial clam license is $600, and $400 for a resident commercial clam license. The ratio is one off-Island license to 10 resident licenses. Currently the clam committee has a $13,000 shortfall, and will be asking for funds to cover that at the special town meeting.

One change they are making is raising the cost of a non-commercial resident clam license from $1 to $10. The selectmen discussed other ways that the clam diggers could raise money to pay for the ordinance, which pays for the clam warden. Without the clam warden there is no enforcement.

There will be public hearings on the proposed ordinances before the special town meeting.

Erosion on Indian Point Road—this time caused not by beavers but by the sea—prompted the selectmen to approve having Skip Eaton shore up the road with approximately $15,000 of stone donated by Hugh Reynolds of Greenhead Lobster. The stone is a byproduct of expansion work being done, and donating it to the town solved the problem of hauling it off and also saves the town money. The work can begin immediately. The work is defined as running “from apple tree to apple tree” along the road where there is a stretch of cable falling off the roadside.

Road equipment occupied a large portion of the meeting, with various repairs needed on an assortment of equipment, ranging from the Bobcat to two trucks.

Needed are extra rims for the trucks, summer tires, two hydraulic rams and a clutch.

The selectmen also approved the lease of a hydraulic hose machine, which can cut hose and make couplings. The machine is leased for $1 a year, and the material for the work is purchased on an as-needed basis after the initial cost for materials of $2,672. The savings are about 50 percent on purchasing the hoses and fittings and a real plus is that if something goes out on a snow night, the hose can be replaced immediately at the town garage.

Betts pointed out that careful supervision of the inventory was necessary.

The board next meets on Monday, November 26, at 7 p.m. at the town hall.