The Day – Preston should say no to Pequots plan for RV park on Avery Pond

I was recently brought to Preston by state poet laureate Margaret Gibson who hoped I would help tell the story of how a motorhome park project not too far from her home is a colossal mistake in the making.

I must report that it didn’t take the instinct, observation and language of a good poet to explain why the Mashantucket Pequots’ plan for the RV park on Route 2 from their Foxwoods Resort Casino is a bad idea for Preston.

Indeed, the project file at the town hall is full of letters from residents, the superintendent of the municipal school as well as the office of the Resident State Trooper, raising objections or simply questions about traffic, noise, lighting and a substantial environmental impact on a site surrounded by fragile wetlands.

It turns out Gibson’s is a small voice in a city chorus of opposition, including many residents of a neighborhood immediately adjacent to the project, who see their beloved Avery Pond, with its rugged wildlife that includes ducks, blue herons, osprey, even eagles, at risk of gross commercialization, 304-space RV parking lot.

City officials were anticipating heavy public turnout for a continuing hearing Tuesday night by the Inland Wetlands Commission. The Planning and Zoning Commission is planning a hearing on January 25.

My first impression when I heard about the project was that it would be, finally, a taxable commercial development related to the casino, which could benefit the city. Indeed, it is located partly in a purpose-built commercial resort development area.

But the RV park, which the tribe is planning with national partner Blue Water Development, which has a number of hotels, resorts and campgrounds in its portfolio, is not the kind of spin-off development the town deserves, after all the years it has hosted the impact of the massive casino development on the tribal reservation just above the town limit.

The proposed development, which includes glamping tent sites and recreational facilities, such as a swimming pool, volleyball and tennis courts, is essentially a huge parking lot for hundreds of motorhomes.

The ancillary buildings, a visitor center and a few public baths, are simple and architecturally undistinguished. The developer will pay relatively little tax on a project that includes modest construction and lots of parking.

It’s not that the tribe is proposing to build a high-taxed, high-end Four Seasons resort there.

This is the most basic form of accommodation and, as it is largely an outdoor sprawl, its impact on the surrounding neighborhood – noise, light and music – will be outsized.

And yet its size, with an estimated daily attendance of 1,000 visitors, will have a huge impact on city services, including traffic and police calls.

In all of the documents submitted by the developer, I did not see any breakdown of costs, comparing what the city will pay for services for the development versus what it will be able to collect in increased taxes.

The inequity of the tribe pledging a budget accommodation project on the city, unlike the luxury hotels they are building on their duty-free reservation, may not be a good legal reason for the councils municipalities reject it.

But there are many other reasons why the wetlands and planning and zoning commissions should say no, starting with the significant negative impacts on the fragile wetland ecosystem around the pond.

Neighbors in the adjacent neighborhood, who are said to be in the klieg lights of an oversized development squeezed into the site of the small pond, made the environmental objections well put.

The best argument for the Planning and Zoning Commission to reject a special zoning exception for the RV park is the requirement that the aesthetic character of the development be in harmony with the surrounding areas and not degrade or diminish not the value of the surrounding neighborhoods.

This overworked and sprawling proposed parking lot with large passing motorhomes and hundreds of visitors coming and going each day would undoubtedly ruin the character of the surrounding modest residential area and its property values.

The project is so large and impactful that it has already taxed the town’s planning department. But Preston appears to have risen to the challenge and is granting the plaintiff and residents a fair and respectful hearing, despite the difficult timing of the claim, just before the holidays and a surge of COVID-19.

There seems to be an obvious conclusion to be drawn when this hearing process is over.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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