Historical society hopes 3rd time's the charm for lighthouse plan
STONINGTON — The Stonington Historical Society has proposed an expansion of the Old Lighthouse Museum that would bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and allow handicapped access to the museum and program space.
The existing museum, is a nonconformity and is not permitted to expand under the current zoning regulations in the borough. According to the society's attorney, Mark Branse, the board of directors believe their inability to expand to accommodate those with disabilities is an unintentional effect of the zoning rules. They have applied to amend the regulations to allow a legal nonconforming use to expand for handicapped access by special use permit in the residential-1 zone.
The proposed 495-square-foot addition would include a handicapped-accessible bathroom, gift shop and ticketing area. Also included in the proposal is a rehabilitation segment to replace portions of the building that are damaged or showing signs of rot and water infiltration. The final portion of the project includes an upgrade to improve the climate control system.
"This will allow us to take better care of not only our artifacts and collections and ensure the long term preservation of this iconic structure, but also address the safety and well being of staff and visitors," Stonington Historical Society Executive Director Elizabeth Wood said. "In the planning process we also identified universal access as a worthy and estimable goal and one that would be made possible by adding a small addition to also allow access to the museum to those with limited mobility."
The original expansion proposal in 2013 was nearly double the size of the current proposal and included an addition off the back of the museum with two handicapped-accessible bathrooms. A second design was proposed in 2015, and although the addition was only 550 square feet with one handicapped-accessible bathroom, it still took a great deal of flak from residents. Both proposals, which were fairly modern and involved a glass pavilion, were shut down by locals who said it didn't fit the historical character of the village.
The current plan was specifically designed to maintain the appearance of the building as it was when it was built in 1840, Wood said.
Both Wood and project architect Conrad Ello of Oudens Ello Architecture, Boston, said they hope the new design will mitigate the concerns of members of the community who expressed worry when previous plans were proposed.
Wood said the primary goal is to preserve the lighthouse, which is showing signs of age after 176 years, and to allow access to more people. As an iconic structure, Wood said she knows the lighthouse is something local residents care a lot about and is hopeful the new project will be widely accepted as the best way to move forward and further preserve the property.
"When the project is fully realized, the Lighthouse will remain an iconic and treasured local landmark, but one accessible to those with disabilities as well," she said. "Our mission is to preserve, interpret, and celebrate the history of Stonington and what better way than commit significant resources to a preservation project that preserves and restores the infrastructure of a local landmark and provides physical and intellectual access to those with disabilities."
A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Borough Hall.
~A den Tex