A safety railing along a waterfront walkway is one feature of Stonington’s newly renovated Hagen Dock. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHLEEN BILLINGS

Stonington to update comprehensive plan

STONINGTON — The town of Stonington has begun wading into its comprehensive plan, which is a roadmap for the seaside community’s future.

Residents had overwhelmingly approved the plan in 2004, Town Manager Kathleen Billings said. But the now defunct Maine State Planning Office rejected Stonington’s plan, citing “inconsistencies,” she said.

The lack of an approved plan resulted in Stonington recently losing out on a Maine grant for sea level rise mitigation, according to Bob Gerber, an engineering and geology consultant whom Stonington hired to help with the plan.

“We rely on those grants to match what monies we can save,” Billings said. “We’re doing all we can do now because we have to pay for our schools. We receive very little state funding for schools.”

In the absence of a state planning office, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry decides whether a municipality’s comprehensive plan should be given a state seal of approval, so to speak.

“It’s a huge undertaking for our office, but it’s going to be critical for us — dealing with the sea level rise — applying for grants for boating facilities,” Billings said.

Looking to the future, Billings sees a need to expand the public pier.

“It’s so crowded down there,” she said. “We just don’t have enough capacity.”

Stonington wants to hear from residents, both year-round and seasonal, as well as visitors, about how Stonington should look in the future.

To that end, a survey is posted on the town’s website in the comprehensive plan section. The survey will be open through September.

Henry Teverow, Stonington’s economic development director, said more seasonal residents have filled out the survey to date than anyone else.

Teverow said he thinks year-round residents are experiencing their busiest time of year and haven’t had time to do the survey. In contrast, seasonal residents have had more time to fill out the survey, Teverow said.

“It’s important to us that as many year-round residents respond to the survey as possible,” Billings said. “Their opinion really matters to us. You don’t want it skewed to one base of people.”

There will be a series of public hearings on the plan, likely in October and November, Billings said.

The revised comprehensive plan will highlight a number of infrastructure improvements Stonington has made in recent years, according to Teverow. Stonington has:

  • Renovated Hagen Dock
  • Installed public Wi-Fi along Main Street
  • Rebuilt and expanded sidewalks along Main Street.
  • Replaced and repaired town water pipes to fix leaks and make the water system efficient.
  • Created more green space downtown by creating a new park, Small Cove Park, by the Stonington Fire Department.
  • Ramped up recycling at the Stonington Transfer Station.

Stonington has comprehensive plan meetings every Thursday from 1: 30 to 4 p.m. at the town office. The public is encouraged to attend. Transportation review is coming up this week.

“The state has goals for bicycling and pedestrians,” Billings said. “It’s great for some places, but it’s a challenge with the state road system that we have down here.”

“We’ve got some nice places where you can go bicycling — the Sand Loop or Oceanville — but when you get to Route 15 or 15A you may as well say you’ve got a death wish,” Billings said.

Billings said she knows afternoon meetings are difficult for working people, including fishermen, to attend. So, the town will plan to hold a few evening meetings in September.

Residents will need to vote on whether to accept or reject the revised plan once it’s complete. Then the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will review the plan.

Gerber said typically it takes a town two years to revise a plan. However, Stonington’s timetable is 3 to 4 months, he said. “The town wants to be in a position to be eligible for next year’s grant programs,” Gerber said.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.