May 21, 2017

Op-Ed: CT River Museum Raises Questions About Essex’s Changing Waterfront

The following op-ed was submitted by the Executive Director of the Connecticut River Museum, Christopher Dobbs.

The Connecticut River Museum may be getting a new neighbor – a restaurant called Carlson’s Landing, to be located at 63 Main Street on a flag lot that bisects the Museum’s campus – the main Museum at 67 Main Street and the Lay House at 57 Main Street. The Museum is delighted Essex is getting a business that might draw welcome patronage to the Village’s main commercial district. However, the organization does have reservations about the application for the new restaurant which it will air at the upcoming Zoning Commission’s public hearing at 7:00 pm on May 15th .

Careful review of the Carlson’s Landing application by engineers, a zoning specialist, and a surveyor have resulted in several concerns. The majority of these stem from inadequate information. Major concerns at this time are: 1) increased traffic congestion and impact; 2) inadequate parking; and 3) under equipped bathroom facilities and septic system.

The Museum is worried that the developers have seriously under-represented the burden that additional traffic will have on the foot of Main Street and the Museum. The proposed restaurant (according to an application now on file with the Zoning Commission) will be accessed with one-way traffic from 63 Main – including commercial delivery and trash removal trucks – with egress contemplated across the Essex Boat Works lot and onto Ferry Street. (The developers are also the new owners of Essex Boat Works which is accessed via a driveway at 9 Ferry Street.)

The proposed plan permanently removes the Museum’s stairway connecting the two halves of its campus. This staircase, in honor of Sherry and Herb Clark, was donated to the Museum in 2013 by the Rotary Club of Essex with the permission of the property’s previous owner. It has allowed the Museum to thrive and better serve the community. Removal will result in the two halves being disconnected and the Museum installing a new set of stairs to the Lay property from the village sidewalk. More importantly, thousands of program attendees, including school children, will need to walk along the road and cross the entrance of the restaurant.

Increased traffic by cars and trucks, no matter where pedestrians cross to stroll down to the waterfront, will transform the foot of Main Street. For safety and aesthetic reasons, the Museum has suggested to the owners that commercial traffic enter and exit via 9 Ferry Street, which they have refused to do. The Museum has also requested that they limit traffic off of Main Street during major community events such as Burning of the Ships Day, the Annual Essex Shad Bake, Dogs on the Dock, and Trees in the Rigging. To date, the developers have not formally agreed.

Parking on the restaurant lot (10 spaces are identified on the plan) is inadequate. To meet zoning regulations, the plans call for using the adjacent Essex Boat Works property for parking. Since the Boat Works will continue to operate as a boat yard and marina, the Museum is concerned that the operations will impinge on the theoretical parking spaces and that restaurant patrons will need to find parking elsewhere, including in the Museum’s lot.

The Museum worries that if 63 Main Street and 9 Ferry Street were ever sold separately that the one-way driveway will need to become two-way (including commercial traffic) and there will then be even more inadequate parking on the restaurant lot with subsequent further strain on the Museum parking lot. One solution to this problem would be to secure cross-property easements (between 63 Main Street and 9 Ferry Street) for parking and ingress/egress that would survive any future sale of either lot.

Finally, the Museum has concerns about the new restaurant’s septic system design and bathroom capacity. The application indicates that the system’s leaching fields will be located on the flag lot between the Museum’s two properties – uphill and very close to the line. Sewage will need to be pumped uphill to the leaching fields. The Museum’s engineer questions the fields’ ability to withstand inundation from rainfall, let alone over-use. There are only two restrooms shown on the plans for the new restaurant that are meant to accommodate 59 restaurant patrons. In addition to restaurant patrons, the restrooms and septic system will also need to accommodate restaurant and marina employees along with showers for marina customers. The Museum questions whether the new restaurant has made adequate provision and is concerned that its own restroom facilities (the two in the Lay house and the three in its main building) will have additional demand placed on them by people frequenting lower Main Street.

The Museum is pleased to have a new neighbor on the foot of Main Street. Carefully addressing these concerns will allow the Museum, the restaurant, and our community to flourish.

Editor’s Note: For 43 years, the Connecticut River Museum has been a significant community and regional asset. Over 25,000 visitors each year attend the Museum’s programs with many more using the front lawn and Lay house property as their park and access to New England’s great river.

The Connecticut River Museum is located on the Essex waterfront at 67 Main Street and is open 10 am to 5 pm, closed Mondays until Memorial Day. The Museum, located in the historic Steamboat Dock building, offers exhibits and programs about the history and environment of the Connecticut River. For more information on the Museum, visit www.ctrivermuseum.org or call 860-767-8269.

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