Niantic Growing Pains

This is part of a series of blogs I post concerning issues in our town. I welcome comment and feedback directly from all citizens of East Lyme. Positive, negative, complimentary or not so much. Please email: mnickerson@eltownhall.com.

DSC06684What a gem Niantic has become. It was not too long ago that our Main Street Village district was a tired, half empty, sleepy place. Stores would open up in the spring and be out of business by labor day. There was only one or two places to grab a decent bite to eat…and it was rare to see people out just for a walk. People would line up at the cinema for $2 movies and head quickly out of town when the movie was over. Bottom line: Niantic didn’t have much going for it.

Well, now it does! Our Main Street is thriving. About a dozen years ago, while I was still on the Zoning Commission, there was a serious, on-going discussion on what we needed to do to bring life to our village. Every town needs a sense of “place” and Niantic’s identity was slowly fading away. Experts were brought in to discuss the missing key elements. We identified several ideas which included:

  • streetscape beautification,
  • a vibrant merchant association,
  • encourage a “restaurant row” for a variety of eating establishments
  • residences to be built within walking distance to our village

Fast forward to 2015 and I can proudly say that we have accomplished all these goals. And the results…well, they speak for themselves. But with this success comes changes that are less than favorable to those that have been around for a while.

Traffic, crowded beaches, and parking issues

There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that Niantic’s moment has arrived. People all over New England (and beyond) have discovered our little village. Jokingly I have said, “even people from Flanders come to Niantic now” but it’s true. Most of us head down to Main Street several times a week to grab a bite, do little window shopping, grab a cone, walk the boardwalk, hit one of our three beautiful beaches, or just walk hand-in-hand along the street bumping into friends and neighbors.

This success comes with some growing pains. Our beaches have been discovered by many non-residents too. When Rocky Neck park is at capacity, the over-flow is now finding our shoreline. While that kind of traffic is good for retailers and food establishments, it can be very frustrating for the rest of us trying to get somewhere, or trying find a parking spot mid-day at McCooks. As you know, a recent Supreme Court decision in Connecticut established that beaches access is to be made available to all citizens not just the town’s residents.
As a response to this growing “problem”, I am researching the possibility of making one of our three beaches (and adjoining parking lot) “a resident only beach”. This will help ensure that our residents will have space available when they arrive. I am seeking advise from our town attorney to ensure we will be able to address the Supreme Court ruling while still giving the residents the benefit of the parks and beaches that they have paid for.

boardwalk2014The new Cini Park beach is beautiful and the biggest of our beaches. The problem is that we have very limited parking at that location and we do not have a permanent bathroom yet (we are waiting to hear if we have been awarded a grant to build this needed bathhouse). I have begun to look into establishing a trolly or shuttle service to utilize this beach in a better way. The idea is to encourage non-resident beach-seekers to park in an off site lot on busy weekend summer days (Niantic Center School, town hall, church parking lots, Vet’s field, etc etc) and be shuttled into Cini Beach. The price of the parking, shuttle and beach pass could all be inclusive. The fees collected would pay for the service. If successful, this would greatly alleviate the crowds, pressure, and frustration we are all feeling on these crowded days.

Every successful village like ours has parking “issues”. Although we don’t pretend to be Newport Rhode Island or Mystic, when we go to visit these places, we know that parking will more than likely be an adventure. Do any of us really expect to drive to Mystic and pull up to a spot right in front of the restaurant or shop we intend to visit? Utilizing the municipal parking lots on Hope and Methodist Street on on street parking on side streets and Hope Street will become a reality as our village matures. Enjoy the walk…embrace what we have.

These are growing pains. We feel them…and sometimes its quite frustrating. I’m encouraged by the many residents who keep it positive; those who say “what do you expect on an 85 degree day in July?” That’s the spirit! I promise you that I am well aware of the situation and the attention it will require during the off season.
Niantic…we have arrived!

I encourage your comments and suggestions. Contact me at mnickerson@eltownhall.com.

Mark C. Nickerson
First Selectman
Town of East Lyme, CT

108 Pennsylvania Ave
P.O. Box 519
Niantic, CT 06357

(860) 739-6931 ext110