The developers of The East River Landing Marina project aim to bring the vacant shorefront property near the Madison-Guilford town line, back to its original use over 100 years ago, when it was a small hive of waterfront activity.
The parcel, once home to a marina, clam shack and single family home in the 1950s and which sits across from the popular restaurant, Friends & Company on Route 1, has been fallow for some 50 years.
The mowed plot, which borders marshland, has a storied past. In the 1800s, ships laden with coal landed there to unload their cargo to heat homes in Madison and Guilford; in the 1950s a local fish market owned the land and built a boat basin to accommodate small craft. In later years, the lot was used to sell Christmas trees.
The Planning & Zoning Commission approved The East River Landing Marina project on the west end of town at their March 16 meeting in a virtual meeting, which took place online due to the coronavirus epidemic.
This fourth and final public hearing regarding East River Landing Marina was held via ZOOM with members of the commission and some five members of the community joining in.
While Michael Barnes, a representative of Yarde Realty Co., said the plans for are yet to be solidified, they are approved for construction of a 1,684-square-foot, one-story, multi-use purpose building, a 46-slip marina, office and covered storage area with deck above.
Permitted uses of the building are restaurant, office and an apartment for residential use.
In addition, the site plans include a paved driveway, parking area, lighting, landscaping and a boardwalk on the 4 Boston Post Road plot, a total of 4 acres, with 1.3 acres of buildable land.
The plans have not been without their problems, however. The developer has spent more than a decade on seeing the project come to fruition.
Yarde Realty was hit with a town cease and desist order for allegedly depositing some 850 cubic yards of material on the property without a permit in 2014 and appealed it, the New Haven Register had reported. The appeal was upheld.
Barnes, an Old Lyme resident, said he has been working on the project since 2006.
“We’re trying to recreate a pretty historic property that used to exist,” he said. “This property was in service for over 100 years back to the 1800s. It was a landing for coal ships to unload coal to distribute through the towns of Guilford and Madison.”
A March 7, 1957 issue of the Shore Line Times notes, “Edward Le Clair of Guilford, owner of Cutler’s fish market and clam house, is meeting the demands of small boat owners by constructing a boat basin on his property on the Madison side of East River near the Post Road.”
In 1970, the property was taken over by eminent domain for the widening of Route 1 or Boston Post Road. A 55-slip marina, restaurant and small house that occupied the property was demolished at that time, according to Barnes.
It was also at this time that Barnes’ grandfather acquired the property.
“They had envisioned trying to rebuild the marina and the restaurant that was previously there and he just was not able to do that in his lifetime,” Barnes said. “So, it’s been sitting in a family trust for the last 50 years.”
Barnes and his uncle, Craig Yarde, sold Christmas trees on the lots for a number of years.
“All the uses we have approved…were all the uses that previously existed there,” Barnes added.
Prior to approval at the most recent meeting, Keoloha Freidenburg, a member of the Land Conservation Trust, said that while she has not heard a lot of opposition to the marina, there has been concern about all the “extras.”
“We’ve heard that this building may or may not be - tonight it seems like it’s a restaurant with parking for employees, with an apartment,” she said. “At the last meeting we heard it might be retail.”
Freidenburg was concerned over the uses mentioned by Yarde Realty’s attorney Marjorie Shansky .
“Miss Shansky, at one point, said it might have a water dependent use by being used as aquaculture at some point - so I find that troubling, in a sense - that there’s going to be a building on the property that is not necessarily part of a water dependent use,” Freidenburg said.
In addition, she voiced concern about the size of the project.
“It’s a lot to put in a space that is not very big, that has a lot of tidal wetlands and that is going to be influenced by the sea level rise in the next, whatever, 20, 10, 30 years,” she said.
A resident since 1997, Freidenburg said, she is not against development, but “it’s been a concern for a very fragile part of our town and these coastal ecosystems are fragile and they’re changing…”
Shansky said her clients addressed both of these issues.
“The reason that we know the scale is appropriate is that we meet the standards in the zoning regulations, which are designed to control the scale, type and location of development,” she said.
She added, that “the reason we’ve injected simply some flexibility association with it is because in the C zoning district, in which this property is located, there are a plethora of permitted uses…”
With all the controversy surrounding the project, Barnes is excited to move forward.
“The last 14 years it was always some sort of opposition, just because people...didn’t realize something had already been there,” he said. “They were so used to looking at it just being an overgrown lot, not understanding and comprehending the history and the fact that there was actually a building lot there that’s upland and not marsh.”
Ryan Duques, chairman of the Economic Development Commission, stressed that the commission approved supporting the plan in terms of its effect on local economic development only.
“We really wanted to ensure that we were not, in any way, weighing in on the environment aspect of the project,” he said.
“Yes, we care about those things, however, it’s not under the purview of what we are accessing the merits of a project on,” he added.
With that said, Duques sees this project as an asset to the town. He said based on stories told to him by his father about the original clam shack on that property and seeing photographs of the original property he is looking forward to the reincarnation.
“I think based on the plans that were presented, the updated version of that establishment is a wonderful gateway to the town of Madison,” said the fourth-generation resident of Madison.
“It speaks to many of attributes that we’re all so proud of,” he added. “It speaks to the heritage, to the sea. It speaks to access to waterways and it shows that openness to welcoming people into our town by offering them a place to have seafood or to access the waterways. So, absolutely, it will be a wonderful addition to the vibrancy of town.”