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Downtown Pawcatuck Update: Town Officials, Police, Business Owners Meet

Police Chief Darren Stewart: 'We want to solve these issues.'

Town officials, police and local business owners met last Friday to talk about the in the downtown Pawcatuck area.

“We are having a good conversation with the business owners,” Police Chief Darren Stewart said. “We are going to continue to have a good dialog.”

The Friday morning meeting came about four days after the owner of McGill Chevrolet spoke with Patch about the increase in crimes both large and small that he has seen in the area in the last six months.

Sean McGill talked with Patch in the wake of the March 16 break-in at his business, in which a Westerly man is alleged to have broken windows to get in, gone into cars parked inside the service area, and then broken into seven more cars throughout the neighborhood after leaving the dealership.

In addition, McGill said he has to clean up his property every Monday morning of litter, vomit and feces, and often cars on his lot are damaged by trespassers.

Stewart said there are two issues facing downtown Pawcatuck: crime and quality of life. “Sometimes they connect,” he said, “and sometimes they don’t.

“So what do we do? How do we police something that is not a crime? Yes, it’s awful and we want to work with (business owners). If you see something, and it looks like it’s not right, call us. That’s how we work best with the community. We want to solve these issues.”

McGill was upbeat on Friday after the meeting at the police station, which was also attended by Brian Harrison, the owner of Hootie’s Good Times Café at 98 W. Broad St., next door to McGill.

“We’re working together to find solutions. I didn’t want to overreact (after the break-in) but I wanted to get it out there,” McGill said. He installed motion lights and video surveillance on the property last week.

“In four days, we’ve opened up a dialog, and that’s the most important part,” he said. “That’s the best thing that’s happened.”

One issue identified by business owners and police is the difference between the Rhode Island and Connecticut liquor laws. Rhode Island bars must close at 1 a.m. on weekends and Connecticut bars close at 2 a.m. This can cause an influx of people into the downtown Pawcatuck area late on a weekend night.

Harrison, the owner of Hootie’s, said he too has seen an increase in problems like litter and vandalism in the last few months, and he was happy to be included in the current discussions.

“We all run businesses down here,” he said. “No one wants this.”

Harrison said when he bought the bar five years ago “we inherited some issues. But we’ve gotten on top of it and made this a place where people want to come. We have pool leagues and dart leagues, DJs sometimes. I want this to be an old town-tavern style place.”

Two business owners down the road a bit, Mary Perez Comstock and Melanie Goggin, were unaware that there was a meeting about downtown public safety. But both agree that the town and police need to get the situation on their block under control.

Comstock’s business, Real Nutrition, is at 39 W. Broad, directly across the street from . The building is currently being renovated.

Goggin’s business, Mel’s Downtown Creamery, is at 37 W. Broad, directly across from the long-empty former Laura’s Landing bar at 34 W. Broad St., which has previously been cited by the town for blight.

“It’s not wonderful down here,” Comstock said of watching loiterers, some of whom are clearly intoxicated, hang around across the street all day. “All summer, I see tourists walk over the bridge from Westerly, and they hit Bogue’s Alley (at 11 W. Broad) and they stop. Because what do they see? Those rundown buildings across the street. They don’t come any farther. It hurts my business.”

She wanted to put a “cute little” A-frame sign out on the sidewalk to entice those tourists, but was told town regulations don’t allow it. She is thinking about relocating the business to the Westerly side of the river, she said.

Goggin, who just celebrated the one-year anniversary of buying the ice cream shop, said she sees public drunkenness on a near daily basis, and her employees don’t walk out to their cars at closing time alone because of safety concerns in the parking lot behind the building. Even when they go out back to put trash in the Dumpster, they go in pairs.

“If you’re down here you see it all the time and you just get used to it,” Goggin said. “But that’s not a good thing either.”

Wendy Carr, who owns Prime Time Café at 1 W. Broad (right on the river), said she thinks downtown Pawcatuck is better now than it was 15 years ago when she first opened. Eight years ago she expanded into the storefront next door and added a bar.

“We’ve seen ups and downs,” she said, “but I think right now is much better than it was. Remember the ‘bridge kids’? That was bad. But right now we are in revitalization, and Westerly is in revitalization. We are seeing more and more people coming in. We’ve been striving for this and it’s finally happening. So we are having some growing pains.”

Carr said she thinks the police department and First Selectman Ed Haberek are “pro-Pawcatuck, and very responsive. They are very proactive.”

A reader on the Stonington-Mystic Patch Facebook page raised the possibility of creating a police substation in the downtown area. Stewart said there are limitations to a proposal such as that, including that once you create it, you have to staff it. That costs money, and the police are already being asked to increase their physical presence in the schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings.

“We want to interact with the public. We want to be visible,” Stewart said. “Last year, with community service officers and (regular) police officers, we got out early when the weather got warm and we got very good feedback. We plan on doing that this year. If we are visible and out and about we can curb this activity.”

Donna Pearlman March 25, 2013 at 01:26 PM
Were the owners of The Elm Tree Inn asked to attend this meeting? I think it is terrific that the business owners are coming together to seek solutions to the crime problems in downtown Pawcatuck, but the silence of the owners of the Elm Tree Inn speaks volumes to me about their absentee landlordism and involvement in the community that their property, in my opinion, gravely endangers. I applaud the owner of Hooties because he is proactive about running a business that works with the community and in my personal experience have seen him to be a very responsible and conscientious business owner and member of our community.
Connor B March 25, 2013 at 10:51 PM
I totally agree with Donna. The owners of the Elm Tree are terrible landlords, and don't give a care about what goes on in their building. I don't doubt many shady things go on in that building, and we have to look at it! I doubt they will attend the meeting, since they don't care. Shame on them, but Donna, you are 100% correct!
Donna Pearlman March 25, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Thank you Connor and everyone who has reached out to me in support on the issue of The Elm Tree Inn. It was extremely difficult for me to stand up for the right thing there against overwhelming opposition from the landlords and tenants and attacks on me by the tenants that have had a serious deleterious effect. The police were of some help but in some instances refused to believe my allegations until it was proven one of the tenants I pointed out as trying to sell stolen property and more there was convicted of the house burglaries in the neighborhood. I was attacked over and over, and am currently pleading not guilty to an infraction complaint against me by another tenant who sheltered known fugitives from the law in her room regularly and incited violence, which I sincerely hope will be dismissed. Another tenant attacked me and her "man" was an accomplice in the house burglaries and convicted as such - she remains there with a nine year old little girl that my heart breaks for and I cannot understand how the abuse is tolerated. The landlords know what goes on there and indeed don't care. Thank you again everyone who has supported me in my quest to do the right thing for our community and speak out against the wrong there.
william carroll March 28, 2013 at 12:05 AM
i would gladly sign a petition that insisted on background checks on all residents of the elm tree inn. it sounds more like a boarding house than an inn.
Donna Pearlman March 28, 2013 at 12:57 PM
I could not agree more that background checks on all residents of the Elm Tree Inn should be mandatory however petition or not the landlords could not care less in my opinion and who would make them do so?
william carroll March 28, 2013 at 02:02 PM
concerned citizens, united in a cause that affects the entire community, can move mountains. even mountains of apathy. the landlord of the elm tree inn can be made to care if it hits his wallet and the financial bottom line.
Donna Pearlman March 28, 2013 at 09:34 PM
I have tried and tried to move these "mountains of apathy" and the landlord and landlady of the elm tree inn, in my opinion (yes I work in reinsurance law usually and am extra cautious hence the in my opinion provisos) do not care the place is a gold mine they charge exorbitant amounts to people who are unable to live anywhere else or the foreign exchange students that come from China that I worked with last year collecting rents for them at $70 a week each some living 8 to a two bedroom apartment or at least two to a tiny room each. The landlords are buying up downtown Pawcatuck and Westerly as fast as they can and live most of the time in Puerto Rico. And now today another Elm Tree Inn resident I believe infringing on the safety and quality of life in our community see this Patch article: http://stonington.patch.com/articles/pawcatuck-man-charged-after-brief-police-chase-on-highway-ends-at-clarion-hotel
william carroll March 28, 2013 at 10:47 PM
squeeky wheels get grease. work hand in hand with local officials who know you have common goals and are not going to give up, are more than willing to help solve problems. it may be time to be more proactive in dealing with these problems. lets start by aligning with business owners and citizens already impacted by crime and let them know the community is behind them. petition is a start. politicians act on petitions. solidarity and unity speak for volumes please feel free to contact me directly, i have a few ideas for dealing with people who impact our community that do not actually live here
Donna Pearlman March 29, 2013 at 12:02 AM
Thank you again William and also I have contacted our Town First Selectman Ed Haberek on his facebook page and he is setting up another meeting, this time with several business owners and I hope interested community members such as us. Ed does a really great job I think and is tireless in his efforts to be responsive and proactive for our community. I will contact you directly and others who have reached out to me too thank you again.
william carroll March 29, 2013 at 11:39 AM
count me in. i know that we all can come up with a solution.
william carroll March 29, 2013 at 11:54 AM
summer is right around the corner, i hope to be able to enjoy downtown pawcatuck with my family and not have to worry about unsavory activities/crimes. pawcatuck is a small town with a lot of charm. i hope to be able to help keep it that way.
Laurie Laidley April 03, 2013 at 11:02 AM
I saw Donna Perlman's responses to the above article, and I had to put in my two cents. We lived at the Elm Tree Inn for about 3 years. In the course of that time, we saw people come, and we saw people go. We met some very nice people there, and we also met some people there that we wish we hadn't. The bottom line here is that not all of the people who live at the Elm Tree Inn are bad people or criminals. Some of us simply need a low-cost place to live, in order to save money toward a traditional apartment. If it had not been for the kindness and flexibility in working with us, of the landlords at the Elm Tree Inn, we would not be where we are today. In fact, we currently live in another of their buildings, in a traditional apartment, but I digress. The unfortunate reality is that there are often individuals that go out of their way to take advantage of the kindness that the landlords are willing to provide. There are some people who are actually trying to make a better life for themselves, go to work every day, and try their best to do the right thing. Those are the people, like us, that the landlords of the Elm Tree Inn try to help. Then there are others who simply show up to take advantage of the situation, and milk it for whatever they can get out of it. I have also noted that some of the people who have good things to say about the Elm Tree Inn and its landlords while they are tenants there, then turn around and say quite the opposite if they've been asked to leave the building. Everything's fine with them, as long as they're the one gaining from the situation. But, as soon as they're not on the beneficial end of things, their opinions change with a quickness. Also, another unfortunate reality is that sometimes the criminal element does find its way into the Elm Tree Inn, although the landlords do their due diligence in trying to keep them out, or to remove them, in the event that the criminal activity begins during their stay. The landlords do their best to stay on top of things, and to make sure that all tenants are doing the right thing, paying their bills, working every day, and following the rules of the building. However, I believe it is unrealistic to expect them to treat the tenants as children, and hover over them to insure that they abide by the rules, and the law. In any apartment building, there's always going to be a couple of “bad apples.” The key is to remove those bad apples before they spoil the barrel. We were living at the Elm Tree Inn, and we are good, law-abiding people. Do you have any idea how it made us feel when we'd walk out of the building, and someone would see us and cross the street, or someone would drive by and say, “Hey, that's where all the crazy people live.” Or even, in some cases, when I would apply for a job, and they'd take one look at my address and tell me that the position has been filled. Every single news story of a criminal with any association with the Elm Tree Inn makes the public opinion of that building worse, and it is an opinion that is not deserved. The people who live at the Elm Tree Inn are not criminals, and they are not crazy. They are not all bad people. Lots of good people, including the landlords of the Elm Tree Inn, are having their reputations sullied by the transgressions of a few. I felt that I needed to put in my opinion on this issue, in order to offer a more balanced opinion of the Elm Tree Inn and its landlords, instead of the opinions offered by disgruntled former tenants.

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