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Connecticut Seacoast Village Says 'Enough' to Tourist Trade

January 31, 1988|Associated Press

ESSEX, Conn. — This picturesque river town has adopted rules to make sure that its Colonial-era charm won't be overrun by tourist traffic.

Zoning regulations effective Jan. 1 prohibit construction of hostelries, from country-style inns to motels with indoor pools. New bed-and-breakfast facilities were banned two years ago.

The town's three inns--the Griswold, the Ivorytown and the Copper Beech--do a healthy trade, especially during the summer.

"We already have enough tourism," said William Whitney, a zoning commission member.

"There has been an abundance of motels built in the last two years in (nearby) Old Saybrook," James Martin, the town selectman who wrote the regulations, said last week. "We prefer that the transient public be housed there."

Officials say they want to keep out the sort of development that has turned much of U.S. 1 along the Connecticut shore into a banal commercial strip.

Seafaring Flavor Retained

Essex, population about 5,000, was a shipbuilding center in the 19th Century and remains a seagoing community. Britt Chance, designer of the 1987 America's Cup winner Stars and Stripes, works out of Essex and two members of the boat's crew live in town.

The thriving harbor has three yacht clubs. Upscale shops, restaurants and restored "captains' houses" line Main Street down to the waterside.

Landlubbers can take tours on the restored 19th-Century railroad or take in some theater at the Ivorytown Playhouse. The town is also home to Somhers pianos and the E. E. Dickinson Co., one of the world's largest distillers of witch hazel.

The zoning commission, worried about rapid development and soaring land prices, decided that Essex had all the tourist business it could handle.

Traffic is a problem on narrow Main Street, Whitney said. Sanitation is also a concern because the town doesn't have sewers and all buildings must have their own septic systems.

Specter of 'Over-Development'

"People in town are frightened of overdevelopment," said Joseph Silvestri, editor of the weekly Gazette, who opposes the new rules. "Tourism is a big part of the industry down here. I think Essex would rather they come and visit, but stay somewhere else."

First Selectman John A. Johns said he hasn't received a single complaint about the new rules.

"It's almost academic. There's no place to put anything," said William Winterer, owner of the 212-year-old Griswold Inn. "I can understand the reason for the regulations. I would hate to see a chain motel here. It would be like putting a fast-food (restaurant) here."

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