Stonington - Three weeks ago, a school bus dropped off 70 New London students in front of New England Science & Sailing on Water Street for a program that exposed many of them to an activity they might not otherwise have access to.
But if that same bus showed up in the borough today, those students would now have to get off at Wadawanuck Square and walk the half-mile to the nonprofit NESS.
That's because two weeks ago, a split borough Board of Warden and Burgesses voted to enact an ordinance that bans school and large tour buses from driving south of Wadawanuck Square.
Now, more than 100 residents upset with the decision have signed a petition that will force a borough meeting later this month in which residents will decide to repeal or modify the ordinance. Warden Paul Burgess, who was on the losing end of a 4-3 vote that would have allowed school buses to go south of Wadawanuck Square with prior permission of the board, said today that the meeting will be held on Saturday, July 14 at 9:30 a.m. at the borough firehouse.
Burgess said the board began discussion of an ordinance because large tour buses occasionally try to navigate the narrow streets in the southern portion of the village as they try to access Stonington Point, clogging up traffic.
In the original proposal there was a provision that allowed the board to exempt school buses from the ban if requested but the board voted 4-3 to remove it.
Burgesses Howard Park III, Kathryn Burchenal, Amy Nicholas and Ed McCreary voted to remove the provision while Burgess and burgesses Rob Scala and Michael Adair wanted to retain it.
Burgess said the ban also affects the Stonington Historical Society as groups come to visit the Lighthouse Museum at Stonington Point.
As passed, the ordinance now bans any bus, including a school bus, longer than 25 feet from operating south of Broad Street. Instead, the buses must drop off and pick up passengers at the southeast corner of Wadawanuck Square.
Buses that are 25 feet long or less can drop off or pick up passengers at Wadawanuck Square, the Town Dock, Stonington Point and other locations with permission from the board. Specialty vehicles 25 feet or less that are transporting students with special needs can discharge or pick up passengers where necessary.
Spike Lobdell, the president of the NESS board, said Sunday that while he would like to see no ordinance at all because of the danger of what will be banned next, he understands that tour buses can clog borough streets.
He said that children going to NESS programs from buses will now have to walk the half mile to and from Wadawanuck Square which will create a safety issue as well as cut into the time the students have in the programs.
He said he would be in favor of a provision that would allow buses longer than 25 feet going to a specific destination for an educational purpose as long as they have prior board approval.
He said he expects several buses a week to access the NESS facility just north of Cannon Square but that would take place during the school year and not during the busy summer tourist season.
Tom Rezendes, the owner of Tom's News, helped collect signatures for the petition in his store.
"What he's doing is great for these kids. Without him they wouldn't have these opportunities," he said about Lobdell and the NESS programs.