STONINGTON – Over the past few months, while discussing ideas with customers and community residents about what to do with his property, Phoenix Dining and Entertainment owner Richard Mann said that t became clear that the city was struggling with a significant shortage of affordable housing options. — and he worries about other proposals now before the city does little to provide real solutions.

That’s exactly why Mann is now challenging the town and its residents to tell him what they want and come up with their own ideas for a viable, long-term solution to housing needs in Stonington and Pawcatuck. If a sustainable idea comes forward, he says he’s already committed to converting his business as needed to deliver the solution.

Mann confirmed on Monday that he had hired new London-based prosecutor Robert A. Avena, who is also the North Stonington City Solicitor, to oversee discussions with officials regarding housing needs and to help facilitate the developing a proposal that would serve as the best solution for the community as a whole.

“With all the debate about the impact of trying to get so many units at the end of Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck, I’ve been around there and I just don’t know where they see them putting them. There’s a reason people aren’t happy, he says. “Hopefully by doing it this way, we can get some feedback and come up with a plan that will benefit the community.”

Over the weekend, Mann had posted on the Pawcatuck community forum asking residents to share their thoughts on how to develop his property. In a Facebook forum post, he said he wasn’t necessarily focusing on affordable housing as the legal definition suggests, but rather “a shortage of quality housing at a reasonable price”.

It’s not a new concept for Mann, who publicly discussed plans in May to develop an active living community for over 55s before saying the comments led him to believe that another form of housing quality would perhaps be better suited to meet the needs of the city. .

In fact, he said he wasn’t convinced his nightclub would stay open, be used as some form of community center or atrium for a residential complex, or be demolished to make way for even more housing. . The size and scope of such a project would also depend on what the city and its residents want.

“Obviously there has to be some level of cost to maintain sustainability and ensure the complex can continue to operate with financial independence, but it’s really not about making money for me at this stage of my career,” Mann said. “I want to do something that will be good for the community, and that can provide an alternative to an unpopular proposition downtown.”

Earlier this month, representatives from WinnCompanies returned to town with a proposal calling for the development of a 70-unit apartment complex with a garage on the 1.9-acre site of the former Campbell Grain.

The new proposal eliminates a dozen apartments and maintains 91 on-site parking spaces that were previously approved in a 2021 proposal that included a local tax break that was defeated in a referendum.

Unlike the old affordable housing complex, which sought to provide housing for downtown business workers, WinnCompanies said the new plan calls for residents to be limited to housing for seniors 55 and older and include tenants with various incomes. All apartments would be either one or two bedroom units.

“We listened to community concerns and redesigned the project based on what we heard. This proposal fills a community need for senior housing,” said Matthew Robayna, WinnDevelopment Project Director, in an interview last week. “We’ve changed what we’re actually able to change based on community feedback, while presenting a proposition that we’re proud of and that is economically viable.”

Following the rejection of the proposed tax deal for the larger development last year, Mann said he contacted WinnCompanies and asked if they would consider a partnership to move Campbell Grain’s plan to his property along from road 2.

These talks, despite Avena’s best efforts, never came to much of anything and it became clear that to do what the city wanted he would have to come up with an alternative to the current housing along South Broad Street and a proposal downtown that left the residents of Pawcatuck angry and feeling ignored.

Mann’s property is 4.5 acres, although there are restrictions due to topography, and utilities are already available to service a resort. He said the location, which is less than a mile from downtown Pawcatuck and a short distance from major roads including Route 1, Route 2 and Highway 95, makes it a site perfect and the development would not encroach on any neighbours.

He said he could easily continue to operate the Phoenix, which has a capacity of over 300 and has found success in recent months with some weekend crowds as people across the region continue to put COVID -19 behind them.

In the meantime, he said he would deal with occasional internet troublemakers to open discussions and determine what is best for the community. He said he had many questions and encouraged residents to actively participate in discussions.

“What do you think would be best for our city and its people? If you were to live there, would you prefer to keep the Phoenix as an on-site restaurant and entertainment venue for residents? Or should I convert the Phoenix into a community center with a gym or other facilities, or should I demolish it to maximize the amount of land available to build housing? ” He asked.

Whatever happens, he said Monday he hopes the end result will be a solution and a project the whole city can be proud of.

“I think we have a place here where we can come together and do something special as a community,” he said.