The Day – Respler Homes Explores “All Our Options” at the Mystic Education Center property
Groton – The developer proposing a mixed-use village on the Mystic Education Center property is “exploring all of our options” after the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission made clear its concerns about the “overdevelopment” of the site.
Although the commission made no binding decisions, it did come to a consensus at a workshop last week that the city should not initiate a new floating area for the good.
The commission, however, would be open to a change of area, such as an RU-40 rural residential area or potentially an RU-20 area for part of the property, said planning and development director Jon Reiner. These rural residential areas require a lower density than what is included in the developer’s proposal and allow uses that include single-family residences, attached two-family residences, certain types of senior housing and similar types of development, as well as some commercial uses. It’s up to the developer to look at the zoning and then figure out how to move forward.
Respler Homes, selected after a request for proposals process, proposed to construct approximately 931 residential units on state property and adjacent land purchased by the developer, and to transform the main building of the Mystic Oral School into a shopping center of the property including a restaurant and office space.
The redevelopment of the surplus state property, located on Oral School Drive in Mystic and currently zoned as Rural Residential RU-80, requires a zone change, and the city has been working on targeted zoning for the plot as a first step in any redevelopment of the inactive property. The RU-80 zones are “intended to accommodate single-family dwellings, agriculture and related activities, as well as other low-density uses”, according to the city’s zoning regulations. In addition to a zone change, the developer would need additional zoning approvals, such as a site plan.
Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission told last Monday’s workshop that while the site offers opportunities, they are concerned about “over-development” and the creation of car-dependent development. that is not located near city services, and that would create traffic in the area, among other concerns.
Commission member Susan Sutherland said the city’s conservation and development plan and zoning bylaws are clear, protective and consistent. She said the conservation plan identifies the area of the mystical education center as sensitive to development and that a major project was not considered in the plan.
The proposal has also raised concerns – including over noise, traffic and explosions – from neighbors.
The commission also discussed how it would not require the preservation of buildings on the property. President Jeffrey Pritchard said the decision should be up to the developer, depending on the usefulness of the structure and whether it is profitable or not.
The commission said it would not go ahead with the city creating a special zoning district, but rather wait for the developer to apply to the commission, Reiner said.
The proposed RU-20 or RU-40 rural residential zoning discussed by the commission would not allow the current proposal of 931 apartments, Reiner said on Tuesday.
“The ball is in the developer’s court, and whichever way they want to do it, it’s up to them to make the request,” he said.
Ray Kehrhahn, a consultant for Respler Homes, which has a buy and sell agreement with the state for the property, said Wednesday that the development team is in the process of determining their next steps but remains committed to the property.
“We are exploring all of our options, working with all the different members of the development team, and we will put one foot in front of the other because that is what it takes to complete a project like this. “said Kehrhahn.
He said Respler Homes created the proposal based on the parameters of a state and city request for proposals.
“It has become apparent that not everyone is aligned with this RFP in the city and now we need to incorporate that feedback into what we do,” he said. He said the developer needs to understand what the city, including the Planning and Zoning Commission, is considering for the property, and then fit that into what the company ultimately presents to the commission.
Groton’s Director of Economic and Community Development Paige Bronk said that although the developer has a development agreement with the city, he says the developer still needs regulatory approvals.
City manager John Burt said on Wednesday that there was no action for city council to take until the Planning and Zoning Commission made a decision on zoning.
“If there continues to be a viable project, depending on the scale of the project, there could be discussions about any tax assistance needed and for the rental or purchase of the Pratt building,” Burt said. “I hope Respler Homes can work with the Planning and Zoning Commission to come up with a properly sized project that benefits the community, provides needed housing, revitalizes a long gone property and improves the character of the area. “