Central Hall Block site plan approved

Mystic — The Groton Planning Commission tonight approved the site plan for a new building on the site of the former Central Hall Block which has been vacant since being destroyed by fire in 2000.

The approval came with a 4-1 vote and some lingering concerns by commission members over placement of an underground propane tank and private parking on town-owned property off Gravel Street.

"It feels good. It's a step in the right direction," said Rod Desmarais, one of the partners with Historic Mystic, LCC.

Plans for the site call for a four-story building with six retail shops off West Main Street and a dozen condos or apartments above the shops. The building will include a large public access element, with a boardwalk at the rear of the building offering views of the Mystic River. Much of the building itself will be constructed over water.

It's not the first approval for developers, who have struggled to meet conditions placed on past approvals and have never gotten to the point of applying for a building permit.

"I'm trying to maintain optimism," Desmarais said.

The approval came following several hours of discussion that touched on everything from the height of a landscape planter to the aesthetics of a wooden fence hiding garbage bins.

Commission member Peter Roper voted against both the site plan and coastal access plan. While acknowledging that construction needs to get started, he had lingering concerns about the use of town-owned land on Gravel Street to accommodate both private parking and an underground propane tank for the building's heating.

He said he was also uncomfortable with talk of restricting activities to the boardwalk during certain hours to accommodate residents.

"My feeling is there should be no restrictions on public access," he said.

Commission member Hank Steinford voted for the plan but said he had similar concerns.

"Mystic has major problems and the parking issues are only going to escalate with this," he said.

Ken Navarro, one of the development partners, acknowledged an improved relationship with the town's planning staff following some friction over the demands to meet conditions.

Developers must still go back to the town council to gain approval of a new lease agreement because of movement of the propane tank and are working on an legal wording of an easement agreement with Connecticut Light and Power, among other issues. There is no timeline for the start of construction.



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