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Seely School proposal moves another step forward in Groton

Groton — The Town Council has approved the conceptual plan for the proposed Triton Square apartment complex at the former William Seely School property at 55 Seely School Drive.

Since DonMar Development, the preferred developer, unveiled its proposal in February, the North Haven-based company made modifications — including increasing the number of apartment units from 280 to about 304, adding some public amenities and reconfiguring the parking area, DonMar project executive Anthony Di Gioia said.

The council signed off Tuesday on the conceptual plan for the 14-acre property, a step required in the option agreement between the developer and the town. The developer still needs additional approvals to move forward, including from the Inland Wetlands Agency and Planning and Zoning Commission.

The developers envision the project as a three-building apartment complex with a clubhouse and amenities “to attract the young professional and empty nester whose housing needs are not being met by the available housing stock,” according to a document from the developers.

Di Gioia said the developers made some changes to the initial plan based on feedback from the town and residents.

With many residents of the surrounding neighborhood concerned about losing open space at the former school site, DonMar proposed adding a playscape toward the back of the property that will be accessible to the public, as well as making the dog park accessible. He said there also are plans for public access to a walking trail.

The developers reconfigured the parking lot in response to concerns that too much asphalt covered the property, he said. The site plan features 358 parking spaces, but the developers designed the parking area “to minimize the amount of asphalt used,” according to the document.

The developers are planning to keep the proposed lower parking lot of 37 spaces as “deferred parking,” meaning they won’t develop it into parking unless necessary.

The developers also are exploring different types of parking lot lights to cut down on the impact to neighbors, Di Gioia said. A traffic study also is underway.

The proposed access to the development is from Walker Hill Road, across an easement over the water tower property, Groton Planning and Development Director Jon Reiner said. The city granted the town the easement in 2018, he said.

While the project originally was presented as a 280-unit complex, Di Gioia said it is expected to have 300 to 304 units, which he said will make the project financially feasible and allow DonMar to include the planned amenities. Based on a market study, the developers are proposing to make 14% of the units studio apartments, 61% one-bedroom apartments, and 25% two-bedroom units.

Next steps include seeking approvals from the Inland Wetlands Agency, potentially in late October, and the Planning & Zoning Commission, Di Gioia said. Reiner said another step is for the council to approve a short-term tax agreement for the project.

If all goes as planned, Di Gioia said the goal is to begin demolition and asbestos abatement on the school property in November and break ground on building construction in March. The two-year construction project is expected to be completed in March 2023, though he anticipates residents could begin moving into some units 18 months after breaking ground.

The council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to approve the conceptual plan, with Councilors Portia Bordelon and Aundré Bumgardner in opposition.

During discussions at the Sept. 22 Town Council Committee of the Whole meeting, Bumgardner raised concerns, including about traffic in the area, which he said is already backing up with a Chipotle and Jersey Mike's that recently opened up and a package store.

Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said she appreciates that the developer was sensitive to requests to leave green space for the public and implement the playscape. She said she, like Bumgardner, laments the loss of trees, but she said that is balanced by the green space and the proposed retention pond, which will help the environment.

Bordelon said she hoped the developers will consider a shuttle bus to the casinos, the Navy base, Pfizer and Electric Boat, which she said would reduce some of the traffic and also help the environment. Di Gioia said DonMar is considering a shuttle bus.

“I think this is going to be really, really good for Groton and maybe some things in the future we have to work out, but I think overall your plan is very good,” said Councilor Lian Obrey, who thanked the developers for their time and added she was looking forward to the project.

Other former school building projects

Groton Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk said projects for the town’s other vacant school buildings also are moving forward.

He said efforts for the proposed mixed-use development project at the Mystic Education Center, called Mystic River Bluffs, also are advancing, including finalizing tax increment financing, drafting special zoning and working with the town’s consultant regarding which proposed indoor amenities should be included at the Pratt Building.

He said the town issued a request for proposals for the former Pleasant Valley School and is in talks with a preferred developer for the former Colonel Ledyard School.

He said the town is working through some technical items with the Groton Heights School preferred developer, ThayerMahan, and though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the process somewhat, the developer still is interested in the property.

k.drelich@theday.com

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