Balance priorities with Mystic Education Center reuse project
Oral School Road snakes through forests and past ancient stone walls in the northern reaches of Mystic. With the Mystic River far below and visible through the leafless trees during winter months, the road passes numerous houses and, at the pinnacle of a hill, the looming and decrepit buildings of the former Mystic Education Center.
The education center site could undergo major changes in the future. A developer is proposing to redevelop the site, saving some of the historic-but-decaying buildings and providing between 700 and 850 apartments, a public recreation center, a co-working space, hiking trails, an organic market, coffee house and restaurant.
Given the sad condition of numerous empty and languishing state-owned properties, such as the former Seaside Regional Center in Waterford, along with the public accommodations being proposed for the Mystic property, it is good news that some creative and aggressive marketing and teamwork on the part of town and state officials have attracted a developer to this prime site in one of the state’s most coveted addresses.
Neighbors, however, including those who gathered with developers and District 5 members of the town’s Representative Town Meeting in January, are eyeing the plans with some amount of concern. That’s understandable. Given that Oral School Road is narrow and winding, the possibility of hundreds of more cars traversing it daily seems a frightening prospect.Trepidation is justified.
Melinda Cassiere, a District 5 RTM member, said residents also asked about sewer capacity for the planned development at the meeting with representatives of Respler Homes LLC, the preferred developer for the site.
Because the plans are in the early stage, however, many questions from residents can’t yet be answered with any degree of certainty. Cassiere said the developers indicated they might seek alternative access to Cow Hill Road to allow for a road more suited to handling traffic and reducing the impact on neighbors. Groton Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk and Director of Planning Jonathan J. Reiner said while specifics are not yet in place, the developer is committed to doing whatever is necessary to make the mixed used development safe and successful.
“People assume it’s much more refined than it is,” Bronk said of the plans that are still a considerable way from fruition. The public will have opportunities to be heard later in the process.
It’s obvious this redevelopment process is complex. The 77-acre site is owned by the state. Groton has a huge stake in the future of the site. The former school for the deaf and, later, for developmentally disabled students, encompasses some historic and not-so-historic structures in a variety of states of disrepair. The site borders on open space through which road access to River Road is prohibited. Development plans encompass a wide variety of uses. Local zoning regulations must be followed.
We commend the developers for meeting with residents early in this process and urge them to continue the dialogue. We expect Groton’s planning and economic development officials also will be open and transparent to the public, most notably neighbors of the site, throughout the process ahead.
After decades of uncertainty about the site, now having a preferred developer marks important progress. Leaving the site unused and decaying is not a reasonable option. Yet it is vitally important to ensure public health and safety is protected, and the quality of life of existing residents protected, as this redevelopment plan moves forward.
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