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Mystic Education Center development agreement advances

Groton — The town and the company planning to redevelop the Mystic Education Center are moving forward with a development agreement that serves as a framework formalizing their partnership and outlining key expectations for the project.

Respler Homes LLC, the company chosen as the "preferred developer" for the Mystic Education Center in response to a request for proposals, had announced in November a proposal to redevelop state-owned property on Oral School Road as a mixed-use village for young professionals. The proposal calls for constructing 700 to 850 apartments and redeveloping the former Mystic Oral School building into a co-working and R&D space with an organic market, coffeehouse and restaurant, along with other proposed features.

Respler's plans also call for building roadway infrastructure and improving the waterfront, as may be permitted, and for renovating the Pratt Building for public recreational use, according to the project description outlined in the agreement. The buildings on the site will incorporate energy-efficient features.

The 77-acre Mystic Education Center site once held the Whipple School for the Deaf and more recently served a variety of uses until being declared surplus property in 2011, according to the request for proposals issued by the town. The town worked with the state to market the upper portion of the state-owned land for redevelopment, while the lower portion is slated for conservation and passive recreation.

At Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting, the Town Council voted to authorize the town manager to execute the development agreement with Respler Homes, which the development team called a "roadmap" for the project. It will next go before the council on Tuesday for a final vote.

Groton Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk said the agreement formalizes the partnership between the town and Respler Homes and acknowledges that the entities are working together to move forward with the project. The agreement names Respler Homes as the project's  "exclusive developer."

The agreement does not guarantee any approvals the developer will need but sets the framework for how the town and developer will cooperate and move toward a common goal for the development, Groton Planning and Development Director Jon Reiner said.

"It is intended as an expression of each party's mutual desire to further advance the transaction and future definitive agreements leading to (Respler's) development of the property and the eventual purchase of the property from the state of Connecticut," a town document states.

The agreement outlines a range of items that are part of the project framework, from the governmental approvals needed for the project to move forward, to Respler Homes' commitment to make infrastructure improvements, such as for roads and utilities.

The agreement includes an outline of steps the developer will take in preparing a development plan, including creating a site plan, architectural renderings of improvements and design features, a list of needed approvals, a timeline showing the anticipated phasing of the project and a list of waterfront improvements, such as trails and a small watercraft launch area that may be permitted.

Among other components, the agreement addresses Respler's commitment to make improvements to the Pratt Building, as agreed by the town and Respler, and the town's plan to enter into a future lease agreement for the operation of the Pratt Building, once it has been renovated to acceptable standards, Bronk said.

According to the agreement, the redevelopment of the site will require "substantial investment" by the developer, including improving and building new roads and utility lines, constructing a parking garage, renovating the Oral School Building and Pratt Building and handling environmental remediation of the buildings.

Reiner said the agreement acknowledges that tax increment financing, or TIF, will be needed to assist the developer with the infrastructure, but does not guarantee it or any dollar amount, nor does it delineate what the boundaries of a potential TIF district for the site would be.

He said the process for creating a new TIF district would entail the town's approval of a master plan, the negotiation of a credit enhancement agreement and what improvements could be financed through TIF, as well as the cost and duration.

Separate from the development agreement with the town, Respler Homes has signed a purchase and sale agreement with the state and also executed a lease agreement with the state, Bronk said.

Bronk and Reiner emphasized that Respler's redevelopment project would entail a host of steps.

This year is anticipated to be spent on planning, design, engineering, regulatory and legal approvals, with initial construction for the first phase of the project slated to begin 2021, if all the approvals are met, according to a town document.

Construction would proceed in phases, developer Jeff Respler has said.

Bronk said public outreach will be ongoing, with a neighborhood group meeting recently held.

A town document entails a list of multiple steps for the project to move forward, including land use and zoning approvals, subdivision of the parcel, land assembly, project design and engineering, roadway permitting, development of a trail system plan and environmental remediation.

k.drelich@theday.com

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