Former Groton school site envisioned as 280-unit housing development

Groton — Developers are envisioning the former William Seely School property as an approximately 280-apartment development designed with "a community feel" and amenities including a clubhouse, pool, movie viewing areas, walking trail and dog park.

DonMar Development Corp., a North Haven-based, family-owned business, unveiled conceptual plans for the redevelopment of the site during an informational meeting attended by about 70 people Wednesday evening at the Town Hall Annex. The plans also were outlined to The Day.

Mario Di Gioia, DonMar's CEO and president, called Wednesday's meeting the "first step" in public outreach, and said the plans are still in the early stages and represent the starting point for what the company wishes to develop.

The proposed development is designed to appeal to millennials, as well as empty nesters, DonMar Project Executive Anthony Di Gioia said in a phone interview.

The conceptual plans for "Triton Square" show three four-story buildings connected through sky bridges. The complex is named in honor of the submarine USS Triton, the first vessel to travel around the world submerged, to pay tribute to the fact that Groton is "the submarine capital of the world," DonMar Vice President Michael Di Gioia said.

The main entrance would be through the clubhouse — a space, located on the first floor of one of the buildings, that includes mailrooms, a lounge area, media/music room, common work area, multipurpose room, fitness center and dog spa — to create a sense of community, Anthony Di Gioia said.

In addition to the clubhouse, other proposed amenities include a movie wall, grilling stations, a pool, a walking trail around the site and a dog park, as well as a rooftop lounge area in a central location, he said.

"It’s a state-of-the-art project, and we’re so excited to be moving forward and working with the town of Groton," said Michael Di Gioia. He added that Triton Square will be "a landmark in Groton and ultimately the gold standard for campus-style living."

The market-price apartments will be a mixture of studios, one bedrooms and two bedrooms, the developers said.

Anthony Di Gioia said that once DonMar started doing market research on Groton and its demographics, the company knew that it was the place it wanted to be. He said the town has been "excellent to work with" and very knowledgeable about the need for new housing to meet the shifting population that's coming to work in Groton, particularly as Electric Boat is poised to ramp up hiring over the next decade. 

He said the DonMar's goal is in line with the town's in helping to retain some of its commuting workforce.

A recently announced redevelopment of another property, the Mystic Education Center, which is proposed as a mixed-use village, also is intended to help provide housing for Groton's workforce. Commuters hold 80 percent of the jobs in Groton, and a goal is to provide housing that will keep workers in the community, Groton Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk has said.

Mario Di Gioia said at the meeting that the company wants to meet the needs of the workforce by providing "quality, amenity-rich housing" that also will attract older professionals who do not want to maintain a house and are looking for a sense of community. He said the majority of Groton's housing stock was built before 1939 and from 1970 to 1979. 

The company also wants to keep young workers here. "... We want them to spend their disposable income at local businesses. We want them to pay property taxes to the Town of Groton, and when they are ready to buy a house to start a family, we want them to purchase your homes," he told the audience.

Anthony Di Gioia said initial environmental studies on the former school building at 55 Seely School Drive show that while the soils don't have contamination, the former school, an older building, has asbestos and PCBs. DonMar will be cleaning it up before demolishing it, so the company will be remedying an environmental issue for the town, as well as putting the property back on the tax rolls.

Mario Di Gioia said the millennial generation is not having children at the same rate as previous generations, so the multifamily housing development would have a "negligible" impact on school population.

The main entrance to the site presently is on Seely School Drive. The conceptual plans, as they currently stand, call for a potential main access out onto Walker Hill Road through the use of an easement adjacent to the water tower, which Groton Utilities has agreed to provide, according to Anthony Di Gioia and local officials.

DonMar plans to have a monument built in honor of William Seely, a Groton sailor who was among the 1,177 men killed on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and preserve plaques from inside the current building, Michael Di Gioia said.

Anthony Di Gioia said the development will be environmentally friendly, with buildings prepared to accommodate solar panels, electric charging stations and the use of recycled carpeting material and lumber from environmentally responsible sources. The buildings also would be oriented on the site to minimize the number of trees that will be cut down.

As it designs a stormwater management system for the site, the company is looking into a type of recycling system that will collect and store water coming off the roof and parking lot to irrigate the lawns, so as to avoid wasting water, he added.

Town Planning and Development Director Jon Reiner said Wednesday's meeting was to introduce the redevelopment concept and the "preferred developer" for the site and serves as the "first step in the process," which is expected to lead into further discussions. The Town Council has not signed any agreements with the developer. 

The developer has not yet submitted an application to the Planning and Zoning Commission and has a fair amount of work to do before getting to that point, Reiner added. The development also will require approval from the Inland Wetlands Agency.

The project's architectural firm is The Sullivan Architectural Group, with Ray Sullivan serving as the lead architect, and the engineering firm is Milone & MacBroom, with Tom Daly serving as head engineer.

Daly said that there are plans for studies, including of topography, drainage and traffic. He said if the traffic study shows there is a need for roadway improvements in the surrounding area, those will be part of the future application.

After the presentation, residents spoke to town staff and the developers individually to ask questions or raise their concerns.

k.drelich@theday.com

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