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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Groton RTM approves agreement for Seely School property

    DonMar Development Corporation of North Haven is proposing to build a 280-apartment development with several amenities, including a pool and two movie theaters, on the site of the former William Seely School at 55 Seely School Drive in Groton. Renderings of the conceptual plan are by The Sullivan Architectural Group. (Courtesy of DonMar Development Corporation)

    Groton — The Representative Town Meeting gave its approval Wednesday for the town to enter into an option to purchase agreement with DonMar Development for the 14-acre William Seely School property. The vote was 28-2, with three abstentions.

    The North Haven-based development company is proposing to redevelop the long-vacant former school site at 55 Seely School Drive as a 280-unit apartment community with amenities, including a pool, walking trail, clubhouse and dog park.

    The option agreement is for one year, but could be extended for another six months. The price for the property is $1, and the developer will cover the estimated $1 million cost of demolishing the school building, according to Town Manager John Burt.

    During public comment, Grove Avenue resident Laura Cotto urged the RTM to “not move forward with selling and developing this property without a plan for retaining open space for the kids in our community and for maintaining pedestrian safety in our neighborhood.”

    “The neighbors are not necessarily opposed to the concept of a development,” resident Thomas W. Potter said. “They have been and continue to be opposed to the location of the planned access from Walker Hill Road.”

    Abutting property owner Gretchen Chipperini said only an integrated, mixed-use project “will provide the largest impact on improving our grand list and putting Groton onto the map to attract more investment.”

    Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky, who echoed comments in support from Councilors Lian Obrey and Conrad Heede, said the proposed apartment development is an opportunity to return a vacant, town-owned property to the tax rolls.

    “We are trying to attract the 80% of our workforce that leaves Groton every day,” Granatosky added. “We would like them to stay in Groton. We would like them to become members of our community. This is an opportunity to do just that.”

    During discussions, several RTM members had concerns or questions about access to the development. DonMar Project Executive Anthony Di Gioia said DonMar currently has two options: Seely School Drive and an easement adjacent to the water tower that would allow for a main access onto Walker Hill Road. He said DonMar also made an offer to a property owner next to the easement.

    Di Gioia confirmed that DonMar has not made a monetary offer to Chipperini, whose property could provide access to Route 12. He said that DonMar created a conceptual plan that would encompass Chipperini’s property but decided “not to hinge the success of this project on combining the two pieces.”

    “That’s not to say the possibility is gone. We’ve made provisions to ensure that the two parcels can be linked, but it’s important to stress that it’s really not feasible until the project is underway. Once Triton Square is underway, and there’s that built-in consumer market, I think that would be a more appropriate time to begin to explore the commercial aspect,” said Di Gioia, emphasizing that it’s not “out of the question.”

    Chipperini said Thursday that she has not seen the plan. But she said an integrated mixed-use development — a seamless project with a central main street and features to create ambience — needs to be designed that way from the get-go.

    "You can't build an integrated project as an afterthought," she said.

    At Wednesday's RTM meeting, Rep. Ian Thomas said that while he’s otherwise in favor of DonMar's apartment development and would like to see the property back on the tax rolls, he’s concerned about access points and would like to see more negotiations.

    Rep. Robert Bailey said he was against selling off the William Seely School in this manner due to the concerns expressed by people living in the neighborhood. He said it was worth it to “thread those needles through before going onward.”

    Rep. Jeanne Baker said that it’s too bad that cars can’t exit onto Route 12, but it does not seem possible. “I think we need to get this property developed and that poor old school is in pretty bad shape, and that may become a liability down the road, so I think we really need to vote yes on this project,” Baker said.

    To move forward with the project, the developer would need to return to the Town Council and also get approvals from the Inland Wetlands Agency and Planning and Zoning Commission, according to town staff.

    Di Gioia said a traffic study will be done to find ways to improve safety on Walker Hill Road.

    He also said that when DonMar brings the project to the Planning & Zoning Commission, the plans will include a public access component. Based on public comments, the developers are looking to move a proposed playscape outside the fenced-in area and create an access point so the public can access walking trails.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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