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Groton Town Council backs plans for two apartment complexes

Groton — Plans for apartments on Gold Star Highway and at the former Colonel Ledyard School property in the City of Groton moved a step forward this week, as the community faces a growing need for multifamily housing for young workers and empty nesters, Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk said.

The Town Council held a public hearing on the sale of the Colonel Ledyard School property on Tuesday, with one speaker in support and another in opposition due to environmental concerns. The council then authorized the town manager to sign an option agreement with Bellsite Development and referred the sale of the 120 West St. property to the Representative Town Meeting for its approval. The option agreement establishes a $41,000 purchase price.

In October, Bill Bellock, owner and principal member of Bellsite Development LLC of Manchester, presented his vision for the property: renovating the 1963 former school building into 10 to 14 market-rate apartments as the first phase and then constructing additional apartment buildings, one at a time, on the roughly 8-acre site. He said in October that up to 50 or 60 apartments could be built on the site, in addition to those in the school building, but he would need to further examine the site to determine how many would be appropriate.

Bronk said by phone that the proposed development, located roughly a half-mile from Electric Boat, would provide housing for EB workers. Since they could easily walk or bike to work, the project would help alleviate a significant parking problem facing the city.

At Tuesday’s hearing, City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick spoke in support of the project. “We think this is a good project for the City of Groton, for the Town of Groton,” he said. “It will help bring housing for the upcoming jobs that will be at Electric Boat.”

He said it would be good to put the property back on the tax rolls, and conservation concerns that have been raised can be addressed through the permitting and planning & zoning processes.

Groton City resident Craig Guild said most of the property “is wooded with a forest that spreads to the adjoining Colonel Ledyard Cemetery and Sacred Heart School properties as well as along the Clarence B. Sharpe Highway” and provides a habitat to many animals. He said that while the first phase of the project is confined to the existing school building, he had concerns with later phases of the proposal.

“Given the potential environmental impacts the sale and development of this land would have on the immediate environment and the larger ecology of Groton, the recent changes to the Open Space Conservation Plan, and the rarity of this type of wooded land in the City of Groton, I would ask council members to vote against the sale of the Colonel Ledyard School Property with the development as proposed at this current time,” he said.

Later in the meeting, Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner said that while he takes no issue with the reuse of the existing building, he also had concerns with the additional phases and residents have raised environmental and quality-of-life concerns. “As you may know, it is one of the last remaining forested areas west of Route 349 in the highly urbanized City of Groton,” he said.

Councilor Lian Obrey said the proposal provides an opportunity to restore a long-empty building and will have to go through the local land use processes. She said people are constantly calling looking for rentals, and there aren’t enough of them in Groton.

Bill Sweeney, attorney for Bellock, said the plan is to renovate the existing school building and add new units in the old play area behind the school. He said the intent is not to destroy any wildlife habitat and Bellock wants to preserve as much of the woodland as possible and create trail connections to other municipal buildings behind it. He also said Bellock will return to the council to get the go-ahead on the plan before seeking city land use approvals.

The Council voted 6-3 in favor of authorizing the town manager to sign the option agreement and recommending the sale to the RTM, with Councilors Portia Bordelon, Bumgardner and Rachael Franco opposed.

Gold Star Highway

The Council on Tuesday also authorized the manager to sign an option agreement with PJ&A LLC for a proposed apartment development on Gold Star Highway and referred the sale of the property to the RTM. The council will hold a public hearing on March 2.

According to the agreement, PJ&A LLC will partner with Lennar Multifamily Communities LLC to build an approximately 300-unit apartment complex on two vacant, town-owned parcels at 529 and 517 Gold Star Highway, as well as adjacent parcels acquired by PJ&A at 553 and 571 Gold Star Highway. Overall, the four parcels are about 20 acres, Bronk said. The agreement establishes a $228,000 purchase price for the two town-owned properties.

Each option agreement gives the respective developer the exclusive option to purchase the property, demonstrating Groton’s support for the project, allowing the developer to finalize research on the property and refine the proposal, and setting a timeframe for doing that. The developers still will need to go through the local approval process, Bronk and Planning and Development Director Jon Reiner explained.

Reiner also explained that the Town Council's public hearings are required by state statute for the selling of town-owned property and are not specific to any particular proposal.

Bronk said the town is trying to get people who already come into Groton to work — for example at Electric Boat, Pfizer, the Navy base, and small businesses — to make Groton their home and invest in the town.

Reiner said Groton has over 26,000 jobs, but 80% of those workers do not live in the town.

Bronk said the apartments will help meet the current and growing need for multifamily housing with amenities for the incoming young workforce, as well as empty nesters looking to downsize and simplify their lives.

k.drelich@theday.com

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