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Mixed-use development proposed for Five Corners in Groton City

Groton — A developer is proposing a mixed-use building for the city’s Five Corners area, within walking distance of Electric Boat, in a move the developer’s representatives say will help the city achieve its goal of creating a “sense of place” for the area.

The city has identified the area around Poquonnock Road, Mitchell Road, Benham Road and Chicago Avenue as a place to encourage mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development to serve city residents and Electric Boat workers, according to the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

During a city Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on Tuesday evening, representatives for GBU Capital LLC of Scottsdale, Ariz., asked for the commission to place a mixed-use design district “floating zone” on five properties — 2 Benham Road/91 Poquonnock Road, 8, 22 and 46 Benham Road and 1 Mariani Court — and approve a master plan for the parcels.

This is the first step in a two-part process as the developer seeks approval for the proposed 77,590-square-foot building, with commercial space on the first floor and 80 apartment units on the upper floors, at the intersection of Benham and Poquonnock roads.

If the first step is approved, the next step would be for the developer to submit a site plan.

While the developer’s representatives said the project would encourage people to walk and bike to work, some neighbors raised concerns that the development is out of scale with the neighborhood and would add traffic to an area they say is already congested, particularly when Electric Boat employees get out of work.

New zoning to spur economic development in the city

GBU Capital’s proposal is the first application made under a new zoning regulation adopted by the city Planning & Zoning Commission that allows mixed-use floating zones to be implemented in the Five Corners and waterfront business residence zones of the city, City Planner Leslie Creane said. The MUDD allows for more lenient zoning regulations, for example, for the height of the building.

Harry Heller, an attorney for the developer, said the proposed project will be an incentive for other potential developers to invest in the Five Corners area.

“We believe that this project will be a great success, not only for the applicant, but also for the City of Groton and will greatly enhance the Five Corners district, bringing a sense of place to an area which over the years has fallen into some state of disrepair,” Heller said.

Seamus Moran, project manager for Loureiro Engineering, said the plan is for 12 studio apartments, 56 one-bedroom units and 12 two-bedroom units.

The development will have a bike storage room and pet washing station to incorporate pedestrian- and bike-friendly components, said David Goslin, principal with Crosskey Architects. 

Overall, there will be a total of 119 parking spaces that will be located underneath the building, as part of surface parking on site and at 46 Benham Road, which is nearby but not contiguous to the other parcels, according to Moran.

“The unique architecture, including the roof-top plaza will draw people to this development and foster a community environment intrinsic to developing a sense of place,” Moran wrote in a letter included as part of the application. “By promoting pedestrian and bike access, this building will become the cornerstone of the Five Corners District.”

In 2019, properties at 8-10, 16 and 22 Benham Road were foreclosed on after Real Estate Rescue Services LLC “failed to pay back a $377,000 mortgage loan, and after years of unpaid taxes to the town.” The lender, GBU Capital, became the owner.

Commission members, who did not take a vote on Tuesday, asked questions and raised some issues, including concerns over traffic when vehicles turn left out of the facility onto Benham Road, questions about the potential to work with Groton Utilities to bury the utility lines, and whether the developer could make adjustments to step the building back from the adjacent property. Staff also submitted questions and comments.

People raise concerns about traffic, scale of development

During the hearing, two people spoke in favor of the project, while five spoke in opposition.

City Mayor Keith Hedrick, who spoke in favor of the development, said the city has been working on the concept for over a year. He thinks the project is good for economic development in the city, will help address blight issues and also will help the city address the influx of employees as Electric Boat expands. He said the police will evaluate traffic patterns, but he doesn’t foresee a significant increase in traffic because the development is targeted at EB employees who will mostly walk to work. Groton Utilities is taking a look at underground utilities.

The neighbors opposed raised concerns about traffic, parking and the size of the development.

Dave Costello said that while he’s glad to see the blight addressed, he’d like to see a smaller development to fit into the neighborhood with many one and two-story houses. He also had concerns about pedestrian safety and parking.

“I’m really not in favor of the immenseness of this project,” he added. “I think it’s too big for the footprint of the property.”

Tristen Taylor said she doesn’t think the development will have enough parking and it’s not safe to back out of her driveway if a car is parked on the street. She also enjoys spending time outside in her yard and is concerned about noise from the rooftop.

Traffic was also a concern for her. She said that while she understands most people will walk to work, as soon as they get home, they will head out in their cars to run errands.

“I think adding more traffic to our area will not be a good thing because just trying to get in and out of my driveway at times is very difficult, especially when EB is getting out of work,” said Benham Road resident Frank Jennette, explaining that traffic is backed up in both directions.

The public hearing was continued until the commission's meeting at 6:30 p.m. April 20 to allow the developer time to respond to questions and comments.

k.drelich@theday.com

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