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    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    Respler Homes shares vision for former Mystic Oral School property in Groton

    Groton — When Jeffrey Respler, developer of Respler Homes, first saw the Mystic Education Center property, he intended to develop apartments in the Mystic Oral School building.

    But when he went into the building, constructed in different stages and with small classrooms, along with “nooks and crannies” and hallways, he realized it was not laid out for a simple apartment conversion.

    After thinking it over, he came up with the idea to instead create a “New England village” and style the Oral School building as a “Main Street USA,” with shops on the first floor and offices upstairs, and then build apartment units on the site. The 40,000-square-foot Pratt Building could be renovated with tax increment financing money and turned over to the town for recreational and community use by Groton residents. 

    Respler Homes was selected in 2019 as the preferred developer for the state-owned site that the town and state jointly marketed and collaborated on a request for proposals process.

    Respler outlined his conceptual vision for the property to The Day’s Editorial Board on Thursday. He stressed that his proposal is conceptual but he is open to having discussions with the town about the best way to do the project, and he expects the proposal, still in the early stages, to evolve.

    The Editorial Board is slated to meet with people critical of the project at a later date.

    Respler said he designed the community to create a vibrant, “live, work and play” environment for young professionals, as well as empty-nesters. He said large employers, such as Electric Boat, were concerned about a lack of housing for the younger generation, while the town wanted more housing for people working in Groton. There are a great number of people who work in town but then leave at the end of the day to live and spend their money in other communities.

    The project initially was about 750 to 850 units, but now is proposed at about 931 units. To address concerns raised by people, primarily about traffic, he said he purchased additional property for proposed roadway improvements and is proposing executive-style housing on some of the additional land.

    “This is our best foot forward,” he said of the vision, but said it is still conceptual.

    The town first has to get a text change approved for the zoning on the property for any development to be built. That would allow Respler Homes to submit an application, which then would need to go through the town approval process, such as inland wetlands and planning and zoning, he said.

    He explained that Respler Homes’ intention was never 931 units or bust, and he expects that number could change through the process.

    But he also explained that, even with the help of tax increment financing, the overall vision for the project calls for expensive investments, including roadway improvements, renovating the Oral School and building a parking garage.

    The plan calls for features, such as an area where there could be a bandstand for people to listen to music, walking and biking trails, improvements to a nearby boat launch, a restaurant with outdoor seating, and electric bike stands so people can take the bikes into downtown Mystic.

    He pointed out that as density would decrease, the amenities offered also would decrease.

    While the project was always slated to be done in phases, Respler recently said he is open to initially seeking zoning approval only for about 330 residential units and building that out before seeking additional approvals.

    He said Respler Homes is open to conversations with the town about the project, “However, we need to move forward; that’s what we’re looking to do,” he said.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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