Respler Homes exploring 'all our options' at Mystic Education Center property
Groton — The developer proposing a mixed-use village at the Mystic Education Center property is “exploring all our options” after the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission made clear its concerns about "overdevelopment" of the site.
While the commission did not make any binding decisions, it came to a consensus at a workshop last week that the town should not initiate a new floating zone for the property.
The commission, however, would be open to a zone change, such as to a rural residential RU-40 zone or potentially RU-20 zone for part of the property, Planning and Development Director Jon Reiner said. Those rural residential zones call for lower density than what is included in the developer's proposal and allow for uses including single-family residential, attached two-family residential, some type of age-restricted housing and similar types of development, and some business uses. It's up to the developer to look at the zoning and then determine how to move forward.
Respler Homes, selected after a request for proposals process, has proposed building about 931 residential units on the state-owned property and adjacent acreage the developer purchased, and turning the main Mystic Oral School building into the property’s commercial hub, including a restaurant and office space.
The redevelopment of the excess state property, located on Oral School Drive in Mystic and currently zoned as rural residential RU-80, requires a zone change, and the town has been working on targeted zoning for the parcel as the first step in any redevelopment of the idle property. RU-80 zones are "meant to accommodate one-family dwellings, agriculture and related activities, and other lower-density uses," according to the town's zoning regulations. In addition to a zone change, the developer would need additional zoning approvals, such as of a site plan.
Planning and Zoning Commission members said at last Monday’s workshop that while the site has opportunities, they were concerned about “overdevelopment” and creating a car-dependent development that is not located near services in town, and would create traffic in the area, among other concerns.
Commission member Susan Sutherland said the Plan of Conservation and Development and the town's zoning regulations are clear, protective and consistent. She said the conservation plan identifies the Mystic Education Center area as sensitive to development and a large project was not contemplated in the plan.
The proposal also has drawn concerns — including about noise, traffic and blasting — from neighbors.
The commission also discussed how it would not mandate preservation of the buildings on the property. Chairman Jeffrey Pritchard said that decision should be up to the developer, based on if there is a use for the structure and if it is cost effective or not.
The commission said it would not move forward with having the town initiate a special zoning district but instead will wait for the developer to make an application to the commission, Reiner said.
The proposed rural residential RU-20 or RU-40 zoning discussed by the commission would not allow for the current proposal for 931 apartment units, Reiner said Tuesday.
“The ball’s in the developer’s court, and however they want to proceed, it’s up to them to make application,” he said.
Ray Kehrhahn, consultant for Respler Homes, which has a purchase and sales agreement with the state for the property, said Wednesday that the development team is figuring out its next steps but remains committed to the property.
“We’re exploring all our options, working with all the different members of the development team, and we’ll put one foot in front of the other because that’s what it takes to get a project like this done,” Kehrhahn said.
He said Respler Homes created the proposal based on the parameters of a request for proposals from the state and town.
“It’s become apparent that not everyone was aligned with that RFP in the town and now we need to incorporate that feedback into what we’re doing,” he said. He said the developer needs to understand what the town, including the Planning and Zoning Commission, envisions for the property and then incorporate that into what the company ultimately presents to the commission.
Groton Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk said that though the developer has a development agreement with the town, it states that the developer still needs regulatory approvals.
Town Manager John Burt said Wednesday that there are no actions for the Town Council to take until after the Planning and Zoning Commission makes a decision on zoning.
“If there continues to be a viable project then, depending on the scale of the project, there could potentially be discussions on any needed tax assistance and for the lease or purchase of the Pratt Building,” Burt said. “My hope is that Respler Homes will be able to work with the Planning and Zoning Commission to arrive at an appropriately sized project that benefits the community, provides needed housing, revitalizes long defunct property, and enhances the character of the area.”