Lamont: State will not go through with Mystic Education Center sale
Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday during a meeting with The Day’s Editorial Board that his administration is going to stop the controversial sale of the former Mystic Oral School property in Groton for $1.
“At one point I thought the community was supportive, I understand not so much now, some questions about the developers, something we inherited and took a look at. So my instinct is this thing is not going to go forward,” Lamont said. “There’s the question of who’s responsible for environmental remediation. I know that was a part of the discussion as well here, and I’ve tried to be pretty aggressive on environmental remediation to make these properties suitable.”
“But first, Groton’s got to decide what they want to do with that piece of property, so I think we’ll be going back to the community for their insights,” Lamont continued. “Do they want no housing at all? Something more modest? Because I like to work with local communities wherever we can.”
When asked whether the state had already canceled the sale, Lamont said the state is not going to go through with it.
“I think there’s so much dispute and potential suits in and around this thing, it’s time to put it on pause, and that’s just what we’re going to do,” he said Monday.
Respler Homes originally proposed a mixed-use development consisting of apartments, a commercial hub in the main Oral School building, and the renovation of the Pratt Building as a recreation center for town use, but the Planning and Zoning Commission made it clear last year that it would not support a zone change for that level of density.
A group of residents has vocally opposed the development and raised concerns about the scale of the project, noise, traffic, and the developer’s background which includes being convicted of four counts of conspiracy, a misdemeanor, in connection with his former New York plumbing business.
As early as last week, the state reiterated it had a contract with Respler Homes LLC to sell the property — signed in 2019 and extended last year — and the state Department of Economic and Community Development said it did not have an option to end the contract.
On Monday, DECD deferred comment on the sale to the governor’s office.
“Governor Lamont has directed DECD to terminate the contract for the sale of the Mystic Education Center to Respler Homes, LLC,” Anthony Anthony, a spokesperson for Governor Lamont, said in a statement. “The State of Connecticut looks forward to working with the Town of Groton on a suitable development that cleans up this site and restores the property to productive use in the future.”
DECD Commissioner David Lehman has said the state told Respler Homes that the state has a contract with Respler Homes, so if it sells the property, it would be to Respler, not another party. Lehman said the $1 sale price of the Mystic Education Center was due to the significant remediation and money required to clean up the property.
Jeffrey Respler, principal of Respler Homes, said Monday evening that his firm was ”surprised and somewhat confused by the announcement.
“We believe that we have a binding contract with the State and expect to close. Under the Purchase Agreement, the State represented that it had full authority to carry out the obligations of the Agreement, and that the obligations under the Agreement were valid obligations. The Purchase Agreement was approved by DECD, OPM, the State Property Review Board and the Attorney General’s Office,” he wrote in a statement.
“We will certainly follow-up with the State to figure things out,” Respler added.
Edward E. Moukawsher, attorney for the Mystic Oral School Advocates, a group of residents opposed to the development, sent a letter to Lamont and Attorney General William Tong on Sept. 28.
“MOSA urges reconsideration of any transfer of the property under the circumstances and intends to see that the statutes and our constitutional protections are observed,” Moukawsher wrote in the three-page letter dated Sept. 28.
On Monday, Moukawsher said Lamont’s choice is “a very prudent and wise decision on the part of the governor. The reasons for stepping away from this whole development … are so numerous that it really is a very sensible thing to do.”
“I hope put it on pause means that they go back to the drawing board and just eliminate the current agreement and any participation from the people involved,” Moukawsher added.
Moukawsher reiterated that all the commissioners work for Lamont and take direction from him and the agency that’s been involved with the sale is the Department of Economic and Community Development.
“He can direct the commissioner to not go through with the actual transfer of the property,” Moukawsher said about Lamont.
Groton Town Manager John Burt said in an emailed statement Monday afternoon that he had just heard from the state on its decision “a little while ago.”
“I am hoping to receive a copy of the letter of termination soon to review,” he said. “Since the Town isn’t a party to the Purchase and Sales agreement, we aren’t privy to the reasons for the termination. If the State begins another RFP (request for proposal) process for the property, I am supportive of allowing as much public input as possible to ensure all concerns are addressed early on.”
In January, Respler Homes said it has an agreement to sell Respler Homes to Blue Lotus Group, which has announced that it has plans “to bring forward a vision for an active-adult, independent and assisted living community.”
Blue Lotus Group declined to comment Monday.