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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    A look at Groton’s unused, town-owned properties

    DonMar Development plans to soon break ground on a 304-unit apartment complex, as envisioned in this rendering, at the former William Seely School (Courtesy of The Sullivan Architectural Group).
    DonMar Development plans to soon break ground on a 304-unit apartment complex, as envisioned in this rendering, at the former William Seely School (Courtesy of The Sullivan Architectural Group).
    Bellsite Development is proposing apartments at the former Colonel Ledyard School, pictured here on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day file photo)
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    The re-use of the former Groton Heights School, as pictured on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, has not yet been decided. (Kimberly Drelich/The Day).
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    Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series about how the region is prepared for a tremendous period of growth at Electric Boat.

    Groton ― Amid significant growth in the region and a major housing shortage, the town is looking at how to decide the fate of more than 50 unused town-owned properties that have been vacant for years, while involving community members more.

    The town is trying to be deliberate as it weighs future uses. They have created a Property Re-Use Committee and stopped issuing requests for proposals for the properties, even as developers show strong interest.

    Electric Boat, planning to hire thousands of new employees over the next two to three years, is a major driver of the demand, along with decades of slow housing construction.

    Some of the properties are already spoken for.

    A plan to build a 304-unit luxury apartment complex at the former William Seely School is moving forward, while another 65-unit apartment complex is proposed at the former Colonel Ledyard School in the City of Groton.

    The apartments are market-rate and not priced as affordable. The town’s 2021 affordable housing plan found that Groton “exceeds the state’s mandated 10% affordable housing threshold.”

    The town is looking at the former Claude Chester School for recreational facilities, and the former Noank School is remaining as open space.

    Some residents have pushed back against what they see as over-development of the town and want to be more involved as the properties are redeveloped.

    A Property Re-Use Committee delivered a draft policy to the Town Council this past week on how to handle the reuse of the properties, and Town Mayor Juan Melendez Jr. said the council would work on the policy next.

    Document

    Going old school for new housing

    Mystic Education Center

    (state of Connecticut)

    Pleasant Valley School

    517, 529 Gold Star Hwy

    William Seely School

    Mystic

    GROTON

    Groton Heights School

    Colonel Ledyard School

    S.B. Butler School

    Electric Boat shipyard

    1208 Poquonnock Rd

    Claude Chester School

    Thames

    River

    Groton City

    Noank

    Bluff Point

    State Park

    Map: Scott Ritter/The Day | Sources: Town of Groton; CT DEEP; CartoDB; Stamen

    517, 529 Gold Star Hwy

    Pleasant Valley

    William Seely

    Groton Heights

    Claude Chester

    Colonel Ledyard

    S.B. Butler

    1208

    Poquonnock Rd

    Electric Boat

    GROTON

    Groton City

    Noank

    Thames

    River

    Bluff Point

    State Park

    Map: Scott Ritter/The Day | Sources: Town of Groton; CT DEEP; CartoDB; Stamen

    Developers are interested in Groton’s unused properties due to growth at electric boat and a major shortage of housing. Shuttered schools and empty lots are among the 190 acres and 54 parcels.

    The committee found that the town owns nearly 190 acres of unused property housed in 54 land parcels, from .03 acres to 36.7 acres, across Groton, according to a presentation to the Town Council in March. However, the majority of the land — 89% — is in 12 parcels.

    Paige Bronk, the town’s economic and community development manager, said once the council adopts a policy and gives the green light to advance Requests for Proposals, the private sector is definitely interested in jumping in.

    Here’s a look at the properties:

    William Seely School

    DonMar Development of North Haven owns the 14-acre former William Seely School site at 55 Seely School Drive. The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved DonMar’s plan for 304 apartments on the site, said Jon Reiner, the town’s director of planning and development.

    An abutting property owner appealed the decision and cited concerns over truck and residential traffic, noise, fumes and light and said the site plan did not comply with buffer and other requirements, according to court documents.

    A Superior Court judge dismissed the appeal on May 22.

    Anthony Di Gioia, vice president of DonMar Companies, said DonMar hopes to soon get building permits and plans to break ground on the site within the next few weeks. The plan is for a 2-year construction schedule.

    Di Gioia said the apartment complex is geared toward Electric Boat employees, as the company increases hiring, as well as Pfizer employees. He added that the “luxury” building will have amenities, from work spaces to an outdoor pool, bocce court, and grilling stations. The former school site will have a playground and walking trail, along with parking spaces, that will be open to the public.

    Colonel Ledyard School

    Bellsite Development LLC of Manchester is proposing to convert the former Colonel Ledyard School at 120 West Street in the City of Groton, into apartments and build additional apartments on the 8.32-acre elementary school site. Bellsite Development Principal Member William Bellock has said the proposed 65-unit, market-rate apartment development near Electric Boat, is geared toward Electric Boat and Pfizer employees and to meet the overall demand for housing.

    The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing May 16 about the proposal, and continued the hearing to June 21. The Colonel Ledyard Cemetery Association, an abutting property owner, had some concerns about residents accessing the cemetery property, while the commission asked about traffic.

    Bronk said the proposed apartment complex would help with demand for housing from Electric Boat employees, as well as parking issues, since the development would be close enough to Electric Boat that employees could walk to work.

    517 & 529 Gold Star Highway

    PJ&A LLC. has an option agreement to purchase vacant lots at 517 and 529 Gold Star Highway, which the town obtained through tax foreclosure. The Town Council recently extended the option agreement by 18 months. Bronk said the developer envisions multifamily housing for the site and is looking to partner with a residential housing expert that will build the development.

    Pleasant Valley School

    Bronk said a developer was previously selected for the 17-acre former Pleasant Valley School, located at 380 Pleasant Valley Road South, but later decided not to advance the project.

    The use of the property has not been decided. The Town Council then decided to look at how it handles the reuse of the town-owned properties, so the redevelopment of the site has been paused, he said.

    Reiner said the majority of the interest the town has seen from developers in that property is for multifamily housing.

    Groton Heights School

    The former Groton Heights School, located at 244 Monument Street in the city by the Bill Memorial Library and Fort Griswold, is another unused property the town owns. ThayerMahan, a marine technology company located on Leonard Drive, had been selected to redevelop the approximately 2-acre site as part of the company’s expansion plans, but later decided against the plan.

    Noank School

    The Town Council endorsed a plan in 2020 to keep the former Noank School as green space. The Noank Zoning Commission last year approved a plan for the Groton/Noank Community Park and Garden, said Parks and Recreation Director Mark Berry. The first phase of the development of the park was proposed as a capital improvement project in next year’s budget, but not funded by the Town Council. The property will continue as open space, with a community garden.

    Claude Chester School

    The town is looking to potentially redevelop the former Claude Chester School, near Poquonnock Plains Park, for recreational use.

    Berry said the town is putting together a Request for Proposals for design services to come up with detailed plans, based on conceptual plans for two athletic fields and associated amenities, renovations to the parking lot, and a maintenance/bathroom building.

    Also among the town-owned properties are the former S.B. Butler School, at 155 Ocean View Avenue in Mystic, and 1208 Poquonnock Road, a former gas station, said Bronk and Reiner.

    Mystic Education Center

    Previous plans for the Mystic Education Center, a vacant property owned by the state, are not moving forward, and the state has not made a decision on its reuse.

    Jesse Imse, senior advisor to the Commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services, said the Mystic Education Center “is still state surplus property, and no future determination has been made at this time.”

    Interest in Groton

    Overall, developers are interested in a lot of the undeveloped properties for housing, due to the growth at Electric Boat and also a major shortage of housing in the area, which has not built a lot of new housing since the early to mid 2000s, said Reiner.

    Reiner said developers see a strong housing need and market in the region for new workers and an aging population and workforce. He said the demand is for all price points, sizes and types of housing.

    Electric Boat said in February that the company’s employment in Rhode Island and Connecticut is slated to peak at 22,000 employees in 2033, The Day reported. Even before the latest hiring projections, a 2021 study of Groton’s housing market forecast that Groton would need to add 3,000 to 5,000 new housing units by 2030 to meet current demand, Reiner has said.

    Town Councilor David McBride, the chairman of the Property Re-Use Committee, said the property redevelopment policy needs minor revisions, but hopefully once those are made, the Council will approve the policy. The policy then can guide “decisions on what to do with town-owned properties ― most notably the closed school properties which have been vacant and unused for many years.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

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