Note: Documents discussed below are available to read on the Document/Contracts page of this web site. Most are also available on the Town of Groton web site.
The Mystic Oral School was a facility opened in 1875 to teach deaf children to speak using a technique developed by Jonathan Whipple and further defined by his grandson Zerah. In 1872, the state of Connecticut started to provide aid to the school, eventually buying the school outright in 1919. As the school grew in size, buildings were added to accommodate increased enrollment. A nursery school was added in 1947. The school came fully under the state Board of Education in 1959. A senior high school program was started in 1970. The school was closed in 1980, and the facility was completely shut down in 2011.
Independent Assessment of MOS Development Potential
The state and the town worked together to develop a strategy for putting the property back on the tax rolls. In January 2016, the town received an independent assessment of the possible reuses for the property. This report identified alternative uses and discussed the pros and cons of each. They included senior housing, high-end residential conversions, hospitality/recreation, institutional, mixed-use, and municipal. In discussing the location of the property, the following was stated:
"The immediate area is a quiet residential neighborhood, which means certain uses - especially high traffic volume inducing uses - will be incompatible with surrounding properties. Specifically, uses that would induce new truck traffic are especially problematic.
The site is not located adjacent to any major roads and has poor visibility, which decreases the viability of many commercial uses that rely on foot traffic and visibility from major transportation corridors.
Access is limited to low-volume residential streets. Local roads leading to the site are poorly maintained and in need of repair."
In June of 2016 the town petitioned for a Brownfield grant from the state to obtain funding for marketing the site to potential developers.
In December 2017, the town sent out a request for proposals (RFP 18-25) for the Mystic Oral School property with a submittal deadline of 15 February 2018. The following proposals were received:
Groton Housing Authority Partnership
192 residential units consisting of a mix of luxury town homes and apartments, single family homes, market rate town homes, and rental town homes
Recreation and sports center
Green energy plan including zero emissions energy model
Restore/repurpose all existing buildings on the property
72-100 residential units
Facilitate the startup of 10+ small businesses on campus
All planned land development toward parks, farming, outdoor activities
Future 4 acre development toward condos, office space
Pursue green building certifications for all existing buildings
Pursue historic registry designation for existing buildings
Reopen recreation center to community and public services
Develop public parks and outdoor activities available to community
Proper purchase offer for property
Globe Developers, Inc
Establish 'New England International Prep School'
Private boarding prep school, grades 9-12, targeting international students
Utilize existing buildings
Develop land not used for the school into local residential housing after the school is operational
Respler Homes. LLC
725-820 multi-family residential living rental units
Rehab Oral School building (100,000sqft) for commercial uses
Rehab Pratt Building
Two rounds of evaluations were made using 4 Connecticut state employees, 4 Groton town employees, and two Groton town councilors. Between the first and second rounds, interviews were held with the two leading proposal candidates, Respler and Groton Housing Authority.
After the Respler Homes submittal was chosen as the preferred one, the following contracts were signed between the state or the town and Respler:
Sales and Purchase agreement with the state - 7 November 2019
Lease Agreement with the state - 19 December 2019
Development Agreement with the town - 11 February 2020
Fixed Assessment Agreement (taxes)with the town - 16 November 2020
Please refer to the 'Perspectives' page for a letter sent to the Town Manager and the Town Council concerning the background of Jeffrey Respler that has raised concerning among MOSA members
The ultimate decision as to the size of the development of the Mystic Oral School property rests with the zoning regulation changes needed to implement any mixed use of the property. The purpose of zoning, quoted from the current Town of Groton zoning regulations is as follows:
"Promoting the health, safety, and general welfare of the community; lessening congestion in the streets; securing safety from fire, panic and other dangers; providing adequate light and air; preventing the overcrowding of land and avoiding undue concentration of population; facilitating adequate provision for transportation, water, sewerage, schools, parks, and other public requirements; conserving the value of buildings, and encouraging the most appropriate use of land throughout the Town; providing for the public health, comfort, and general welfare in living and working conditions; regulating and restricting the location of trades and industries and the location of buildings designed for specific uses; regulating and limiting the height and bulk of buildings hereafter erected; regulating and determining the area of yards, courts and other open spaces for buildings hereafter erected; and exercising reasonable consideration for restoration and protection of the ecosystem and habitat of Long Island Sound."
Currently, the property is zoned Rural Residential-80 (RU-80), described in the Town of Groton zoning regulations as follows:
'Intent - The RU-80 district is located entirely to the north of I-95. Like the RU-40 district, the RU-80 district is meant to accommodate one-family dwellings, agriculture and related activities, and other low-density uses. New developments should strive to connect open spaces in order to maintain a network of open space and habitat, rather than isolated pockets.'
The minimum lot size for RU-80 is 80,000sqft (1.84 acres) and a maximum building height of 30ft (2+ stories).
It is important to note that the development agreement signed by the town and Respler specifically does not obligate any board or commission of the town to approve changes to their regulations due to the details of the development agreement. The Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission does not have to rubber stamp the size or complexity of the proposed project just because the town entered into the agreement with Respler in advance of getting approval of zoning changes.
A copy of the October 2020 Town of Groton zoning regulation document can be viewed from the Documents/Contracts page of this web site.
Request for Proposals
Respler Homes, LLC
The Mystic Oral School Advocates group strongly objects to the size and scope of the Respler Homes, LLC proposal for the Mystic Oral School property. It will destroy the rural nature of the area, with the potential to damage the local environment, humongously increase traffic, force the town and state to expand infrastructure and roads, and with no promise that the project will ever be completed. For what you might ask? Money. As the town council has stated in an op-ed in the New London Day, they are eager to get this development on the Groton tax rolls, theorizing that it will become the third largest tax payer in the town. The project will need to be fully fleshed out and completed to possibly bring in the hoped for top-end projected tax revenue. Before that, the roads and infrastructure upgrades needed to support 2500 people will need to be accomplished and paid for (not by the developer they say) and tax incentives will be required to support the developer if/when he moves through different phases of the development. It is difficult to see where the actual break-even point is for the tax revenue argument. For instance, tax incremental financing is being discussed. The Town of Groton policy paper on how this type of financial support to a developer is provided can be found on the Documents/Contracts page of this web site.The carrot in the deal for the town is the use of the Pratt Building at a cost of a $1/year. As far back as the late 1990's the town washed their hands of the Pratt Building because the foundation was so far gone due to leaching of pool chemicals into the concrete. Respler has only promised a 'reasonable' restoration of the building. What happens if they only restore the building so it can be used for storage and a few offices for Parks and Rec? No pool, no theater? What would the town think then?
Ultimately, the zoning must reflect the rural nature of the area as well as a desire to re-purpose the historical school buildings. Reasonable development that does not swamp the area is not an unreasonable request.
On June 14, 2021, the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) held a workshop with the Town of Groton Planning Department to allow the Planning Department to discuss/determine the Commissions' position on the proposed development by Respler. The PZC was unanimous that the proposed project was too large and unsuitable for the Mystic Oral School property and area. Respler would be allowed to make a presentation to the Commission, however it would need to be about how they would abide by the existing zoning requirements, not a presentation designed to change the opinion of the Commission concerning the original proposal. Click here to listen to the workshop meeting (audio only).
23 July 2021 - Please see the Documents page for the latest information concerning Respler LLC and the town and the Development Agreement.
17 August 2021 - Respler Homes LLC invokes the dispute resolution process contained in the Development Agreement under Article 12. The first step is an informal good-faith mediation, followed by a formal mediation, followed by a judicial proceeding, if the mediation efforts fail to resolve the dispute between the Town and Respler.
25 October 2021 - The Groton Town Manager authorized sending a letter to Respler to move the negotiations to formal non-binding mediation after failure to achieve satisfactory results through the informal mediation process.