Respler Loses Lease on Mystic Oral School, But Seeks Path Forward on Development

GROTON — The State of Connecticut will not renew the lease of Respler Homes on 40 acres of the Mystic Oral School property at 240 Oral School Road, but developer Jeff Respler plans to continue to focus on requirements for the sale, according to a spokesperson at the Department of Administrative Services. 

“This is a DAS property which we have leased to Respler during the period which [he] is working on closing the sale through DECD,” wrote a spokesperson in an email on Thursday.

“We know there are a significant number of moving pieces and considerations in this project, and after discussion between our team at DAS and Respler, there was a mutual consensus not to renew the lease on the property at this time,” said Lora Rae Anderson, director of communications for the State Chief Operating Officer in an email.

Reached by phone Thursday, Jeff Respler said he didn’t know why the state was not renewing the lease but did say that the maintenance of the buildings had been a challenge.

“We got it under control and we got it secure. I think that was the biggest part — it took us like seven months so we were there almost every night kicking people out and I think now it’s a lot more secure. There was originally an 18 month lease and the intention was to secure the buildings and stop all the water infiltration and damage, and we accomplished that, but it’s a constant battle.”

The agreement, which allowed Respler to lease the property for one dollar for the term of the contract, was also closed out on July 1 rather than the July 17.

According to the Department of Administrative Services, the lease is ending early partly to allow tenants Verizon and Sprint to pay all of their July rent to the state instead of paying Respler for the first 17 days and the state for the remainder. Verizon pays $2883.82 per month in rent and Sprint pays $2884.44 per month.

“When we had the lease, they were paying rent to us and we poured that money back into the building. Now it’s going to go back to the state,” said Respler.

Maintenance of the property will revert to the Department of Administrative Services on July 1. 

Respler explained that his proposal for Mystic River Bluffs was in response to a Request for Proposal from the town for development of the property. His concept included the construction of a complex of 931 apartments, rehabbing the 100-year-old school buildings into office, retail and restaurant space, and renovating the Pratt athletic facility.

But that project hit an obstacle on June 14 when the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission came to a consensus that any changes to zoning on the property would be limited to small to moderate increases in density development. In that meeting commission also suggested that preserving the school buildings was no longer necessary. 

The new zoning limitations will require “a totally different vision,” Respler said in response to the decision.

“Now they don’t think to hold the Oral School in high regard and we’re exploring the options right now — they’re limited and we’re going to have to see what the path is going to be going forward,” he said. 

Respler said his group tried to be transparent about the project, but did not have the opportunity to explain the details in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the public, which he said resulted in negativity and misrepresentation. 

“They were talking about traffic noise and, you know, the traffic isn’t so bad based upon the traffic study and there is a lot of noise mitigation you can do. But we just never had a chance to even speak to the commission really. I think that the saddest part of the whole thing is that we weren’t able to because we never really had an application in front of them. We weren’t able to present the vision in detail and to answer a lot of the concerns of the neighbors.”

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