GROTON — The developer of a 324-unit apartment complex proposed for a formerly town-owned site received the go-ahead from town council Tuesday night to seek approval from the Inland Wetlands Agency and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Jason Kambitsis, president of A.R. Building in Pittsburgh, presented a plan showing six four-story buildings containing a total of 114 studios, 114 one-bedroom apartments and 96 two-bedroom apartments, all at market rate rents.
The Gold Star Highway site is about 18 acres, combining formerly two town-owned properties with two developer-owned parcels.
For the project to move forward, the project agreement required the town council to vote that the new concept plan is consistent with the original plan shown during the public hearings and RFP process.
However, the original concept plan from 2019 — showing 12 buildings — was put together by Lennar Multifamily Communities LLC, who are no longer on the project.
Councilor Aundré Bumgardner asked whether the agreement allowed A.R. Builders to take over the project without going through a new public hearing process.
Attorney William Sweeney, who represented Kambitsis said the the original developer pulled out and the agreement has a provision to replace the partner in that case.
The council agreed by consensus to the change at its December 14 meeting.
Sweeney said his client received subsequently written confirmation from the council, which released A.R. Building to proceed with due diligence on the parcels, including a wetlands delineations and survey.
“The original plan uses almost every square inch of the property. It was really put together without the benefit of a survey or wetland delineations or any geotech,” he said.
The new plan reduced the overall footprint of development on the property by decreasing the number of buildings, he said.
“In doing so we’ve been able to preserve a lot of woodlands at the back of the property and also to make sure that our stormwater design for the project is compliant with the town regulations to maximize the protection of water resources,” he said.
Sweeney said about five acres will be open space on the property.
The original plan was drawn as if the site were flat, but the topography is rocky and hilly, said Kambitsis, who also built Pleasant Valley Apartments in Groton as well as The Docks and 60 Mansfield in New London.
“We made a more compact space. We’re using less of the property and that’s because of the topography and the wetlands,” he said.
Councilor Portia Bordelon said she was concerned about the height of the project because she envisioned a 3-story complex like Pleasant Valley.
Sweeney said the original plan was “3 or 4 stories but the reality was they were not fully vetted.” Later in the meeting, when questioned by Councilor Melinda Cassiere, he said the number of stories was a “placeholder to show what could be done on the property.”
Town attorney Eric Callahan said he did not see a reference to the number of stories in the original plan.
“I think that the explanation that the developer provided — of how the concept, again, was proposed by a different developer, and how they have worked with the topography of the land to create a plan — that’s very consistent of what was originally proposed,” Callahan said.
Sweeney said that in the development process the first sketches are called “cartoon drawings” with an outline of the property and potential buildings added as rectangles regardless of the topography and wetlands.
“It’s when you get in there and you start actually figuring out what you can actually develop and the cost of it, and what’s practical and feasible plans like on this rocky and narrow piece of land, that’s when you get to plans like these,” he said.
The property abuts the Leo Antonino Preserve, owned by the Avalonia Land Trust, and the project may allow for connectivity to the preserve if approved by Planning and Zoning, said Sweeney.
The council voted to approve the plan, with Bordelon abstaining.