SOUTHINGTON — The new owner of the former Lincoln College said he’s close to getting a secondary school to lease the campus on Mount Vernon Road.
Mendel Paris, a developer from New Haven, bought the 32-acre college property in May. On Tuesday, he told town planners during a meeting that he’s considering one of two deals with schools in New Jersey and New York.
Both schools would bring in a few hundred high school students to live in the dorms.
Paris is also working with a school to hold a two-month summer camp.
“We’re in talks now with multiple schools,” he said.
Previous property owners, aided by the town, unsuccessfully tried to attract a school to the location.
“What’s different this time?” asked Peter Santago during Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
Paris said he’s close to a deal and that he should have a school “in a short period of time.”Rezoning again
The campus’ previous owners made several attempts to return the property to use after failing to secure a new school. The residential zoning allowed them to seek approval for medical, rehabilitation, veterinary and other uses. Opposition from neighbors over the potential for a drug rehab center and hesitation from town planners caused property owners to withdraw the proposal.
Without a school and a way to reuse the campus buildings, the previous property owners then got town approval to change the land use to allow for age-restricted cluster housing. Their intent was to develop the land with Mark Lovley, a local developer, but those plans were curtailed by Paris’ offer to buy the property.
Paris wanted to return the property to its original residential designation and remove the age-restricted cluster housing zone. Town Planner Rob Philips said that gives him the ability to apply for those rehabilitation, medical and veterinary uses allowed by special permit in residential zones.Narrow approval to rezone
On Tuesday, the commission voted 4 to 3 in favor of rezoning the property as residential.
Christina Volpe was the lone commission member who late last year voted against the age-restricted cluster housing zone. She supported returning the land to residential at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I hope it remains a school,” she said.
Robert Hammersley, commission chairman, opposed the rezoning. He was concerned about opening up the other options that would be available to property owners in a residential zone.
“By not accepting that change, they still could do the school but it doesn’t allow them to come back and do any of the other stuff that’s allowable” with a special permit, Hammersley said. Paris would still need commission approval for those other uses.
‘School, school, school’
Paris said the best use for the land is a school and that’s the use he’s most focused on. On Wednesday, he said he was days away from signing a lease with a school tenant for the campus.
“The uses we see for the property, it’s school, school, school,” Paris said. “We’re going to get a school there on a long-term basis, we’re pretty convinced of that.”
Returning the zone to residential does give Paris more options, such as assisted living or nursing facilities.
“All possibilities are on the table for the future of the property, but we really, really pushed for the schools,” Paris said.Concerns about youth
Area residents had questions about what type of school might move to Mount Vernon Road but Paris provided few details.
Francis Pickering, a Panthorn Trail resident, was glad that a school, rather than cluster housing, was planned for the campus. But he had concerns about the introduction of high school students to the neighborhood.
“Is it for troubled youth? We really don’t know what it is,” Pickering said of the school.
He and other residents wanted the town to review Paris’ business plan before approving the zone change.
Paris said the schools he’s considering are similar to preparatory schools.
“This is not even close to troubled youth,” he said.