Lessons of time

Facing intense opposition from residents, a developer is scaling back its plans to build apartments in the vacant former Kensington Grammar School in Berlin, Conn.

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Metro Realty announced changes to the plans during a public hearing on the project in May, but they didn’t appear to satisfy many who came to oppose the project.

A petition signed by 1,343 people opposing the plan was presented and speakers urged that the proposal not be approved.

Speakers described the area around the school, dominated by single-family homes and a church, as a quiet neighborhood with a lot of history. They said the apartments proposed for the school would not be a good fit.

“Destroying a neighborhood against the will of the people is not the way to go,” said Roger Peterson, who lives near the former school.

Speakers said they fear an increase in traffic and the impact that a transient population of renters might have on the area.

The school has been vacant for years and is in poor condition. Two developers have already tried to develop housing in the building and failed. The town does not own the property, but last year officials recruited Metro Realty to help development.

Metro Realty is proposing a mix of apartments, some to be rented to senior citizens and others, at higher rates, for young, working people.

Speakers said they support the senior housing but objected to the other apartments. Jeff Sager, a principal of Metro Realty, said that the project would not be viable without the market-rate apartments.

“I understand the sentiment that people want to save Kensington Grammar School, but don’t want the market-rate apartments,” Sager said. “The problem is that I can’t make that work. We are using the market rate apartments to save the school and eliminate a blighted, dangerous condition that is deteriorating rapidly.”

Metro Realty had proposed 25 apartments for senior citizens in the old school along with 34 units for younger people in eight new buildings on the site. Sager said that 32 market-rate apartments are now proposed.

Other changes include consolidating the eight new buildings into six and making them lower than first proposed. The new buildings would total 30,246 square feet, down from the 46,902 that was in the original plans.

Author: Ken Byron, The Hartford Courant