GROTON -- At a third and final session Monday, Town Meeting approved a concept plan by local developer Halsey Platt to renovate the historic Squannacook Hall into four residential apartments.
The majority vote followed an earlier decision at last year's fall Town Meeting, which turned down the plan after congregants of the Christian Union Church next door objected.
At the time, church members noted they shared a driveway with the town accessing the back of Squannacook Hall and relied on the hall's rear area for parking. If they couldn't access that area when the building was transformed into apartments, congregants would have no place to park.
Since then, however, town officials, Platt, and church members allowed the issue to proceed with the developer once again proposing to create three, one-bedroom and one, two-bedroom apartments at the currently unused building.
The vote approving the concept plan was one of several dealing with Squannacook Hall, including the price of $100 which was also approved by residents, satisfied that a half-million dollar investment by Platt and the promise of $10,000 in additional tax revenue annually would compensate for the town's cost of installing a new septic system on the property.
Selectmen candidate Shane Grant objected to the planned sale as too low.
Board member Joshua Degen said it is an opportunity to take a liability and turn it into something positive.
Residents voted for authorizing selectmen to sell Squannacook Hall, and also approved a measure to rezone the property from public use to residential/agricultural and to pay $30,000 to repair the building's septic system.
In a similar move, Town Meeting also authorized selectmen to sell the old Center Fire Station building on Station Avenue.
In that case, Groton Center Farms owner Dan McElroy had already expressed interest in the property and, represented at Town Meeting by attorney Robert Collins, revealed his plans for the building if he was allowed to buy it.
According to Collins, his client would purchase the property for $100,000 and alter the building to reflect its original appearance before it became a fire station in the 1940s. Inside, the ground floor would be converted into a commercial space possibly selling produce and renting bicycles, and the second floor would become a residential apartment.
In favor of the sale was the Planning Board, which found McElroy's plan to be consistent with the town-center-overlay-district guidelines.
Collins told voters that even though they might approve the sale, McElroy's design plan would still need to be reviewed by the town's land-use boards.
Also Monday, supporters of an amendment to the town's bylaw dealing with a mandatory connection to the public sewer system had a scare when some residents voiced opposition to the measure prompting a vote to indefinitely postpone that failed by a single vote.
Sewer Commissioners Tom Orcutt and James Gmeiner and Board of Health Chairman Jason Weber told residents the proposed change in the wording of the bylaw would allow property owners the opportunity to keep their septic systems instead of being forced to hook up to any sewer line in front of their homes as stated in the bylaw.
"This sounds like a taking to me," said a resident. "I see this as a regular anti-citizen move."
"Right now, the bylaw states that you must hook up within two years," said Orcutt of the regulations.
Weber said with the new language, room will be created for property owners to keep their septic systems provided they can prove they are safe.
"What we're trying to do is strike a balance between public health and individual liberty," Weber said. "This is a pro-citizen measure."
"I think we're being singled out," insisted a still doubtful Barry Cunningham of the estimated 30 properties that would be directly effected by the proposed change.
Finance Committee member Robert Hargraves suggested that forcing people to hook up to the sewer system presented them with an "unnecessary financial burden." The former state representative thought the amendment needed more scrutiny and a "succinct rationale" and that a postponement would not be out of order.
A majority of residents voted for the article.