GROTON -- Not completely dismissing the possibility that a proposed new Center Fire Station could be turned down at next month's Town Meeting, selectmen Monday night decided to move a pair of dissenting citizen's petition articles farther up on the warrant.
The move would enable residents at Town Meeting to address the central question about whether the community should build the new station on land along one of the most scenic viewscapes in Groton.
To be located on land along Farmers Row, the new Center Fire Station is to include a four-bay garage and three-story administration complex with offices on the first floor; fitness room, dormitory, kitchen, dining room, and day room planned for the second floor; and HVAC and other mechanical equipment to be placed in the third floor "attic" space.
Cost of the 2.7 acre parcel upon which the barn-like building is to be constructed has been set at $350,000 with a final price tag for the fire station building itself estimated at $7.5 million.
But since plans began to gel for the Farmers Row location, resistance has grown among some local residents fearful that the facility would be harmful to their neighborhood.
Alarmed, Broadmeadow Road resident Alix Chace began a campaign to halt the momentum of the project by raising awareness about it among her neighbors. The effort has resulted in a pair of citizen's petition articles to be included on the warrant for the upcoming town meeting.
In one, residents will be asked to take back a decision made at the prior spring Town Meeting that gave permission for the purchase of the Farmers Row property from the Lawrence Homestead Trust at a cost of $350,000.
A second article will ask residents simply to register their opposition against any construction of a fire station at the Farmers Row property. Reason given to oppose the project was "due to the negative impact the construction of such station will have on the character of the town and its potential to destroy open space proximal to the town center." Instead, the measure suggests that a permanent conservation restriction be placed over the land.
The two articles came up for discussion at the board's meeting of Sept. 10 when selectmen met with members of the Finance Committee to review 26 articles that voters will be asked to consider next month.
Two of those also involved the proposed fire station, asking residents to amend the town code to rezone the Farmers Row parcel from residential-agricultural to public use and another seeking permission to connect the parcel with the town's sewer system.
But when the subject of the two petition articles was brought up, Town Manager Mark Haddad suggested that it might be more appropriate to move the town's articles to the end of the warrant, following the petition articles. Haddad reasoned that it would make little sense to consider the town's articles if, in the end, the petition articles succeeded in having the whole project derailed.
However, considering the importance of the whole fire station issue and the likelihood that it would draw a big crowd at town meeting, selectmen thought it would be more appropriate not to move the town's articles down but to move the petition articles up so that the whole subject could be addressed earlier in the evening.
Thus, on Oct.15, the night of Town Meeting, the issue of the proposed fire station will follow immediately after a number of budgeting articles, a few measures dealing with the establishment of a Lost Lake Sewer District, and the annual allocation of CPC funding (Community Preservation Committee).
Other articles on the warrant will ask voters for:
-- Permission to create an affordable housing revolving fund not to exceed $50,000.
-- Permission to appropriate an as yet undetermined sum for repair of the septic system at Squannacook Hall.
-- Permission to appropriate between $650,000 and $850,000 to pay for surveying, engineering, and permitting needed to replace the 115-year old-Fitch's Bridge.
-- Consider a citizen's petition seeking to amend the zoning bylaw to allow for housing for agricultural laborers in town.
-- Approve the use of monies in the Conservation Fund for the purchase of 49 acres currently owned by Susan Walker and another 59 acres owned by Marjorie Cox located off Chicopee row.
At a cost of $716,000 the land is expected to be paid for with the help of a state grant that will cover up to 60 percent of the total.