GROTON -- With only a few days to go until fall Town Meeting, local officials opened the public hearing process last week for review of plans for the proposed Center Fire Station by the Planning Board.

As proposed, 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, which is located along one of the town's most scenic drives, has been set at $350,000 with a final price tag for the fire station building itself estimated at $7.5 million.

Issues dealing with the proposed project are scheduled to be taken under consideration by voters at town meeting when they will be asked to decide about changing zoning for the Farmers Row parcel from agricultural/residential to public and about connecting the facility into the public sewer system.

John Perry, an engineer for Dorn & Whittier, the architectural firm hired by the town to design the new fire station, began last week's hearing by summarizing the project to date finishing up with a description of a proposed retaining wall and screening between the property and that of abutters.


When Perry completed his presentation, Planning Board members took their turns asking questions with concerns that included setbacks around the fire station building, use and height of a planned training tower, connections between the fire station and the nearby Public Safety Building, interior traffic circulation, snow storage, and drainage.

Also on the minds of board members were traffic issues at the entrance of the site's driveway where it empties onto Farmers Row.

For that, traffic consultant Gary Hebert presented his findings concluded from a study of the situation.

Hebert somewhat faulted the plan's assumption that upon exiting the site in an emergency, it was assumed that all Farmers Row traffic would be halted. With that assumption, there would be room for the Fire Department's largest vehicles to make the turn onto the road.

However, if there is some traffic, a sharper turn would be necessary and Hebert recommended that the driveway entrance be widened so that exiting vehicles need not rely on crossing both lanes of traffic on the road in order to make a successful turn.

Planners, said Hebert, should also keep in mind a telephone pole and some trees along the road that blocked site lines.

Other options for the entranceway included either a traffic signal that would halt traffic in emergencies, or signage warning motorists to stop at a marked stop line when they hear approaching emergency vehicles about to exit the driveway.

On other issues dealing with traffic circulation, Hebert found on site parking and interior traffic lanes adequate as well as a lighting scheme that "as shown, represents a reasonable approach to retaining safe on site operations."

Overall, Hebert's report concluded that "the proposed site circulation pattern for the Central Fire Station is acceptable and that a sound circulation/access plan for the site is workable."

With issues of traffic and access identified as needing to be addressed, last week's public hearing was continued to a future date.

Also last week, board members reviewed a proposed amendment to the town's bylaws dealing with housing for agricultural workers.

The amendment is being proposed by the Agricultural Committee and is to be listed on the warrant for the fall Town Meeting.

Represented by AgriCom member Meredith Scarlet, owner of Scarlet Hill Farm, the argument was made that the town's bylaws needed to be made more clear and brought into line with state law which permitted housing for agricultural workers.

Once, housing for temporary farm workers or migrant workers was more common in town when large orchards and vegetable tracts were labor intensive and many workers would have to be hired during harvest season to do the work. 

Over the years, with the retreat of large agricultural concerns in town, the need for worker housing diminished. But with the rise of a sustainability movement and efforts to preserve and encourage the town's agricultural heritage, the need for worker housing could once again become an issue.

More common are barn managers needed for larger horse farms such as that owned by Scarlet whose experience in trying to find out whether or not the law allowed for resident workers in part prompted the AgriCom to look into the issue.

AgriCom Chairman George Moore has said that even though there is a right to farm bylaw, it is still difficult for larger farms who are obligated to put up workers on a temporary basis to receive permitting for housing on their property.

Speaking in defense of existing law the town's building inspector, Milton Kenney, suggested that no changes in language was necessary.

But with the Board of Health still needing to weigh in on the issue, Planning Board members decided to continue the hearing until their meeting of Oct. 4 to decide whether or not to recommend the measure to Town Meeting.