GROTON -- By all accounts, an open house held on a recent Saturday afternoon at Boynton Meadows subdivision now rising off 134 Main St. was a rousing success for all those concerned, including developer Robert France.
"This is a great showing," beamed France. He was looking over the steady stream of visitors and well-wishers stepping onto the shady common area connecting an existing building fronting Main Street and a new addition constructed in the rear.
"The completion of phase one of the project has been very fulfilling to me in a lot of ways," he said. "First, Maugel Architecture did a great job in designing the buildings, and, second, the input of the town's committees and boards, the Historic Districts Commission, in particular, were extremely helpful in maintaining their historic integrity. I'm very proud of that and in creating a space that people will want to come to visit and live."
Begun last year after a lengthy review process, Boynton Meadows was finally approved with 15 market-rate residential units and three affordables. The latter was made possible by the Board of Selectmen and the town's Affordable Housing Trust, which arranged to loan France $412,000 in return for creation of the affordable-housing units, one of which was among the three living units in phase one, on display Sept. 7.
In addition to the residential units, the completed buildings also feature a number of commercial spaces as well, including Bliss Bakery and Buddha Nest Yoga, located at the front of the building facing Main Street, and optometrist and dentist's offices in the rear addition, all on the ground floor.
Another tenant, a 100-seat restaurant, is scheduled to move into the building's basement area in coming weeks.
"I occupied different locations while waiting for this unit to be completed," commented Buddha Nest Yoga owner Anne Dries, who welcomed visitors to her studio during the open house. "As a resident of Groton, I like the idea of how this project adds vibrancy to the downtown and gives more options for the people who live here. This building is such an historic structure that when it was ready for occupancy, I just had to check it out."
"We decided to locate here in the early stages of the project," said Bliss Bakery owner Sherry Dean of her and husband Dave's decision to move in. "So we were able to work with the developer from the beginning to make sure everything was perfect. I love the space and how much light we get from all the windows and porch area and being at the front of the building."
Dean said she was encouraged by the number of visitors at the open house and planned to expand her line of bakery goods.
"I'm pleased at how the whole thing has turned out," said an admiring Anna Eliot, member of the Board of Selectmen. "It was a very courageous decision to take on this project and even more so when the economy was down. It shows what kind of potential there is for the downtown area and that other entities can share in that vision. I think it shows that there can be opportunity in a vacuum and that future potential can be realized if a culture of investment can be encouraged in our town."
"I am awestruck with these results," added fellow selectman Peter Cunningham after viewing the project. "It's very beautiful. I think it will revitalize the downtown and will attract interest in the Groton Inn site. It's all great for the town and a good investment."
Of the three residential condominium units on the second floor, one has been sold and a rear unit is completed and was on display. It showed large, sunny rooms and a pair of private porches, one overlooking the atrium and the other overlooking Gibbet Hill.
A third unit was still unfinished but awaiting the completion of a lottery to determine who will occupy the affordable space.
"I love it," said Fran Stanley, the town's housing coordinator as she stood amid naked sheetrock and dusty table saws. "I feel that this is going to be a high quality unit and very convenient for somebody due to its being so close to the library, cafe and shops on Main Street."
With the completion of phase one, France is preparing to move on to the set of new buildings. It will comprise the remainder of the project for which a roadway has already been partially completed with sidewalks and utilities installed.
In early hearings before the Historic District Commission, it was revealed that the first building to be constructed will be the first on the left as a driver pulls up the access drive into the heart of the development.
"We've already noticed an increase in activity in the downtown area including purchases and remodeled buildings," said France. "We think that shows definite interest by residents and investors and hope to see that continue."
"Location, location, location," said project sales representative Jeff Gordon at how quickly both the commercial and residential units have been snapped up by tenants. "This kind of downtown environment is a natural evolution of the West Concord center model."
That may be, but for curious residents who attended the open house, phase one of the Boynton Meadows project was not only an encouraging sign of successful cooperation between the business community and local government, but an exciting indication of what could be done to vitalize the downtown while at the same time preserving Groton's historic legacy.
"It's beautiful," summed up Jean Cunningham while looking over the airy atmosphere of the Buddha Nest Yoga studio. "It's great that they've kept so many windows that let in so much light. It's all great and gives you a real feel for the town."