GROTON — Town officials took a step forward when they voted to accept the proposal of Burlington-based architectural firm Capstone Properties to redesign Station Avenue.
The 5-0 decision was made at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen and the Groton Electric Light Board of Commissioners, but it did not come without concerns.
At issue was a pair of proposals by Capstone and locally-based Beaudane Properties. Each presented designs for the development of Station Avenue at a meeting last month.
Beaudane Properties, represented by Steven and Joshua Webber, outlined a plan that encompassed the requirements of the original request for proposal (RFP), and suggestions for the continued development of the Station Avenue area that includes using property owned by the Buckingham Bus Company.
The Webbers proposed constructing five separate buildings on property owned by the Electric Light Department. It would be divided into retail units on the ground floors, and one and two bedroom residential units on two floors above. In follow-up phases of the plan, the Webbers intended to construct a depot-style building alongside the Rail Trail directly in line with Station Avenue and visible from Main Street.
The Webbers’ plan also included a series of land donations and sales combined with contributions to a school scholarship fund.
Keeping within the guidelines of the RFP, Capstone’s plan also included a mix of retail space on the ground floors of two large, brick-faced buildings with residential units above.
A single large building would be located where the Electric Light offices are situated while a second would be sited at the end of Station Avenue against the Rail Trail. A small kiosk would face Main Street and a small wayside station would be located at the end of the property for use by pedestrians on the Rail Trail. Between the wayside station and the retail/residential building would be a 5,000-square-foot restaurant.
Yet town officials’ decision come down to the profit. Capstone’s bid of $950,000 versus Beaudane’s bid of $500,000 to the Electric Light Department for the purchase of its Station Avenue property won out.
“I’m not impressed with either offer,” said Electric Light Commissioner John Bruner.
He felt the profit margin was not enough to make much of a difference in the Electric Light Department’s plan to relocate and build a new headquarters elsewhere in town at an estimated cost of $5 million.
It might be simpler to just donate the Station Avenue property to the town for use as a park, he said.
Selectman Peter Cunningham argued that any amount of money received for the property was better than nothing. It would keep the cost of relocating down for the ratepayers.
It behooved town officials to save the ratepayers as much money as possible, said commissioner Rodney Hersh.
“I think it’s time to make a decision,” he said. He suggested that commissioners consider knocking down the existing building and constructing the new headquarters on the same site.
In light of the different opinions, Bruner said perhaps it was premature for them to make a decision on the design at all.
Yet Cunningham insisted that the current site was too small for an expanding the Electric Light Department. The headquarters needed to go somewhere where there was more room.
However, there was agreement that major differences existed between the two proposals including the number of affordable housing units to be built and faithfulness to RFP guidelines.
“I think there would have to be further negotiations with either developer,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Fran Dillon. He felt the whole project should possibly be put out for a rebid.
“In a perfect world, I think it should have been a two-step process, but I think the RFP is more closely met by Capstone,” said Cunningham.
“I like the approach of the Capstone proposal,” said board member Win Nordblom. He cited the use of elevators in the design and a better management plan for the complex.
“On the other hand, Beaudane has a broader view (of the project). I kind of have mixed emotions,” he added.
“I think the numbers look better with Capstone,” said Selectman Jack Saball.
Although he favored Capstone, Commissioner Kevin Lindemer said if it were not chosen for the initial part of the project, Beaudane could still come in later when the rest of Station Avenue was ready to be developed.
With a number of options facing them, including simply taking no action, commissioners and selectmen voted on the very first motion presented by Bruner offering to accept the bid placed by Capstone by a 5-0 vote.
Voting in favor of the motion were selectmen Peter Cunningham, Jack Saball and Win Nordblom. Also voting in favor were commissioners Kevin Lindemer and Rod Hersh.
Bruner and Dillon decided not to vote in favor of the motion. Dillon said he abstained because he would have preferred voting for a rebid of the project.
Capstone’s design will next move to the town’s land use boards for review and approval with ultimate acceptance by residents to take place at a future town meeting.