GROTON — The objective of the Station Avenue redevelopment project is to avoid making changes that are too “scary” for longtime residents, Station Avenue Redevelopment Committee members said during a meeting with consultant John Mullin, who outlined challenges in developing the area.
“If people are afraid of change, that’s a fact of life,” said resident Steven Webber. “But I think change is good.”
People fear an “overnight transition” of Station Avenue that fundamentally affects the downtown area, said committee member and Groton Electric Light Department representative Doris Chojnowski, especially if the project being proposed has the feel of a “Disney World” type of development.
One reason for their wariness, she said, is that most people haven’t seen anything new happen for the better in any other old town.
“We have to be able to show that redeveloping Station Avenue isn’t simply an expansion of the downtown,” said Mullin.
“Residents have to see that it’s really a wonderful opportunity to create a pedestrian core that will bring a lot of people together for a long time,” said Dodson Associates landscape consultant Peter Flinker.
While some people may feel threatened by the redevelopment of Station Avenue, Flinker said if the committee could help them get past that fear, everything else would be easy.
“It’s not going to be easy getting everyone on the same page,” said Mullin, but the redevelopment of Station Avenue is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the town.
The group must find a way to balance the concerns of competing interests including the Rail Trail, property owners and electric light department, he said.
The redevelopment committee was formed by the Planning Board because of concerns that there are still many outstanding questions about zoning, traffic, drainage, density and the purpose of redevelopment.
The board proposed that plans to redevelop Station Avenue be set aside pending answers to those questions.
Many felt an approved plan to develop the site didn’t adequately address the lack of office space downtown, failed to incorporate Town Hall and the fire station into the overall plan and wasn’t pedestrian friendly.
As a result, town officials agreed that further plans for the area should be put on hold until a thorough study of the neighborhood could be completed. Residents were approached at the Annual Town Meeting for $50,000 to conduct a feasibility study. With money in hand, officials formed the redevelopment committee.
In the proposed timeline, a traffic study is to be completed by the end of January with hydrology, design guidelines and zoning issues to follow. Public hearings will be held in February and March with conclusions to be presented to residents at the spring Annual Town Meeting.
In the meantime, Mullin was invited to advise the committee on how to proceed.
Mullin isn’t a stranger to Groton. He aided the town in developing its master plan and the West Groton Mill.
During the Jan. 10 meeting, he surveyed those present about the kinds of protests they might expect from the public when the question is presented before town meeting. They include traffic, parking, density, aesthetics, the height of buildings, zoning and design issues, and the economic viability of the project.
Another problem is that the land in question is owned by different entities, said committee Chairman Scott Wilson. Because of that, he said there’s uncertainty that the project will end up being developed in the manner agreed upon by town planners.
Mullin recommended the committee first “get the facts” about such things as water and sewer availability and setbacks before moving onto specific problem solving.
The committee’s next meeting on Jan. 24 will be preceded by a day-long charette hosted by Flinker at which the consultant plans to meet with the town’s individual departments to hear their concerns regarding the project.