GROTON — An affordable housing consultant hired by the town delivered his report to the Planning Board about town-owned land that could be used for future development.
In his presentation to the board last week, consultant Richard Heaton of H&H Associates identified a number of potential sites where the town could either build its own affordable units, or work with a private developer to do so. Two of the most attractive sites, which Heaton said he was leaning toward recommending to selectmen, were the Prescott Elementary School and land located off Cow Pond Brook Road near the transfer station.
The Prescott School received the most attention due to its downtown location, which has access to utilities such as town water and sewer and is within walking distance of area businesses.
The Prescott site also has the advantage of being big enough to build an addition onto the existing building. If the town so chose, it could expand the number of possible housing units there to between 30 and 80.
Heaton called the Prescott option “a fantastic opportunity” for the town and a “real asset” for the community.
Although the board generally agreed with Heaton that the Prescott site was attractive, board member Timothy Hess found the argument for it “compelling” but he regretted the loss of its historic use as an educational facility. Hess asked if some kind of mixed use could still be considered if the site was selected for affordable housing.
Heaton did not discount the idea.
Any consideration of the Prescott school as an affordable housing site would be premature, as the school district still holds a lease on the building that expires in 2015. Current thinking among school administrators is to possibly relocate the school district offices from the Tarbell building in West Groton to the Prescott, or to use Prescott in some kind of shared educational cooperative with other institutions.
As for the Cow Pond Brook Road site, board members said the area had been studied carefully when developer James Patierno had proposed building a subdivision on land adjacent to the transfer station. However, members felt the neighborhood was somewhat remote from the rest of the town. Still, the Cow Pond Brook Road site was not dismissed entirely.
Another attractive site that is also remote from the center of town is 11 acres set aside at the Surrenden Farm property, which was purchased by the town last year and set aside for municipal use. Selectman Joshua Degen, who attended last week’s briefing, said it was likely the acreage would be dedicated to the creation of more playing fields, not housing development.
For various reasons, the remaining sites on Heaton’s list were all less attractive than those of Prescott, Cow Pond Brook, and Surrenden Farm. One of them, the former Tarbell School, if abandoned by the school district, was remote, located on a small lot, and did not have access to the town’s sewer system. Multi-acre sites off Townsend Road and Lowell Road were largely wetlands.
In an earlier meeting with selectmen, Heaton identified four possible goals for the town in the creation of more affordable housing including to provide homes for those on fixed incomes, for public employees who currently cannot afford to live in Groton, for homeowners seeking to downsize, and (of particular interest to the Planning Board) getting the town out from under the shadow of the state’s Chapter 40B law.