By Nathan Lamb
GROTON — The 12-acre Station Avenue overlay district was established in 2007 to spur mixed-use development between Town Hall and the rail trail.
While that goal has yet to be realized, the town is now looking to expand that district to include the nearby Prescott School, a town-owned building in search of long-term prospects after being closed by the Groton-Dunstable School district last year.
The Board of Selectmen gave a unanimous endorsement of expanding the overlay district Monday night, with the understanding it would look to the Planning Board to bring forward the proposal for a Town Meeting vote at some point in 2010.
“I think the Planning Board needs to be the lead on this to make sure it’s done correctly,” said Selectman Josh Degen, after the meeting. “At this point, the ball is in their court.”
Possible expansion of the district has been a recurring theme in Groton since the town received no takers this fall on a Request for Proposal for mixed-use redevelopment of the 3.25 acre Groton Electrical Light Department headquarters on Station Avenue.
Town Manager Mark Haddad previously advised the board that the relatively small size of that project led some developers to pass on it. After the meeting, acting Chairman Fran Dillon agreed that size was a factor in this case.
“I think the thought process was if there was a larger available area, there might be more interest in an RFP and developing that area,” he said.
Similarly, Degen has long argued that the current district — which is essentially on a dead-end road — isn’t appealing to developers and expansion of the district would facilitate a connector road between Station Avenue and the Prescott School that would improve traffic circulation for the area.
Another factor is the Prescott School itself, which is currently being used as office space by the Groton-Dunstable district, but is being targeted for some sort of economic development or renovation project by the town. The area is currently zoned for institutional use, but expansion of the overlay district would allow for mixed-use and affordable housing as well.
Finally, there’s the future plans of the Lght Department, which is considering expansion but is reportedly waiting upon the results of the town RFP process to see if it should relocate or stay on Station Avenue.
After the meeting, Degen said he expects that the Planning Board would be willing to take up the overlay district expansion issue, saying he envisioned a lively public participation process with the neighborhood, similar to when the original district was established.
Granted that a proposal is approved by Town Meeting, there has also been some talk of the Selectmen issuing another RFP for development of town land in the overlay district, possibly early as next May. Asked about that timeframe, Dillon said it’s really too early to tell.
“It could be by next Town Meeting, depending on the ability to get the proper input from the public, without trying to rush it too much,” he said.
The Planning Board was to meet at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.