GROTON — While not drawing much attention, a number of specifically aimed advisory groups continue to quietly move toward completion of an updated town Master Plan.
Overseen by representatives of Community Opportunities Group, Inc., the Master Plan updating program reached a new plateau last month with a community forum that was held at Groton-Dunstable’s Middle School North building to give the public and municipal officials not connected with the advisory groups an opportunity to offer their own input into the process.
To help in gathering information about the town, the advisory groups were created by the Planning Board to represent different parts of the community including business, historic preservation, conservation, public safety, housing, sustainability, open space, transportation and recreation.
The purpose of the advisory groups is to provide information about the town and the hopes and concerns of residents to Community Opportunities for integration in an updated Master Plan, which is due for completion in March 2011.
With input from participants at the community forum in hand, members of the various advisory groups have continued to meet, assimilating the new information in ongoing discussions.
One of those groups, the Economic Development Advisory Group, met last week to begin review of a number of issues related to economic development. Framed in the form of questions, the points raised were intended to promote discussion and exploration of various aspects that encourage and discourage commercial growth in town.
“There’s a huge misperception that Groton is not business friendly,” observed group member and the town planning administrator Michelle Collette.
Findings by the group included both positive and negative replies about the town’s business environment. The positive attributes included strong public support for local businesses, the town’s single tax rate for both residential and commercial property, a record of support for the rehabilitation of existing property and an expedited permitting process.
On the other hand, the town is not ideally situated near major traffic arteries to make it an attractive site for industry, has a sometimes Byzantine zoning requirements and permitting process, is too close to the more-attractive Devens economic zone, has stringent sign regulations, limited public water and sewer accessibility.
To change that culture, according to the group, the town would have to consider revising its zoning regulations to make them more business-friendly and to create more business-zoned areas in town beyond the Route 119 corridor.
The strong presence of private schools and an active home-based business community create a sleepy, small town atmosphere in Groton that might discourage more intrusive commercial development in town. Efforts to overcome that inertia in the form of the redevelopment of Station Avenue and rehabilitation of the former Prescott School, if successful, could change that image however, the group says.
Also discussed at last week’s meeting was a healthy and growing agricultural sector in town, something group members felt should continue to be promoted. Related to a strong agriculture based economy is something called “eco-tourism” in which the town could become a destination place for sportsmen, bicyclers and for families seeking activities such as apple and strawberry picking.
On the other hand, there seemed to be a consensus that residents supported the idea of attracting more and different mixes of businesses to town as well as holding on to the ones it already has.
“We want business in town so people don’t have to leave town when they want to buy something,” said group member Steve Webber.
In the short term, many seem to have concluded, Groton, with business representing barely 4 percent of its tax base, would see little impact in new revenue even if there was a strong upsurge in commercial activity. As a result, there seemed little need to alter the town’s single tax rate for residential and commercial property.
For those reasons, promotion of new business in town should concentrate on sustainability and the convenience of residents, the group says.
“The primary goal of an economic-development plan is to provide goods and services to the local community, which will create jobs and reduce a dependence on personal transportation,” concluded the group’s list of questions considered last week. “Given Groton’s location, infrastructure, land use policies, and political culture the preservation and promotion of agriculture is another important goal.”
With the outlines of future discussion on the table, the Economic Development Advisory Group was scheduled to meet next on June 15.