GROTON — Next Monday’s town meeting promises to have a full slate of issues that residents attending will be expected to weigh in on including a proposed new sign bylaw, preliminary action for the construction of a new headquarters for the Electric Light Department on Station Avenue, and the surveying of property along Jenkins Road.
The measures will be listed along with 23 others in the warrant for the fall town meeting scheduled for Oct. 18.
Of the 26 articles listed on the warrant, four will deal with plans by the Electric Light Department to build itself a new garage and offices on land in the Station Avenue neighborhood where town officials have long had plans for improvement.
The four articles come in the wake of the latest attempt to redevelop the area that petered out when the state’s economy slowed down and the Electric Light Commission decided against moving its headquarters to another part of town.
Since then, selectmen have cooperated with GELD officials to make sure the new department headquarters complex complements development plans for the neighborhood.
Part of those plans include reorienting GELD’s garage and offices on the department’s existing piece of land as well as two other lots currently in private hands.
In fact, two of the four articles dealing with the Electric Light Department will cover the possible purchase of those two lots from owners James and Shirley Downes each of less than an acre in size. One will authorize selectmen to acquire the land in the name of the Electric Light Department and the other will allow for the appropriation of the purchasing funds from GELD resources.
In time for town meeting, news from GELD is that an agreement has been struck with the Downes for purchase of the two lots.
A third article will authorize GELD to borrow up to $2 million to help pay for construction of the new buildings the cost of which is expected to be no more than $3.2 million.
A fourth article will allow for a swap of town owned land for GELD property upon which the current garage is located.
Also on the warrant, will be a proposal to amend the town’s current sign bylaw clearing up issues dealing with enforcement, oversight, size and shape of signs, temporary signs, and an appeals process.
Changes in the sign bylaw came after months of discussion among members of a Sign Sub-Committee formed last year. Meanwhile, the Sign Committee had already completed its own version of a revised bylaw that attempted to update existing statutes by closing loopholes and altering elements that members felt did not work.
Areas of the bylaw that had presented the Sign Committee with special difficulty included temporary signage and rules governing sign design and placement at such commercial developments as the Shaws plaza and Mill Run.
Other concerns included control over the size, shape, and color of temporary signs, a problem that was identified as having gone out of control in town; the definition of what exactly was meant by a “temporary sign;” the proliferation of political signs; enforcement; and simplifying the existing bylaw.
In refashioning the bylaw, sub-committee members managed to reduce wordage from 22 pages to 8 and placed review responsibility under the town’s land use office.
The warrant will also include a last minute addition seeking residents’ support for the appropriation of funds to cover the cost of surveying land off Jenkins Road to find out once and for all if an easement controlled by the town leading to Fitch’s Bridge has been washed away as an abutter claims.
For years, landowner Al Friedrich had prevented public access along the Nashua River to the bridge claiming that the town’s easement had been extinguished. For almost as long, the town has tried to deal with Friedrich on the issue but without any cooperation from the land owner, the question has never been resolved.
The only way, say officials, to find out once and for all if the easement still exists is to conduct a survey of the area and if the findings support the town, selectmen may ask the state’s land court for a summary judgment on the issue.
Residents will also be asked to consider a number of measures addressing the difficulties some homeowners may have in paying property taxes due to the slumping economy. Articles giving deferrals based on hardship cases including those of active members of the military and amnesty for others allowing payment of back taxes without accrued interest.
Other measures will address ongoing efforts to construct a wastewater treatment system in the Lost Lake neighborhoods.
With the recent completion of an income survey and the expectation that results will confirm that the town qualifies for state and federal grant money, the articles will authorize selectmen to appropriate funds to pay for applications to the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust and the US Department of Agriculture Rural Development program for the grants and for preliminary design work for the new sewer system.
Other articles, if passed, would:
* Authorize selectmen to petition the state legislature to make changes in the law that will permit local governments to set insurance rates for municipal employees without the need to negotiate with unions.
* Authorize selectmen to sell or lease the former Tarbell School in West Groton.
* Appropriate $20,000 from the Community Preservation fund for the Parks Commission to pay for the application and property appraisal for the possible purchase of 15.5 acres of land on Cow Pond Brook Road and adjacent to the town’s DPW garage. If acquired, the land would be used for the creation of multi-use playing fields.
* Approve an 8 month budget for the Groton Country Club needed to keep operations going after the dissolution of the Country Club Authority. With the end of the Authority, administration of the Country Club will pass into the hands of the town and a new budget needs to be set to pay for operations until the end of the current fiscal year in June of 2011. Club officials estimated that $336,450 will be available to cover costs until that time. However, Haddad told selectmen that should an offer from a private company to take over operation of the Club be accepted by the town before town meeting, the article could be withdrawn from consideration by the public.
* Approve the purchase by the Conservation Commission of a 52 acre parcel located off Old Dunstable Road and currently owned by the New England Forestry Foundation. Acquisition of the property would add it to the town’s stock of open land while adding protection to a public well site at Baddacook Pond. However, selectmen Monday night were unconvinced calling the purchase “not a priority” and chose not to recommend its passage to voters at town meeting.
* Raise the percentage the town pays for health care premiums for the surviving spouses of town employees from 50 to 65 percent.
* Allow the town to adopt a temporary tax amnesty program for delinquent or struggling property owners who would be permitted to pay the taxes they owe without the accrued interest. The program would only effect real estate taxes that have been assessed between the years 1994 and 2004.