By Hiroko Sato
GROTON — Cap the number of new homes built at 125 every two years. And cluster the new homes together while preserving the rest of the land.
Those are some of the growth-control measures that residents agreed to include in the Master Plan when it was revised in 2000. The town was issuing as many as 110 building permits annually up to that point, and all eyes were on how to keep residential development under control, says Land Use Director Michelle Collette.
A lot has changed since then.
Groton now issues fewer than 15 building permits a year. With the town struggling to pay for services and residents looking for better quality of life, officials are now more focused on economic development, Collette says.
And, town officials want to hear your idea for how to make that happen when they hold a public hearing on the 10-year Master Plan revision next week.
The town is hosting a Community Forum on the Master Plan this Tuesday, Nov. 16, at Groton Country Club from 7-9 p.m. This is the second in a public-forum series that started in May. The Comprehensive Master Plan Advisory Committee and the Planning Board are looking to present a revised plan at the Annual Town Meeting in April, according to Collette.
First adopted in 1963, the Master Plan has gone under revision every 10 years, spelling out residents’ vision for the town. The existing version, adopted in 2000, lists preservation of Groton’s rural landscape and character as its top priority, just as older versions from 1963 and 1979 did. While calling for the town to remain a residential community, the 2000 Master Plan also stressed the importance for the local government to afford providing quality service to residents and protecting the environment and historical resources.
“When people participated in the Master Plan (revision process) 10 years ago, their primary concern was limiting building permits and controlling growth,” Collette said. “Today, what we are seeing is a real desire for economic development, particularly (development of) small, locally owned-businesses and retail stores,” Collette said, looking back on the first public forum in May, which drew about 100 residents.
As a result, the 2000 Master Plan kept the moratorium on building permits that was adopted in the 1980s under the “action plan.” The moratorium has not kicked in since 2003 or 2004, when the housing market began to decline, Collette said. To help implement the 2000 Master Plan, the town adopted the “flexible development bylaw,” which has helped preserve open space around new subdivisions while allowing each project to include a wider range of housing, such as duplexes, instead of only single-family homes.
These two policies alone have made a big difference in preserving the rural character, said Anna Eliot, who served on the Planning Board for 21 years before becoming a selectman in 2008. Master Plan does work, she said.
“If we hadn’t done what we did in the 1980s, the town would have been a different place today,” Eliot said.
Collette said the town has also worked to better protect wetlands and to create the Station Avenue Overlay District by following the 2000 Master Plan.
Selectman Joshua Degen, who served on the Planning Board during the 2000 Master Plan revision, said he did not see as many residents participating in the process as he had hoped back then. He wants to see the Master Plan to reflect the visions of “regular citizens, rather than those of elected officials, Degen said, urging people to attend the public forum.