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GROTON — With residents feeling that many of their questions remained unanswered, members of he Planning Board decided to extend a public hearing held late last month so that the subject of a proposed sub-division to be located on available property downtown could have a more thorough airing.

At issue was a request by developer Robert France to include a 4.25 acre lot at 134 Main Street in a new Town Center Overlay District (formerly known as the Station Avenue Overlay District) in order to take advantage of regulations permitting the construction of a mixed use development downtown.

According to town manager Mark Haddad, who attended the March 24 public hearing along with France, inclusion of the property in the Town Center Overlay District was needed because mixed use residential/commercial development is not permitted under the town’s current zoning bylaws.

“This is an opportunity for the town to embrace a new community in the center of town,” said France of his plan to construct a total of 7 buildings of single, two and three family units on land behind an existing home at the Main Street property. “I see a need for a fellow like myself who’d like to stay there. In my mind that’s a win/win.”

France said such homes, a mix of market rate and affordable units, would be just the thing for retirees and others to move into who preferred not to maintain a full sized home but wanted to continue to live in town.

France’s plans have the backing of town officials such as Haddad and Groton’s Affordable Housing Trust which has already secured $412,000 for the creation of 2-3 affordable units in the development. Units needed to help the town meet a minimum requirement in order to avoid further Chapter 40b projects over which it has less control than it would otherwise have.

However, having the support of town officials does not necessarily mean that approval of the project is a shoo-in. Abutters to the Main Street property in attendance at last week’s public hearing were not completely convinced about the plan.

“In my opinion, this is not the best use of this property,” declared Main Street property owner George Wheatley who suggested that other venues existed for the creation of affordable housing including the former Prescott Elementary School building just up the street.

Furthermore, Wheatley pointed out a number of area housing units that included affordables that have been left unsold for months such as those at the Residential Gardens complex in Groton and Autumn Woods in Ayer.

“I think we’re going to have an abundance of unoccupied homes in town,” Wheatley warned.

In reply, France expressed optimism about the state’s economic future believing that the market will bounce back in a year or so and all such living units would eventually be bought up.

Other Main Street landowners like Carriage House Inn owner George Pergantis wanted to know why he and others were not also invited to join the appeal for including their lots in the new Town Center Overlay District.

Pergantis’ resentment was bolstered by charges that only some abutters had been invited to an earlier briefing on the housing project hosted by Haddad, planning administrator Michelle Collette, and the developer but not others.

Haddad explained that only those abutters who would be most directly impacted by the proposal were invited to the meeting and even among those, little interest was expressed in the plan. From that reaction, it was decided that others along Main Street would not be bothered either.

Collette reported that invitations to the informal meeting were sent out to everyone in the neighborhood not just abutters and could not explain why no one else had heard of the meeting.

Although last week’s hearing was not scheduled as a formal site plan review, members of the Planning Board did register concerns over emergency access to the property, its relation to the historic district, whether there would be any units for rent, the number and location of affordables, parking, lighting, internal pedestrian traffic flow, and specifications for the roadway which is being planned as a private way.

But due to the feeling that abutters had more questions to ask and that others not present might want to hear more, board members decided to extend the public hearing until their meeting this week (April 7) before making a decision to include the property within the Town Center Overlay District.

Also, last week, board members voted to approve a site plan for the installation of a new recycling building at the town’s transfer station.

According to DPW director Tom Delaney, the 65 foot wide by 80 foot long structure is to be paid for through a Department of Environmental Protection grant of $50,000 and will be in the form of a tent like structure of plastic stretched over a metal frame.

In exchange for the grant, the structure will house a bailing machine that will be available not only for the town’s use but for other nearby communities. Delaney told board members that the town should see a modest profit from the arrangement.

Its operations, assured Delaney, would have “a very minimal impact” on activities currently taking place at the Cow Pond Brook Road transfer station.