GROTON — A project that many in town have pinned their hopes on for its potential to help in the revitalization of downtown while at the same time creating much-needed affordable housing managed to leap the first of a pair of historical hurdles last week when the developer made an appearance before the Historical Commission.
Robert France, developer of a housing project to be located at 134 Main St., appeared before the commission along with engineer Bruce Ringwall in compliance with the town’s demolition delay bylaw passed several years ago to prevent precipitate destruction of historic homes that lay outside established historic districts.
Although the 134 Main St. project is, strictly speaking, within the bounds of the downtown area historic district, the developer’s plan to tear down a number of structures on the property, including a large barn, still fell within the commission’s purview under the demolition delay bylaw.
But it was the barn in particular that concerned commissioners, due to its potentially historic significance. Other buildings on the property scheduled for demolition did not possess any historical importance.
The former site of a handful of small shops and other businesses, 134 Main St. is to be the location of a proposed 18-unit subdivision to be developed by France with support by property owner North Middlesex Savings Bank.
The project is planned to include three affordable-housing units within the 4.25 acre lot, a facet that drew the support of the Board of Selectmen and the interest of the Affordable Housing Trust, which plans to use $412,000 from the town’s Community Preservation Committee for a loan to France in return for creation of the units.
The overall scheme depended on expansion of the town center overlay district to include 134 Main St. which was approved by the Planning Board and subsequently supported by residents at town meeting.
Of the existing buildings on the site, four are expected to be razed without contention with only the barn, which was constructed in 1900 and suffered major renovations in 1974, under consideration by the town’s historical boards.
Last week’s public hearing before the Historical Commission was a brief one, with members having already visited the site prior to its meeting of May 25.
Characterizing the barn as a “hybrid” of new and old construction and long since having its “historical integrity compromised” by upgrades, additions, its roof being raised and finally having been moved from its original location, commissioners decided preventing its demolition would not be worth it.
Commissioners were of one mind in concluding that whatever historical value the barn building on the property had, it was not enough to warrant its preservation.
“I wouldn’t stand in the way of tearing it down,” commented commission member Robert DeGroot.
“It would be great if its beams could be taken down for reuse (elsewhere),” added commission chairman Al Collins. “But it’s not worth fighting over. The building holds no real architectural value to the town.”
Asking the developer to save any artifacts that may be found as a result of the removal of the various buildings on the property and to consider reselling the barn’s beams and bricks to contractors in the field of historical preservation, commissioners voted unanimously to permit the demolition.
With last week’s vote by the Historical Commission, the developer’s next stop will be the town’s other historic review board, the Historic District Commission. A site walk with members of the HDC is expected to take place in the near future.