The fire that destroyed the Groton Inn cost Groton a vital part of its history, but the full history of this property is not yet written.
The inn was built as a focal point of the town center. At that time the inn was the most important building (other than the Parish House) so its location there was not an accident.
In that place it set the character of the town for hundreds of years. What happens next on that property may be essential in setting the character of our town into the future.
The inn property is, of course, private and what happens next is not our choice. But it is in everyone’s interest, especially for Mr. Pergantis, to begin exploring what can and should happen there next.
I am writing to discuss my own thoughts about this property, but more importantly to encourage the Planning Board to begin a process of considering the possibilities, including physical design and how to integrate circulation and use with the abutting properties. Mostly, there needs to be a process to define the town’s best interests. I think that hiring professional assistance is essential.
The Planning Board did this kind of study with Station Avenue and I think this approach is even more important now.
There are limited good options for change within the town center as a whole. Significant changes to most properties would degrade the character of the center. The architecture of many of the buildings is essential to that character, but so is the landscape. The spaces between buildings and the occasional views beyond create the overall sense of place and help define that character.
We must be cautious of change and we must retain control, but we must be sure to carefully consider our occasional opportunities for significant change when they arise.
Several years ago, when GELD was looking to move from its property, the Town embarked on studying the Station Ave area since an opportunity for change had presented itself. Under the Planning Board’s guidance the town created a plan for that area. That plan does not apply to the Inn property. We need a plan tailored specifically to the Inn’s location.
It is useful to contrast the Station Avenue area with the Groton Inn property. It was my belief when the Station Avenue plan was created that its retail component was marginally possible. Retail development located off of main thoroughfares seldom succeeds except when there is existing pedestrian activity, such as in Concord or Lexington. There are many failures of this strategy.
The physical design of the Station Avenue Plan, with retail located directly at the terminus of the street gave it a chance. However, when GELD decided to stay, the viability of commercial development, other than a few small local shops was eliminated. I think that believing that a commercial developer will invest in the Station Avenue area now is naive.
On the other hand, the Groton Inn property has excellent visibility and exposure as well as the presence of nearby existing retail stores. It is also near higher density housing both at 134 Main St. and Petapawag Place. It is my belief that this may be the one location in the center where significant retail development is likely to succeed. From a commercial developer’s perspective it is certainly a much better location than Station Ave. If the Town does want to expand retail use, this is the time to explore that possibility.
Other viable uses also have been mentioned for the future of the Inn property and those should also be considered before any plan moves forward. It is my belief that high density housing with a sprinkling of retail space is likely to have the highest economic return today but I doubt that it is the best long term plan from the Town’s perspective. Without clear direction from the town, a proposal for such a plan (which would require zoning change) may come forward. But before any plan gains momentum, we need to think about what is best for the future of our Town and how to make that both a reality for the town and a benefit to Mr. Pergantis.