GROTON — Town officials and concerned residents crowded the second floor meeting room at Town Hall last night to consider potential design plans for Groton’s historic downtown neighborhood.
The occasion was a town center workshop hosted by Planning Board consultant Peter Flinker who conducted a power point presentation detailing his findings after months of studying the situation along Main Street as it runs through downtown.
“We want to preserve everything being different, but still hanging together,” said Flinker. He was describing the peculiarities of Groton’s downtown section which includes a variety of structures and businesses that yet complement each other architecturally.
Flinker described this complementarianism as creating a “chummy place” that promoted a friendly atmosphere and encouraged “window shopping” among other pedestrian activities.
The presentation had its genesis in a disagreement last year between the Planning Board and its own Design Review Committee in how to interpret existing guidelines as they applied to areas outside the Station Avenue neighborhood. The guidelines had originally been created when Station Avenue was the sole focus of a new overlay district.
Things became somewhat more complicated when the Station Avenue overlay district expanded and became the town center overlay district.
It was soon after that happened that Robert France, developer of the Boynton Meadows sub-division, succeeded in having the project’s 134 Main Street location included in the new overlay district.
Suddenly, the developer’s plan to build a number of residential units on the pork chop shaped property required a number of variations from design guidelines originally meant for Station Avenue in order to work.
Although the project overcame some initial difficulties with other boards and even enjoyed support from the Planning Board itself, the Design Review Committee felt otherwise submitting a report that Boynton Meadows failed to meet some of the design guidelines created for the overlay district.
Faced with the fact that guidelines created for Station Avenue were inadequate for other projects elsewhere in the town center, the board determined to retool them for the new environment and sought funding for the work from town meeting.
Residents approved the appropriation and the board directed consultant Peter Flinker to prepare design guidelines that would cover the entire downtown area.
Reporting in Thursday night, Flinker said his suggestions had been based on input by residents who raised a number of concerns. They included traffic flow along Main Street, dangerous intersections and driveways, conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles, crosswalks, parking, overhead utilities, and the loss of the Groton Inn.
On the other hand, the downtown also presented a number of opportunities for planners including the potential for redeveloping Station Avenue and the Groton Inn site, renovation of Donelan’s Supermarket and the Elm Street “triangle,” extending and connecting existing sidewalks, improvement of crosswalks and the planting of trees for enjoyment by following generations.
As design improvements for the downtown area, Flinker suggested that opportunities for new construction and renovation be seized in order to bring commercial buildings closer to the street and confine parking to the rear.
Doing so, continued Flinker, would allow different parking lots to be connected across property lines thus restricting more traffic flow off Main Street where islands and dedicated lanes for turning and bicycles could be created for improved pedestrian safety.
After questions and comments from those in attendance at the May 31 workshop, Planning Board chairman Russell Burke expressed satisfaction with the amount of ground covered.
“It’s given us good food for thought,” said Burke.
Next steps, concluded Burke, was for Flinker to take his findings and include them in the design guidelines for the town center portion of Groton’s updating of its Master Plan.