GROTON — According to town officials, legal counsel has determined that wording in a pair of citizen’s petition articles listed on the warrant for Town Meeting may prevent them from becoming effective in the event residents vote in their favor.
The news was received by the Board of Selectmen at their meeting of Oct. 22, when Town Manager Mark Haddad told them of what he learned after seeking legal advice on the wording of the two articles which deal with a new Center Fire Station proposed for land off Farmers Row.
Haddad reported to selectmen last Monday night that counsel had informed him that the language used in the two articles was “not valid.”
The two articles in question have been sponsored by residents opposed to locating the new fire station along Farmers Row.
In one, residents at the second session of Town Meeting will be asked to take back a decision made at the prior spring Town Meeting that gave permission for the purchase of the Farmers Row property from the Lawrence Homestead Trust at a cost of $350,000.
A second article will ask residents simply to register their opposition against any construction of a fire station at the Farmers Row property. Reason given to oppose the project was “due to the negative impact the construction of such station will have on the character of the town and its potential to destroy open space proximal to the town center.”
Cost of the 2.7-acre parcel upon which the fire station is to be constructed has been set at $350,000, with a final price tag for the fire station building itself estimated at $7.5 million.
The fire station itself is to include a four-bay garage and two-story administration complex with offices on the first floor; fitness room, dormitory, kitchen, dining room, and day room planned for the second floor; and HVAC and other mechanical equipment to be placed in the third-floor “attic” space.
Concern whether language in the petition articles could be binding or not surfaced at the Oct. 1 meeting of the board with Haddad reporting back last Monday night.
What changed things and made the petition articles moot, said Haddad, was the subsequent signing of a purchase-and-sales agreement between the town and the Lawrence Homestead Trust.
Once that happened, explained Haddad, the town entered a contractual agreement with a third party that any vote at Town Meeting could not undo.
Noting that at a previous Town Meeting, 80 percent of residents in attendance voted to spend the money to buy the land, board member Joshua Degen insisted that the town did not enter into agreement with the property owners just to undo the petition articles. It had already been authorized by Town Meeting to do so.
Nevertheless, Haddad did note that if the petition articles did pass Town Meeting, selectmen would have to weigh whether the town should move forward with the new fire station or honor the spirit of the vote.
Residents will have the opportunity to consider the two petition articles themselves when fall Town Meeting reconvenes for a second session on Oct. 29.
No sponsors of the two articles were present at last Monday’s meeting.