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Groton selectmen discuss safety, parking spaces downtown


GROTON — Concerns over pedestrian safety drove a renewed discussion about downtown traffic at a selectmen’s meeting Monday.

According to DPW Director Tom Delaney, the issue had been in the air, with ongoing Planning Board discussions relating to its complete street designs.

“This has always been a controversial area,” Delaney told selectmen after briefing them on what options were available for what could be done along Main Street to improve safety.

Main Street is also designated as state Route 113.

Delaney said that what was being discussed did not include striping for parking but only what could be done for safety purposes, such as creating more crosswalks and holding lines that would keep parking away from corners at intersections, hydrants and crosswalks.

But even with those restrictions, Delaney said, a certain number of existing parking spaces would be lost due to minimum distances required, something that town officials have always taken pains to preserve as they are desperately needed by local businesses and already in short supply along Main Street.

Delaney said there was little room for improvisation due to the fact that he had to comply with uniform federal standards for street striping and painting.

“It’s not as easy as just going out to paint them,” Delaney said.

Member Stuart Schulman asked if the town was in violation of the law since it currently had little striping.

Delaney and Police Chief Donald Palma were unsure but Palma said not being in compliance could potentially pose problems for his department when parking tickets were issued.

Resident Bud Robertson spoke in favor of preserving as many parking spaces along Main Street as possible.

Acknowledging the need for safety as well as the presence of heavy traffic at times along Main Street, Robertson said if pedestrians were careful, they should have no problems crossing the street.

Town Planner Michelle Collette told the board there were handicapped residents in town for whom crossing a street was no easy matter.

Concerned about safety and not wishing to see individual parking spaces marked out with striping, selectmen considered a number of alternatives for Main Street, including more crosswalks and “bump-outs” at existing crosswalks that would allow pedestrians to stand farther out from the sidewalk safely, where motorists could more easily see them.

Collette said plans existed for improvements to the intersection of Station Avenue and Main Street. The plans had been prepared as part of planned upgrades to Station Avenue and included bump-outs on Main Street.

Those plans could be dusted off and implemented experimentally to see if they worked. If they did, they could then be applied elsewhere along the street.

Selectmen agreed and urged Delaney and Palma to study the question further in light of subjects raised at the meeting and to continue a general discussion at a future date.

Also Monday, selectmen agreed to take the issue of what to do with the former Prescott Elementary School building back to square one.

Town officials were forced to that conclusion when only a single response was received from a request for proposals seeking developers interested in turning the historic structure into a hostelry. That firm pulled out after it learned the building presented too small a project for it.

Town Manager Mark Haddad told the board that the firm recommended the town seek the advice of a market analyst to find out if a hostelry made sense. One consultant said turning the Prescott building into a hotel or bed and breakfast was not feasible as it could not generate enough business during off-peak months.

Haddad said currently the plan is to put the redevelopment project back out to bid, but this time, with no specific instructions as to what the town wanted.

In the meantime, the Prescott Re-Use Committee would investigate other avenues of development, including whether the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District intended to keep some of its offices in the building.

Though there was a preference for some kind of commercial activity for the building to help revitalize the downtown, Schulman thought housing should not be excluded from consideration, citing many residents who would be interested in modestly priced units.

Member Anna Eliot noted that a balance between commercial and housing space was needed.

Selectmen also:

* Voted to ratify the appointment of Hannah Moler as assistant treasurer/collector in training.

* Voted to approve a charge for the new Green Communities Act Research Committee. The state law was created to establish a Green Communities Division to recruit towns and cities into a program intended to promote “energy efficiency and renewable-energy initiatives.” If it joins, Groton could stand to receive up to $135,000 in grant money. In its charge, the committee was authorized to conduct a cost analysis to see what if any expense there might be to the town in joining, to prepare a warrant article for Town Meeting if the decision were made to move forward with joining, and to prepare a draft application for membership.

* Scheduled July 8 to meet to discuss and set their goals for the coming year.

* Set a date of Oct. 21 for fall Town Meeting.

* Learned that the Police Department intended to step up its security detail for the town’s Fourth of July fireworks display scheduled for July 8.

* Learned from Haddad that installation of the new Fitch’s Bridge “went without a hitch” and opened to the public June 28. “That project went really, really, really well,” said Haddad. A vote at Special Town Meeting last February approved the appropriation of $385,409 to pay for the removal and replacement of the bridge. The original bridge, first installed in the 19th century, had been closed since the 1960s after it was deemed unsafe for general traffic.

* Learned that work on an auxiliary parking lot next to Town Hall was completed by the DPW.