GROTON — At the second session of fall Town Meeting on Tuesday, residents chose to approve plans to rebuild the historic Groton Inn while turning out others that would have renovated the unused Squannacook Hall into apartment units.
Action began with consideration of a concept plan by developers Chris Ferris and Richard Cooper to reconstruct, as closely as possible, the historic Groton Inn which was destroyed by fire last year.
The developers intend to replicate the former inn building as a 51,208-square-foot, 24-room hostelry that could also include 30 separate cottages to be constructed in its rear.
For those, a dozen units would be built over the area where the property’s current carriage house is located and be rented to tenants on a long-term basis. On the opposite side, the remainder of the planned cottages would be built in two phases and rented on a short term basis the same as any room in the inn proper would be.
Beside the new inn building, which would also include a 50-seat restaurant, a new carriage house would be built with a caretaker’s residence on an upper floor.
But before Ferris and Cooper could apply for Planning Board review, they first had to have their concept plan approved at Town Meeting and following a brief presentation by attorney Robert Anctil, residents voted unanimously to accept the proposal.
“We’re happy to get permission to start our project,” said Ferris. “We began with negotiations with property own George Pergantis way back in April of 2012 and now it’s starting to feel real. We are so very excited to become a part of Groton and are looking forward to a grand opening of the new inn by June of 2016.”
There was less happy news for developer Halsey Platt and his quest for concept plan approval for Squannacook Hall in West Groton.
Mothballed by selectmen months ago, Town Manager Mark Haddad had been tasked with finding a buyer or tenant for the property. A deal was reached with Platt in which the developer would purchase the 75-year-old building for $100 and installation by the town of a new $30,000 septic system.
In return, the town would receive a fully renovated, four-unit apartment building that would generate $10,000 a year in taxes.
The Christian Union Church next door had historically shared a driveway with the town accessing the back of Squannacook Hall and use of the hall’s rear area for church parking.
With that area denied them when the building was transformed into apartments, said church members, their congregants would have no place to park.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for a project that puts our church at risk,” said one congregant, adding that should the renovation project go forward, it would force $30,000 in improvements at the church which it could not afford.
Platt said the church had benefited from the next door hall over the years and that he was committed to working with it
When Selectman Peter Cunningham said the only other alternative to Platt’s plan was to demolish the historic building, there were scattered cheers.
But congregants continued to mount spirited opposition to the plan with Diana Fulreader describing how the church had become the center of her family’s life and a key part of the life of West Groton.
“This (project) would break our morale,” said Fulreader of the small congregation.
Congregant Carl Rodrigues said the church had not been properly notified that the town intended to sell the building, let alone sell it for only $100 and the free installation of a septic system.
With a majority vote needed, 62 residents voted against rezoning the property from public use to residential/agricultural. It was enough to stymie the 84 who supported it.
With the defeat, related warrant articles covering approval of a concept plan, installation of a septic system at town expense, and sale of the property were all postponed indefinitely.
According to officials, all of the measures could return at a future Town Meeting if further negotiations between Platt and church members yielded a solution.
Also Tuesday, residents voted to appropriate funding to pay for the design of a water-main extension and cistern installations in the Lost Lake neighborhood.
Extension of the water-main system into the area was deemed necessary by the Lost Lake Fire Protection Study Committee to ensure public safety after a fire last June on Boat House Road.
That incident revealed a number of problems in getting an adequate amount of water to quench the blaze.
Resident Val Prest argued for the measures describing numerous fires in his neighborhood over the years that left homes destroyed because of the inability of the Fire Department to draw enough water from the lake or up the road from the nearest fire hydrant.
But selectman Jack Petropoulos cautioned voters that should they approve the design work, it could lead to a further $1.3 million expenditure for actual construction of the project.
He was refuted by fellow board member Peter Cunningham who pointed out that the cost of the project would be mitigated somewhat by opening the way to bringing drinking water to the neighborhoods.
“I am not opposed to it,” clarified Petropoulos adding that all he was asking for was a more detailed study of the plan before funds were committed to the project.
“This is something we need to do and owe to residents of the lake,” said Cunningham, defending the work already done by the committee.
A majority of residents agreed with Cunningham and voted to approve the articles.
Town Meeting also:
Approved changes to the senior tax work off program bringing it into line with requirements mandated by the Internal Revenue Service. The major change involved an increase in the credit earned by participating seniors from $500 to $700 off their property taxes while also allowing them to have a proxy do the work for them if they are unable.
Approved an amendment to wording in the personnel bylaw that would emphasize the Personnel Board’s advisory and consultative capacity and allow employees to seek the board’s advise on issues. An amendment to the measure approved by voters would also prevent town employees from being appointed to the board.