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Groton Planning Board closes public hearing on proposed subdivision

Residents stay split on proposed senior housing development near conservation land

Renderings of townhouses for the proposed Village at Shepley Hill residential development in Groton
Renderings of townhouses for the proposed Village at Shepley Hill residential development in Groton
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GROTON — The fate of a 26-unit residential subdivision could soon be known.

During its meeting on March 11, the Planning Board closed two public hearings regarding the Village at Shepley Hill.

Pitched by Shepley Hill Capital Partners, the project involves developing a 13-lot, 26-unit residential subdivision containing townhouses for seniors over the age of 55. The townhouses would be sold at market pricing on land located off the intersection of Longley and Sand Hill roads owned by the McGovern family.

The proposal has been before the Planning Board since last September, discussed in two public hearings: one for the definitive subdivision plan of the project and the other for a special permit application for the project being a major residential subdivision. At the end of Thursday night’s meeting, the board moved to close both hearings and begin a final analysis on the proposal.

“I think it’s clear where this plan is going and what the intent of the public is,” Clerk Tim Svarczkopf said. “I think we have all the information we need.”

“If we make a decision, we have to be careful and precise,” Vice Chair Russell Burke added.

Though there was support for the project from the public at first, there was also criticism that the development would reduce the natural look of Groton and run through a drumlin hill located on the property. It was also concerning that the subdivision was next to Shepley Hill, which is part of the Groton Conservation Trust.

Earlier this month, the Conservation Commission approved the proposed subdivision. Soon after, the Groton Conservation Trust appealed the decision to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Trustee Bob Pine said the decision was made out of concern for the wetlands in the area and the precedent it could set for future developments.

“The trust debated this at great length and this is something we took very seriously,” Pine said before the meeting. “We’re not anti-development, but there were aspects of the decision that we felt weakened the environment, it was not being protected the way it should. This is an area of great environmental concern.”

Since late January, Shepley Hill Capital Partners have been tweaking the proposal to address any environmental concerns. These changes, which were relayed at Thursday’s meeting, include eliminating all cuts above 7 feet, an 80% reduction in street lighting, altering about 1,200 square feet of the 8 acres of wetland on the property and then replicating 3,600 square feet of wetlands after the work is completed.

“The team has been working diligently these last few weeks,” Larry Smith, Shepley Hill’s managing director, said. “We’ve experienced unanimously favorable conditions from the Conservation Commission and the Stormwater Advisory Committee.”

While some of the board members had questions about minor details of the proposal, they also didn’t show major objections to the proposal. One member, Scott Wilson, still stressed concerns he raised back in January about the land being “carved-up” for the subdivision. Paul Funch, a local resident who spoke during public comment, shared Wilson’s concerns.

“I’m just stuck on the idea that this is being developed on one of the three drumlins in town that contribute to the exceptional biodiversity in Groton,” Funch said. “Each one of those that goes away is another loss of the town’s natural heritage.”

There were some members of the public who supported the subdivision.

Anna Eliot, who is an abutter to the subdivision land, commended the developers for addressing concerns brought up over the last two months and saw the proposal as a best case scenario for developing the land.

A surprise guest of the meeting was Kim McGovern, daughter of land owner Hugh McGovern, who stressed the desire to put the land to good use and relieve her family of a massive tax bill.

“I’m all for the environment, but this can’t be on the backs of my father, my uncle and my grandparents,” McGovern said. “If you guys want this property, buy it and save the drumlin.”

After closing the public hearings, the board then moved to have Town Planner Takashi Tada compose draft approvals for the special permit for the project and the subdivision plan itself. The board members will be exclusively communicating with Tada while overlooking the proposal to make a final determination on the project.