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Master Plan Public Hearing

"I think you are making a mistake. I have read the Master Plan. It took a long time and I did research" on many of the ideas in the plan, resident Scott Harker told the Planning Board at their March 15 public hearing on the town's new Master Plan. In particular Harker took issue with the use of 'sustainability' as overarching theme of the entire plan. He said that sustainability is defined as "the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of responsibility, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible management of resource use."

Harker stressed, "Sustainability is perceived, at one extreme, as nothing more than a feel-good buzzword with little meaning or substance, but, at the other, as an important but unfocused concept like liberty or justice. It has also been described as a 'dialogue of values that defies consensual definition.'"

In short, Harker said, "Sustainability, with all its definitional complexity, would seem to represent a form of fashionable, feel good, 'politically correct' idealism, that attempts to support, and drive us towards, a desired, if unattainable and unrealistic, utopia where three elements of life on this planet, social, economic and environmental, are, by some means, manipulated into a state of harmonious balance. Meant as a United Nations' international initiative, the goal of creating such an ideal world would require complete control of all three. And, regardless of scope, be it an international, national, state or local focus, therein lies its danger. It begs the two questions: 'How can all three be controlled?' and 'By whom?'"

He went on to say that 'sustainability' was originally a part of urban development and has become relegated to a "vacuous buzzword" that is devoid of substance or meaning and is so common that is has become meaningless. Harker added, "Few words have been used or abused more than sustainability.

If this is, indeed, the case, why is it now the motivating force behind the creation of our Master Plan? I think the Groton Planning Board has been, at best, misguided, and at worst, intentionally misdirected. I would trash this document, and start over, before it makes fools of us all."

Planning Board Chairman Russ Burke suggested that townspeople "keep in mind that the Master Plan is a 'guidance document', a blueprint that maps a future course. It is subject to the same approvals as laws and regulations in town." He cited the 2/3 vote required at town meeting for any change in zoning. He added, "The Master Plan is not pre-emptive, but guidance." Burke said of the Master Plan, "I like to think of it as a menu of items to look at, consider for further refining as we look forward. We want to engage the public to define and redefine the vision." Harker responded that by "looking forward to sustainability, you are looking at supporting a concept with no direction and I don't want to support a concept."

Selectman Peter Cunningham suggested that the Planning Board look for some specific goals and commented that "the Station Avenue vision and where it is now are two different things."

Planner John Giger said that the Board talked at length about a definition of 'sustainability', and acknowledged that it had a "high level of abstraction." He advocated for more practical action.

Travis Anctil, resident of Lost Lake, asked the Board about what could be done about the duck weed in Lost Lake and offered to help work toward addressing the problem.

Master Plan Transportation Committee member Bruce Easom,, said he felt that "messages were loud and clear" to connect sidewalks with trails; Complete Streets for bicyclists, pedestrians, and automobiles to work together; and the connection of a sidewalk from the center to CVS or possibly Johnson's. Burke added, "People want to see this type of connectivity and not rely on automobiles."

Sustainability Committee member Leo Lavedure told the Board that he applauded them for "using sustainability. It is exactly the right focus." He said that views that could hurt achievement of the plan are "disruptive actions for the environmental, economic and social [areas] and we need to get good at dealing with disruptions."

Giger pointed out that real issues need to be addressed, citing the Lost Lake problem with weed infestation. "I don't care what you call it. Focus on fixing it. The issue is real. The threat to the water is real."

The public hearing on the new Master Plan was continued to April 12 at 8 p.m. when the full board will be present to vote to adopt the Master Plan. The Board is sponsoring an article on Spring Town Meeting warrant asking voters to endorse this plan, but this is a nonbinding vote.

The Planning Board is still taking comments from the public at the Land Use Department. Forward comments to Land Use Director Michelle Collette at mcollette@townofgroton.org.

Groton Herald

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