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Some Planning Board Members Bristle at Limits to Board's Statutory Powers

Consultant Peter Flinker of Dodson Associates, who was hired by Planning Board to merge the Station Avenue Design Guidelines with what will become the Town Center Design Guidelines, presented his recommended changes to a joint meeting of the Board and Design Review Committee (DRC) and a member of the Historic Districts Commission Thursday night. His recommendations were in part based on public input through site walks and open discussions. In general, Flinker took into consideration the 'walkability' of the center and improving pedestrian access. He also suggested the possibility of a left hand turning lane at the entrance to Station Avenue.

The issue of roadways that would run parallel to Main Street on the Gibbet Hill side and Station Avenue side was raised and Planner Russ Burke asked Flinker to remove the term 'roadway' and 'small streets across lot lines' and replace it with "connectivity whenever possible." This proposal for the streets was contained in the Guidelines section entitled 'Completing the Street Network' which Burke also wanted changed to a section now called 'Connectivity.' Essentially, this 'connectivity' would include access through adjacent parking lots. Residents provided clear feedback during earlier public meetings that they did not want to see a street or roadway running parallel to Main Street connecting the backs of property on the Gibbet Hill side of Main Street.

However, Land Use Director Michelle Collette said that the Station Avenue DRC guidelines that included the creation of an east/west street with access to Adams Avenue, Court Street and Broadmeadow Road on the Station Avenue side was still valid.

Early in the meeting Planning Board member Scott Wilson clearly wanted to rehash past projects and express his dislike that voters at Town Meeting make decisions on Concept Plans that require a two-thirds vote, limiting what he feels should be Planning Board control over what happens in Groton on concept planning and how the center of town should look. He suggested during the meeting that changes should be made in zoning to alter the Concept Plan approval method that could essentially remove the decision from voter control.

Collette advised that "voters appreciate their ability to vote on a Concept Plan. It is an expectation. The Planning Board cannot deviate from the plan approved at Town Meeting except for minor modifications. Whether or not they lock in the Concept Plan at town meeting, we have heard objections from the public who made it clear that they want to hold onto approval of Concept Plans." She suggested that they could make amendments on how to improve the process.

Wilson replied, "We need to define what a Concept Plan means, and we need to be able to alter it; otherwise why do we have a Design Review Committee?" DRC member Fay Raynor suggested that the vote at town meeting 'cuffs your hands' noting that "the town doesn't have the expertise to decide." She added that she wanted the "DRC guidelines to move beyond the Town Center Overlay District creating an overall downtown overlay district." Planner Russ Burke agreed that the applicability of the DRC guidelines should go beyond the overlay district to cover commercial and large developments in town.

Regarding the Concept Plan, member Tim Svarczkopf said, "We are not defined by the four corners of what was presented to town meeting. We should not feel obliged to follow it."

The decisions on the center of Groton and its appearance, however, are sole responsibility of the Historic Districts Commission that was created by Groton when voters adopted Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40C in 1964. Since that time, HDC has been custodian of the appearance of Groton center, and is largely responsible for retaining the character and feel of the town. Input and feedback from many public meetings stressed the value and desire for this type of preservation.

It is the purpose of Chapter 40C to promote the educational,

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