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Spending $716,000 For 103 Enviornmentally-Sensitive Acres Would Deplete ConCom Funds

Monday night Groton Conservation Commission member Peter Morrison provided Selectmen with more detail regarding the ConCom plan to spend $716K for 108 acres of land on Chicopee Row using funds already set aside in their Conservation Commission Fund. These funds have been specifically earmarked for land purchases.

Known as the Walker-Cox land, this was once the site for the proposed new high school but was rejected because of the presence of the endangered blue spotted salamanders. It also contains a wildlife habitat and a number of vernal pools. According to the ConCom, since 2001 this area has been listed as a priority parcel for acquisition. The Commission's hand out pointed out, "The most recent Groton Master Plan (2011) and Groton Open Space and Recreation Plan (2012) confirm the importance of protecting this high propriety land."

Although the ConCom Fund will essentially be depleted by this purchase, the ConCom is seeking a grant from the state that would reimburse their fund 60 percent of the purchase price. This amount could be up to $400K.

What brings this to Selectmen's attention is the request for support for an article on the Fall Town Meeting warrant in which the ConCom is asking voters to approve the addition of $25K from the Community Preservation Funds to go toward purchase of this land.

At Selectmen's meeting a week ago, Selectmen Josh Degen and Jack Petropoulos both opposed the purchase, while their colleagues Chairman Stuart Schulman, Peter Cunningham and Anna Eliot wanted to hold their decision until town meeting.

At that time Degen said that the 108 acres of land were virtually unbuildable, with large amounts of endangered species and wetlands, and felt that state agencies and local bylaws would prevent any building on the property. He also expressed concern that there would be no funds left in the account if the state did not come through with the anticipated reimbursement.

Morrison told the Board that the $716K purchase price for the land was actually $9K less than the valuation placed on the parcel by their appraisers. "If we get the (state) reimbursement," Morrison said, "It will bring it to $2900 per acre. Is the land developable? Not for a school site but it can be built upon." Morrison said that there could be four or five buildable lots facing onto Chicopee Row. These would be ANR (Approval Not Required) lots and possibly one hammerhead lot.

Selectman Peter Cunningham stressed that at the "end of the day to go forward it is the Con Com's decision. I don't see a reason to not support it. There is one caveat - if you lose the (reimbursement) don't come back to town meeting for money." Colleague Schulman suggested inserting a contingency that if there is no money forthcoming from the state, that the ConCom not go forward. "I would rather not see the ConCom fund exhausted," he said. The decision by the state will not be known until sometime in November.

Resident Marion Stoddart spoke in favor of a contingency not being placed on the property. "It meets all criteria to purchase it. I think to wait for another property to come along is a mistake," she cautioned, adding that if the town does not purchase the property, it will be a real loss because of the adjoining pieces of conservation land and the connecting trail system.

Selectmen will not meet on Monday, Oct. 8 due to the Columbus Day holiday.

Groton Herald

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