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Lawrence Trust Site Purchase Approved

The funds to purchase the Lawrence Homestead Trust land on Farmers Row were approved by a 2/3 majority of voters at the first session of the Annual Spring Town Meeting. The intent is that this site will be the home to a potential 18,500 sq. foot new Center Fire Station. Cost of the 2.79-acre parcel is $350,000. The vote was 170 in favor and 44 opposed.

Jack Petropoulos, Chairman of the seven-member Center Fire Station Building Committee presented a detailed account of the charge given to his committee by the Board of Selectmen, the process they used for an in-depth evaluation of the three sites available to them for consideration based on a set of criteria, their work with the architect and experts on Fire Station needs analysis, the response times from the sites, the cost estimates for what he termed an 'optimal station', and lastly the unanimous decision by the committee to recommend the Lawrence Homestead Trust site as their unanimous first choice to the Board of Selectmen.

There were two other potential sites - both owned by the town; the Prescott School and the Groton Electric Light Department land on Station Avenue. Both had drawbacks in terms of cost, the permitting process particularly with any wetlands issues, and the inability to fit the optimal design of the station onto the site.

Petropoulos stressed that there are also drawbacks to the Lawrence Homestead Trust site, in particular the major change to the view shed along one of the more historic routes in Groton, -Farmers Row. In addition there are concerns regarding the effect on some abutters, and construction impact of storm water runoff.

One abutter commented that no one questions the need for a new Fire Station, but do question the need for an 'optimal size station'. He stressed that the Lawrence Homestead site is the most beautiful, adding, "it may serve the firefighters well, but I'm not sure it serves the community well."

Excalibur Farm owner Laurie Smigelski questioned the timing of the sale, noting that she and her husband hold a contract on the field for haying that runs through the end of 2014. "I assume that the Lawrence Trust will honor this," she said, to which Selectman Peter Cunningham replied, "Yes, it will be honored."

Resident Bruce Easom complemented the committee for all the information that they brought forward to the town to make the best possible decision. He stressed that the town stands at a crossroads, noting that the Master Plan lays out the things of value to the townspeople - to sustain and maintain the rural character. He added that of the three sites, one is in a wetlands buffer zone (GELD), one is a municipal building (Prescott) and one is being proposed on productive farmland. "This is a classical 21st century dilemma. The least sustainable and the lease cost without looking at the future value of this land to Groton residents. You have not done a full accounting. You didn't look at long term solutions." He asked "Do we spend an additional $900K to rehabilitate Prescott School or do we not spend it and it costs us more in agricultural land. It is a crossroads moment,,,,,and we need the best decision that we could possibly have."

Another resident suggested that consideration needed to be given to the highest and best use of land and that the value of Prescott is marginal whereas there is a long term resource in agricultural land. He said that he did not agree that it is more expensive to rehabilitate an existing building than it is to build a new one.

Selectman Cunningham stressed there was no guarantee that the Lawrence Homestead site would remain in agricultural use, noting that there are now four approved house lots on the site. He added that the town has been very supportive of buying land for open space and farming.

Resident Doug Brown observed that a Fire Station is like a welcome front porch in the center of town, noting that the center of town is Prescott School. "Here is an opportunity to put an asset to good use. I would probably vote for Prescott if I have the opportunity," he said.

Fire Station Committee member Halsey Platt, who is also Chairman of the Prescott School Re-Use Committee pointed out that by law now, Fire stations have to be seismic proof, which would have to be considered in any rehabilitation work to the school. "The only way to protect the view shed is to buy all the property," he said.

Following further discussion, the question was moved, a voice vote taken, followed by a hand count to determine that the article to purchase had passed by the required 2/3 majority.

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