GROTON -- There was guarded optimism last Tuesday night among supporters for a new Electric Light headquarters building off Station Avenue following a meeting with the Conservation Commission at which members had few comments or questions regarding the plan.
Commissioners ended the Aug. 28 meeting by voting to close the public hearing on the Groton Electric Light Department's notice-of-intent application ending the information-gathering portion of the approval process.
The decision opened the door to the next portion, in which commission members will discuss points covered in a draft of conditions to be prepared by conservation agent Barbara Ganem.
Last Tuesday night's action by the commission was a long way from its earlier rejection of GELD's plan to build a new garage and offices on its Station Avenue property. At that time, the Conservation Commission turned down the application because building plans called for intrusion into a 50-foot buffer zone surrounding the James Brook watershed that members were charged with protecting.
Last Tuesday night's public hearing was only the latest installment of a review process that the Board of Selectmen asked to be restarted in an effort to find a way to make the plan work to everyone's satisfaction.
In its first application to the commission, GELD had made attempts at reconfiguring its proposed complex so as to make as little intrusion into the 50-foot zone as possible, but its efforts still failed
Constrained at the time by a memorandum of understanding with the Board of Selectmen that required GELD to leave a portion of its Station Avenue land aside for possible use by the town, manager Kevin Kelly claimed that the situation left his department with little room to satisfy the commission's demand to stay out of the buffer zone.
It was a situation that remained unchanged last Tuesday night as explained by GELD attorney Robert Collins, who described the latest design as being "the most conservative" for the site.
Continuing his presentation in favor of the application, Collins reminded commissioners of their request that the proposal "avoid, minimize, and mitigate" elements in its bylaws.
The attorney told commissioners that some infringement in the buffer zone was unavoidable because no matter how the new building was configured, there would be some intrusion. Alternate sites around town were even less desirable, as building on those would endanger even more sensitive water and habitat resources.
Minimization of harm to the wetlands area would be had with a remediation plan that would remove invasive plant species and mitigation would be addressed through landscaping, remediation, and the offer of exchanging GELD parcels elsewhere in town for permission to build on Station Avenue.
"Overall, in a perfect world, things would be perfect but at least this plan is very nearly perfect," concluded Collins. "This is a very good compromise of competing interests."
The result, Collins said, was that the project would end up enhancing the neighborhood rather than harming it.
When it was time for commission members to ask questions or make comments, there were few that seemed to bode well for supporters when a final vote on the issue is taken.
"I think we've addressed all their concerns," said an upbeat Electric Light Commission chairman Rod Hersh following last Tuesday night's public hearing. "I'm optimistic going forward."
"It appears we finally have closure," said Kelly following the public hearing. "Now it's off to the Planning Board."
With the close of the public hearing, Ganem will draw up a draft order of conditions upon which commissioners will discuss and ultimately vote upon at a future meeting.
Also last Tuesday night, commissioners heard from volunteer Andrew Davis, a member of their Stewardship Committee, on the erosion threat to Sargisson Beach.
Open this year but not officially supervised, the popular local beach site has been prey to the elements as rain washed down from the roadway, turning trails and stairways into streams and leaving dry washes filled with stones when they dried up.
Such was the report from Davis, who conducted a PowerPoint presentation showing pictures of the damage, including areas of the beach where topsoil had been washed into the water and where crabgrass has begun to take over the disused portions of the beach.
The irony, said Davis, was that in some cases, the crabgrass was helping in that it was the only thing keeping beach sand from being swept into the water by rain.
Davis met with the commission to get feedback on his suggestions on how to tackle the erosion problem, which might include installation of water bars down steep trails, and spreading wood chips where needed.
Davis also suggested that the repair project could be completed as part of a local Eagle Scout project.
Acknowledging that something needed to be done if the beach area were to be preserved for future use by residents, commissioners agreed that erosion had to be brought under control with work to concentrate around the parking area, entrance way, and road leading down to the water.
Work, however, would need to remain outside the 100-foot buffer zone surrounding Lost Lake and Knops Pond for now.
Davis was to return before the commission with a work plan for final approval of the project.