GROTON -- No sooner had town officials begun a formal application process with the Historic Districts Commission last Tuesday night than proponents of a new Center Fire Station became mired in a bog of concerns raised by commissioners.
Members of the Center Fire Station Building Committee and representatives from the architectural firm of Dorn & Whittier, who were hired to design the new facility, met with the commission to begin the public hearing process needed before a certificate of appropriateness can be awarded to the project.
A series of pre-submission meetings meant to give forewarning to planners of potential problems the HDC might have with the project, however, seemed to have done little to ease the review process. Commissioners invoked a long list of concerns about the proposed fire station that covered everything from landscaping to clapboard siding.
Chief among the concerns was that of lighting.
The subject was initially raised by Planning Board member Scott Wilson, who attended the meeting along with members of the Board of Selectmen as well as the public.
Citing safety concerns following a lengthy introductory presentation of the project by architect Donald Walters, Wilson suggested that outdoor lighting around the complex was minimal for the Farmers Row site.
Commission Chairman Daniel Barton disagreed, taking objection to plans to erect lamp posts along the driveway leading up to the building.
"Our job is
Barton assured committee members that the HDC was not against outdoor lighting of the complex per se, but that it wanted to avoid the look of an "airport runway" in a traditionally rural neighborhood where light pollution had not existed prior to any fire station being built there.
However, it was pointed out that the Planning Board had other concerns about lighting, including safety for both firemen driving in and out of the site as well as for the public, who might see the station as a "safe haven" in emergencies.
On the other hand, said Barton, everyone knew there were roads around town that did not have street lights. If fire trucks could find their way along those, why not down their own driveway?
With all the lighting proposed and the area planned for driveway and parking, planners were "dramatically altering" what had been an empty field, a look that the commission was anxious to preserve as much as possible.
"I'm sure we'll work something out," said Wilson confidently.
"This board is not looking to go head to head with the Planning Board," temporized Barton.
But concerned that such a fundamental difference in outlook between the HDC and the Planning Board might cause delays on lighting and other issues, Town Manager Mark Haddad suggested a joint meeting to coordinate between the two groups be arranged.
The offer was accepted and Haddad said he would move forward with the scheduling.
Meanwhile, commissioners moved on with their other concerns, including a 5-foot retaining wall that members preferred to see go away, replaced by a gentle slope; overcrowding of the site with too many buildings, outcroppings, and asphalt paved areas; window styles; increased detail on a roof extension over the main entrance; street signage; and an existing shed that is to be moved from the current Center Fire Station on Station Avenue to the new site.
Barton even noted "funky clumps of landscaping" that the plan indicated around the proposed building.
"One of our objectives is to keep as much of the open farmland as possible," Barton told planners.
The new station is being proposed for 2.7 acres of land to be sold to the town by the Lawrence Homestead Trust, owners of an otherwise large tract of open land that is currently being hayed by a local farmer.
As proposed, the fire station would total 18,755 square feet of floor space.
Current plans for the building call for a four-bay garage and administration complex with offices on the first floor; fitness room, dormitory, kitchen, dining room, and day room planned for the second floor; and HVAC and other mechanical equipment to be placed in a third-floor "attic" space.
"I don't think this is just any old site," concluded Barton of the scenic Farmers Row site along which the new station is being proposed. "I'm still uncomfortable at many different levels."
With more discussion needed, last Tuesday night's public hearing was continued to Nov. 20.