By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Six months after Town Meeting approved by an overwhelming majority to build a new central fire station off Pleasant Street, Alix Chase stood in front of voters Saturday, urging them to reconsider their decision.
"I don't feel this building plan and this expenditure is really reflective of our needs," Chase said, as she represented a group of 10 residents proposing to rescind the April vote that authorized selectmen to buy the land and build the fire station.
Garry Roy of Old Dunstable Road said, however, Chase and her group had one interest in proposing to rescind the Town Meeting vote.
"The primary motivation behind this, in my personal opinion, is NIMBY -- 'Not in my back yard,'" Roy said, representing the frustration among many Town Meeting attendees over the proposal.
"The only way you can assure that this (fire station construction) won't ever happen is to buy up all the land around you," Roy said.
The town's $7.6 million fire station project remains on track after fall Town Meeting decisively rejected the proposals to overturn its April 30 vote authorizing the purchase of the land and the construction. While town counsel David Doneski of the Kopelman and Page law firm in Boston maintained that the spring vote could not be legally overturned as it would affect the rights of the land seller, the fire station opposition group had hoped fall Town Meeting would at least vote in their favor to send a message against the project.
The fire station proposals came from five residents from three households near the future Central Fire Station site and five other residents from elsewhere in Groton. The town settled on the Pleasant Street property, which Lawrence Homestead owns, after weighing on pros and cons of creating a new fire station at multiple locations, including town-owned Prescott School. Chase's group claimed, however, the project failed to "utilize current municipal buildings" while destroying scenic open space off Farmers Row/Pleasant Street. Chase also noted that the project also would add to the "current spiral of expenses."
Selectman Jack Petropoulos said he found it unfortunate that Town Meeting had to rehash all the issues discussed earlier this year in defense of the proposal to rescind the April vote.
"It's clear that some folks were not at that meeting," Petropoulos said, referring to the April meeting.
Agricultural Commissioner George Moore said the fire station site is "premium farmland" that is neither hilly or swamp. Scott MacDonald, one of the petitioner of the proposal to rescind the April vote, also spoke against building the station in the midst of the town's "iconic" open space. But, some others echoed Petropoulos frustration that they had to revisit the issue on which they had invested time.
Fall Town Meeting also approved providing town sewer connections to the new fire station site and rezone the property from residential-agricultural to public use.
Voters also agreed Saturday to provide the Greenway Committee $100,000 toward the engineering study on Fitch's Bridge. Selectmen have called the 114-year-old abandoned bridge a safety hazard and want to have it removed. Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager and some residents argued that selectmen ought to first ask residents if the bridge should be reconstructed at all before trying to conduct the engineering study that will analyze both removal and reconstruction of the bridge.
But, Petropoulos and Selectman Peter Cunningham stressed that the study will help people decide if they want the bridge rebuilt.
Greenway Committee member Fran Stanley said a reconstructed bridge would connect 100 miles of trails.
But, "These people who are using it here are a rather small crowd compared to the 10,000 Groton citizens," resident Brooks Lyman said.
"The cost versus benefit rather seems excessive," said resident Richard Dorff.
A majority of Town Meeting voted to approve funding for the engineering, however.