GROTON -- In a joint meeting Monday of selectmen, the Conservation Commission and the Electric Light Commission, everyone agreed that a review process involving the Groton Electric Light Department's application to build a new garage complex along Station Avenue had become more involved, rigid and expensive than it needed to be.
The agreement came following the release of a "Post Mortem" report drawn up by a group of municipal officials that reviewed the record of GELD's application and made recommendations on how the process could be improved in the future.
"We tried to draft a report that was fair and equitable," said Town Manager Mark Haddad.
The need for a post mortem came about after a long and often frustrating review process undergone by GELD for the new headquarters complex it hopes to build on land currently occupied by its existing garage and offices.
Building designs were completed last year and submitted for review by the town's land use boards before being rejected by the Conservation Commission due to expected encroachment into nearby wetlands. With the intercession of the Board of Selectmen, that hurdle was finally overcome allowing GELD to alter its plans to satisfy the commission's concerns and to apply for a special permit with the Planning Board.
But the drawn-out process proved unsatisfying and after a meeting with selectmen in June, it was decided that Haddad and GELD manager Kevin Kelly, assisted by town planner Michelle Collette and Conservation administrator Barbara Ganem would conduct a thorough review of the whole process to find out exactly what went wrong and what could be changed.
The completed report suggests improved communications with applicants about the cost of peer reviews and expectations to start. Also recommended was the appointment of a Wetlands Bylaw Review Committee, more flexibility by boards in reviewing applications and implementation of "coordinating permitting" among land use boards.
"I believe that the report is accurate in its conclusions," Haddad told selectmen at the board's meeting Monday.
Chairman Peter Cunningham characterized the whole situation as a "perfect storm" of things that could have gone wrong.
"I think this is a great report done conscientiously," added fellow board member Stuart Schulman. He noted that the issues involved were "complicated" and the result of many factors. "The idea of looking forward is the right idea."
Schulman urged everyone to read the final report with "an open mind and open heart."
Selectman Anna Eliot suggested that in the future, everyone involved should approach interpreting the town's bylaws in a "professional, courteous and above-board manner."
"Everyone needs to take ownership of what happened," added Selectman Joshua Degen. "There needs to be some closure on this."
For its part, the Conservation Commission submitted its own written statement on the issue concluding with some "lessons to be learned" about the whole experience including: improvement of communications between the commission and applicants, clarification of the wording in the town's wetlands protection bylaw, the use of peer review earlier in the application process and better use of an expedited permitting process.
"We are seeking ways on how to bring everyone together and work in harmony on this," said ConsCom member Peter Morrison.
In conclusion, Haddad reported that town departments have already begun to implement some of the findings in the report including an expedited permitting process.