GROTON -- A week before fall Town Meeting, developers proposing to rebuild the former Groton Inn were given a boost when the Historic Districts Commission voted to support their concept plan.
The decision came after the latest presentation of the plan at the commission's meeting Tuesday.
Chris Ferris and Richard Cooper of 128 Main Street LLC, the developers involved in rebuilding the historic landmark that was destroyed by fire, detailed changes to the concept plan made in response to an earlier meeting with the HDC.
This time, the focus fell on landscaping, with more emphasis on screening between the 128 Main St. property and abutters at Lawrence Academy and Boynton Meadows.
A major alteration to the architectural design of the proposed inn would include a view from inside the front entranceway, along a new path leading to an outdoor garden area and a view of Gibbet Hill beyond.
The new courtyard in the rear of the inn would be used for outdoor functions with wings beyond holding visitor cottages to the west and long-term rental units in the shape of townhouses to the east.
The landscaping plan, including breaking up the project's 93 parking spaces into separate, secluded lots, is designed to "soften" the look of what some have worried might be too much activity proposed for the downtown space.
Ferris and Cooper entered into a purchase and sales agreement with landowner George Pergantis to buy the 8.5-acre lot that straddles the heart of downtown. They have proposed to rebuild the Groton Inn to resemble the original as closely as possible.
In addition to the 51,208-square-foot, 24-room inn building, the initial concept plan presented to commissioners at a meeting Sept. 17 also included a number of separate living units to be constructed behind the inn.
For those, a dozen units would be built where the property's current carriage house is and be rented to tenants on a long-term basis.
On the opposite side of the property, the remainder of the planned cottages would be built in two phases, with the pace of construction depending on how good business is. The first phase would include creation of another half-dozen cottages to be rented on a short-term basis, the same as any room in the inn would be.
Beside the new inn building, which would also include a 50-seat restaurant, a new carriage house would be built with a caretaker's residence on an upper floor.
Architect Peter Pitman told commissioners Tuesday that it was his intention to recreate the front elevations of the new building to mimic one of several earlier periods in the original inn's history.
"If you could hire the building's original architects in this day and age to work on it, that's the approach we're taking," said Pitman.
Pitman said to maintain the building's historic facade, careful attention would be made to grading so that modern necessities of accessibility, safety features and utilities could be accommodated without being visible from Main Street; an important consideration for the HDC.
"It's starting to take some form," said Commission Chairman Daniel Barton of the presentation. "It's heading in a positive direction."
128 Main Street LLC consultant John Amaral asked the board for more visible support for the concept plan at Town Meeting.
Amaral said developers had previously met with Town Manager Mark Haddad, Town Planner Michelle Collette and others who expressed support for the plan.
But wary that Town Meeting might misconstrue the commission's support for the concept plan as approval, Barton was at first reluctant to give such a recommendation.
However, when Commissioner Richard Chilcoat reminded him the HDC had taken similar action in the past, it was decided that a letter be drawn up expressing support for the concept plan but with wording that carefully noted the difference between support and approval.
If passed at Town Meeting, the plan would still have to be reviewed by the town's land-use boards, including the HDC, before a final version was approved.
Fall Town Meeting is Oct. 21.