Groton Open Space Association president upset by council's opposition to preserving parcel

Groton - The president of the Groton Open Space Association said Wednesday she is "bewildered" by the Town Council's decision to withhold support for an association grant application to buy 172 acres for open space.

The group needed council approval to apply for the grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to purchase the Tilcon property, a rugged tract accessible from Route 184 and Rogers Road.

The land also runs along a ridge near Flanders Road, just north of Interstate 95.

"We're just bewildered as to why they were so adamant about turning this down," association President Joan Smith said.

The council voted 5-3 on Tuesday not to support the group's grant application, due on March 31. Mayor Rita Schmidt and Councilors Deborah Peruzzotti, Bob Frink, Joe de la Cruz and Harry Watson voted yes, meaning not to support the grant. Councilors Bruce Flax, Rich Moravsik and Genevieve Cerf voted no, meaning to support the grant or review it more. Councilor Heather Bond Somers was absent.

The association initially wanted to buy 201 acres from Tilcon, but the council rejected that plan 8-1, saying Groton needs economic development and can't afford to lock up more land for open space.

So the association changed its proposal some. On Tuesday, it presented a grant application to buy about 172 acres, cutting out two parcels it said had "better access, better development potential and less environmental sensitivity."

John Sutherland spoke in support of the grant.

"What do you want your town to be?" he asked the council. "Do you want it to be a town with a big mall in it? Or do you want it to be a great place to live?"

But councilors expressed concern about taking property off the tax rolls and needing to build the town's economic base.

"We have to leave some options open," de la Cruz said. "And I think if we take this land and put it all aside, this is just one more option that we wouldn't have."

"Let's give development a chance," Frink said. "We're trying to ramp up our development capability in town, and that doesn't mean we're going to pave everything over, or do everything in a reckless way."

Cerf said it was unfair to interfere with Tilcon's ability to sell property for open space.

"They've been a business owner here for years, and if they want to sell this property to (the association) and get their money back, why should we stop them from doing that?" she said on Wednesday. "That is to me, the most business unfriendly thing you can do."

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