Noank public garden plan faces new hurdle

Groton - The Groton Planning Commission has recommended against approving a lease with the group that wants to turn the former Noank School into a public garden with community garden plots, an orchard, bee hives and flower gardens.

The decision means the Town Council will need a two-thirds vote, or approval of six of its nine members, to move forward with the lease.

The council voted unanimously May 13 to draw up a draft lease with "Noank School Public Gardens" for the 6.3-acre site, with terms to be negotiated between lawyers for the town and the garden group. But councilors took another vote on May 20. That vote was 5-2, with Councilors Joe de la Cruz and Bob Frink against. Councilors Heather Bond Somers and Deborah Peruzzotti were absent.

The matter proceeded to the Planning Commission shortly after.

On May 27, three residents said at a commission meeting that leasing the former school to Noank School Public Gardens was the wrong economic move.

Fred Kent of Burrows Street talked about rising taxes and "the potential loss of revenue to the town," according to a draft of meeting minutes.

Betty Smith of Neptune Avenue "spoke about town debt and referred to the amount of potential revenue the town could realize" if it sold the property, the minutes read. Her husband, Bill Smith, offered similar comments.

On June 10, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to send a "negative report" back to the council regarding the lease.

The lease is still being negotiated and has not yet been placed on the council agenda for future approval. The council's Tuesday meeting has been canceled for lack of business.

The gardening group, which is awaiting nonprofit status, had sought a 10-year lease with two five-year renewals when the council approved its concept. Town Manager Mark Oefinger said he'd offer the council different lease options.

Robert Palm, a core member of the gardening group, outlined the plan at that time.

He said the group would plant a 1-acre vegetable garden first, then prepare an orchard for fall planting. It would till the east field, bring truckloads of municipal compost and mulch from Flanders Road, and give surplus food to the town food pantry.

The former Noank School is expected to be demolished starting in September. The group would use bricks from the building to create foot paths and garden walls and would plant a row of cherry trees on either side of the paved walkway west of the building.

A 40-foot-by-100-foot dahlia bed would be planted west of the school and would be the "visual centerpiece" of the garden, Palm said. In the southwest corner of the property, the group and local veterans would clear briars and brush, then plant bulbs and trees such as dogwoods, to honor fallen comrades.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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