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Groton - During a tense meeting in which the mayor hammered for order, the Town Council on Tuesday authorized the town manager to draft a "memorandum of understanding" to allow the former Noank School to be used as a public garden.
The council in May had voted to draw up a draft lease with "Noank School Public Gardens," with terms to be negotiated. The neighborhood group planned to create a garden with community garden plots, an orchard, bee hives and flower gardens.
But last month, the Planning Commission recommended against the lease. The council would have needed a two-thirds vote, or approval of six of its nine members, to override the commission.
Tuesday's vote effectively avoided that requirement. Councilors voted 5-3 to go forward with a memorandum of understanding, which required a simple majority. Councilors Bob Frink, Joe de la Cruz and Rich Moravsik voted no.
"I think we should just bite the bullet now and sell the property," said Moravsik, who had previously supported the garden. Moravsik said the Planning Commission understands land use and the town needs the revenue.
Timothy McDowell, one of three neighbors who created the garden proposal, said he'd take a memorandum of understanding though he would have preferred more council support.
Councilor Heather Bond Somers said she's been overwhelmed by calls from people supporting the plan. She said the town should give it a chance before letting someone build "McMansions."
Councilor Bruce Flax said the Noank Zoning Commission ultimately controls what goes on the site.
"I don't believe Noank zoning would allow anything else on that property," he said.
Town Manager Mark Oefinger said he was troubled by the back and forth discussion about keeping the property or selling it.
"This neighborhood has been on pins and needles for years," he said. The council voted 5-3 to affirm its decision that the school remain publicly owned.