Groton Town Council declines to back open space plan advanced for land zoned residential

Groton - The Groton Open Space Association wants to buy 201 acres north of Interstate 95 to save the land for open space, but the Town Council voted last week to not support the group's request.

Councilor Bob Frink said the land has development potential and could bring in needed revenue.

"I don't see (how) we can justify putting this into a tax-exempt status," Frink said. The land is zoned residential," Frink said.

Councilors voted 8-1 on Dec. 23 not to back GOSA's request. GOSA President Joan Smith declined comment.

The land, owned by Tilcon Inc., is south of Gold Star Highway, north of Interstate 95 and west of Rogers Road. It borders town-managed open space on Flanders Road and is adjacent to a large property north of the Mystic Marriott.

The GOSA board was expected to meet last week to discuss land acquisition, including how to proceed with the Tilcon property. The group had been negotiating with the company, and the last offer for the land was about $1.02 million.

The association sent a letter to the mayor and Town Council on Dec. 10 saying it was seeking a state grant to help acquire and protect the land, and wanted to demonstrate local support.

The site includes "a rare, 40-acre pitch pine ridge forest" as well as wetlands, bogs, vernal pools, streams and historic granite quarries, Smith wrote in the letter.

"Our entire community benefits from the quiet beauty of our natural surroundings and from the clean water in our streams, reservoirs and estuaries," she wrote.

Councilor Genevieve Cerf, who cast the single vote supporting GOSA's request, said approving the request would cost nothing and that GOSA had been an excellent steward of environmentally worthy property.

Cerf said other open space was not dedicated solely to conservation. For example, the town wants to put playing fields on the Merritt Property and has suggested using the Copp Property for a community center, she said.

But others said they could not block development in an area with sewer access, especially given voters' recent rejection of the Flanders Road referendum.

In November, voters overwhelmingly defeated a $9.9 million extension of utilities along Flanders Road, billed as a project to make industrial land more accessible to business and grow the tax base.

Councilor Bruce Flax said many voted no because Groton already has developable land with access to utilities.

"So you can't play both sides," Flax said. "You can't want to vote no and say, 'Let's use the developable land' and take that same land and put it into environmental protection."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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