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More than 50 gather to discuss future of Groton Family Farm

Groton — More than 50 people attended a meeting Thursday to discuss the future of Groton Family Farm, and suggested ideas including open space, another farm or a town square for the property.

The farm has been in the same family for generations, but Warren Burrows moved two years ago from Groton to Seattle, Wash., and farming ended when he moved.

The family is considering what to do next, and called the community meeting to gather ideas from neighbors and local residents. The 6½-acre property on Fort Hill Road is within a half-mile of Groton Town Hall, Poquonnock Plains Park, Groton Public Library, the Groton Senior Center, Claude Chester Elementary School and the former Fitch Middle School, which may become a future community center.

"I love the opportunity that the family has given to the community," Laurie Kotfer of Mystic said. "I think it's a rare thing."

Burrows traveled from the West Coast to Groton for the meeting, as did his daughter, Susanna Fraker, an urban designer and landscape architect in San Francisco, Calif. 

The family invited residents to answer questions like what they'd like to see at the site, whether the old buildings should be preserved and what they believe Groton needs.

The family also displayed photographs of places like outdoor concert venues, parks and multifamily housing, then asked participants to place a green sticky dot if they liked the idea or a red one if they disliked it.

Diane Dunn attended because the property is in the center of town and she cares what happens to it.

"I think it would be wonderful as a town square," she said. "You know, a gazebo, places to meet, have events, also some shops with maybe some apartments overhead. We don't really have a town square. It would be a beautiful way to pull everything together."

Other suggestions included a venue for community events, a farm used for education, a nature-based playground and an arboretum-like park. Many also said they would like the farm buildings preserved.

The farmhouse was built in 1784 by an ancestral cousin, Silas Burrows. Warren Burrows' great-grandfather moved to the farm after the Civil War, and built the large barn in 1892.

Jeff Richards of Mystic said the town should be more proactive about saving old buildings. Too many structures deteriorate gradually and then disappear, he said.

"What seems to happen is that people buy a piece of property, something goes up (along with) a parking lot and pretty soon you have Hamburger Hill," he said. Richards enjoyed driving by the farm and seeing free-range chickens follow Burrows, Richards said. He'd like to see another small farm to remind people of their connection to agriculture.

"The property certainly has historic significance," Town Historian James Streeter said. However, he said, he was torn because Groton taxpayers can't afford to foot the bill to buy and maintain the property.

"All of these old places are worthy of being saved," said George Gauthier, who serves on the Avery-Copp House board of directors. "The question is, can you come up with the money and the volunteers to maintain the property?" Even if the property were purchased and the original buildings repaired, he estimated it would take at least $200,000 a year to maintain them.

The family's decision to hold a community meeting instead of selling to the highest bidder demonstrates that the family cares what happens to the property, Planning Director Jonathan Reiner told the crowd.

"With that said, some development is going to happen here," he said. "They can't afford to just give the property to a land conservation group or to the town, so that it stays in the way that it is. And in order to fix those great community assets — that farmhouse, the barn or other buildings on the property — someone has to come in, invest money and find a way that they can make money on the property."

"So some type of development is going to happen here," Reiner said. "I think what the Burrows family is asking us for is, if development happens, what are things that we as a community would like to see?"

d.straszheim@theday.com

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