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Groton updates open space plan for first time in 30 years

Groton — The town has updated its open space plan for the first time in 30 years, a period in which open space has increased significantly in the community, and is seeking comments on the document.

The town’s Conservation Commission will hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, via Zoom on the final draft of the open space conservation plan, which outlines priorities that include expanding “greenbelts” connecting open spaces, supporting resiliency efforts and protecting water quality, natural heritage resources and habitats for plants and wildlife.

Bruce Lofgren, a planner for the town, said the Conservation Commission has worked for two years on the 97-page plan, which incorporates new technology, mapping and an inventory of open space, to serve as a guiding document for the commission and the town in evaluating land parcels.

The resource document provides a methodical approach to quantifying the value of open space that will come in handy while reviewing potential open space parcels or when writing grant applications in support of the parcels, Lofgren said. The plan could even spur a neighborhood group to become advocates for a land parcel and become more involved with protecting it, Assistant Planning Director Deb Jones said.

Conservation Commission Chairman Larry Dunn said the commission wanted to update the plan to reflect all the work done in the past 30 years by Groton’s active conservation community and provide more information on the value of open space, not only on the historical sense that conservation is “the right thing to do,” but also the economic benefits of open space.

Wetlands, for example, provide natural filtration to manage pollution, and without those natural resources, towns would have to spend more money on building expensive infrastructure that residents would not want next to their homes.

The plan incorporates an “open space economic value analysis electronic tool” for analyzing potential parcels to acquire or keep as open space.

Total open space in Groton stands at 4,477 acres, or 21.9% of the total acreage in the town, a percentage comparable to the state’s goal for open space, but the commission recommends working to exceed the state’s goal in order “to offset over-development and excess urbanization in other Connecticut towns,” according to the plan.

Open space priorities

One of the recommendations of the plan is to focus on open space “greenbelts,” or “open space linkages that join open spaces into a cohesive whole.”

These connections “can link existing parks and open space areas with neighborhoods and community facilities, including schools, and provide an interconnected network serving town residents,” and also “provide wildlife larger contiguous areas to support migration and expand habitat utilization,” according to the plan.

The plan also outlines the importance of preserving forests, wetlands, vegetated coastal areas, tidal rivers, salt marshes and other ecosystems “that may protect and mitigate impacts of climate change.” Experts at the University of Connecticut found that sea levels rose in New London by about 10 inches over the past eight decades, and “they recommend preparing for another 20 inches before 2050,” the plan states.

Protection of water quality is another top priority.

“Maintaining clean water in our streams, lakes and river are critical to supporting our local reservoirs,” the document states. “The plan identifies methods to support improving water quality, and Groton Utilities future open space acquisition efforts to expand both the Great Brook and Haleys watersheds in Groton.”

The plan further calls for protecting historic and cultural assets and local agricultural heritage, among other goals.

The Conservation Commission is creating a series of short videos, which will air on Groton Municipal Television, that highlight topics from the health and wellness benefits of open space to the role residents can play in the stewardship of such parcels, Dunn said.

The updated plan comes at a time when more and more people have been venturing outdoors and realizing the benefits of open space. During the pandemic, use of the town’s open space “increased exponentially,” Dunn said. That also highlighted the need to properly care for open space, as for a period there was an uptick in people discarding debris, including masks and tissues, in areas.

The plan recommends specific steps that include creating an action plan to expand greenbelts, identifying lands that can act as a buffer for rising tides, developing a program to identify areas to replant native trees or an equivalent for carbon sequestration, and moving forward with the town’s Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trail Master Plan.

The plan further recommends the town create an open space ordinance to formalize the stewardship and protection of open space and regulations for activities allowed on these lands.

Information on how to join the meeting via Zoom is available on the town’s website at bit.ly/gtccsm113020.

k.drelich@theday.com

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