May 142014

Groton Odd Fellows Hall

Groton Odd Fellows Hall postcard for sale on eBay

One hundred twenty three Groton voters wrapped up the third evening of the Spring Town Meeting marathon by agreeing to sell the town’s soon-to-be-surplus Central Fire Station and Squannacook Hall to local developers.

The Central Fire Station on Station Avenue, once a 19th century Odd Fellow’s Hall, will become a combination bike shop and food store with an apartment on the second floor if negotiations with Dan and Lori McElroy for the $100,000 sale are successful. The town turned the hall into a fire station in 1940. Over the last 60 years, fire equipment and the needs of the town outgrew the building; a new fire station on Farmer’s Row will open soon, probably in June or July.

Squanacook Hall on West Main Street in West Groton will be sold to local developer Halsey Platt for $100. The town will also pay for a new septic system, to comply with state Title 5 requirements. Platt plans to convert the building into four apartments.

Attorney Robert Collins, representing the McElroys, told Town Meeting that the couple intends to renovate the exterior in a way that is “sympathetic with the original design that existed before the town bought it back in 1940.” An early conceptual drawing is included in their response to the town’s original Request For Proposals to sell the property. Read the McElroy proposal.

“You’re dealing with people who are local, who have raised a family here and who own a number of properties here. They have made a very substantial investment in this town in creating the Groton Center Farm and they intend to make a similar investment on Station Ave. with this. This proposal would enhance use of the Rail Trail, it would also enhance local agriculture, and it would, I would think, spawn development of other compatible developments on Station Ave,” Collins said.

The project still must obtain a special permit and pass a site review by the Planning Board, a design review with the town’s overlay district design review, and probably have some discussions with the Conservation Commission, Collins said.

The sale was supported by the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee, and the Planning Board. No one spoke in serious opposition to the sale, and the main concern seemed to be the lack of parking in the town center and on Station Avenue. A collection of Articles were required — authorizing the sale, rezoning, and putting in a new septic system.

An overwhelming voice vote gave the Article its needed 2/3 majority.

The Squannacook Hall failed at a previous town meeting due in part to concerns from members of the neighboring Union Christian Church about lot lines, access, and parking. One of the changes in the proposal presented this spring was Platt’s agreement to construct a parking lot in the rear of the church. No church members spoke in opposition.

Candidate for selectman Shane Grant spoke several times during the discussion surrounding the disposition of both properties, asking about last minute changes in the wording of the Town Meeting Warrant that occurred after the document had been printed but before Town Meeting. He also criticized the selling price of both properties, which was set months ago — last year for Squannacook Hall — by the Board of Selectmen.