Despite vehement opposition from some two-dozen Griswold Farms residents, Canton selectmen voted Wednesday to move forward with a plan to pursue a highway garage project at 325 Commerce Drive
On March 6, selectmen unanimously authorized Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner to enter into a purchase and sale agreement of up to $225,000 for the property with the hope of eventually building a new public works garage there.
Town officials said the site had many positives as a location, including access to public utilities and lower site work costs than the town’s previous choice at 5 Cherry Brook Road.
Wednesday, selectmen voted to forward a recommendation to propose to the Board of Finance that the town put forward a plan for up to $5.9 million for a garage project at the site as well as $6 million for major roads projects. Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said he anticipates he will have a lower garage “bid, build” proposal by next week.
A bundled garage and roads plan was originally slated to be part of a fall referendum but was pulled after appraisals for 5 Cherry Brook Road came in lower than the purchase price.
Since then, the town searched for a new site, looking at previously considered sites and new ones. Properties on Commerce Drive were reconsidered because deed restrictions were not as insurmountable as initially believed, town officials said.
Wednesday's vote followed some two dozen residents who spoke strongly against the proposed location, citing safety, environmental, aesthetic and economic reasons. Selectmen countered that the property would have less impact than many other considered sites, the current garage has many of the same issues and that the approved improved industrial site predates the neighborhoods.
Many of the residents emphasized safety, saying runners, cyclists and others use the road, in many cases accessing the Farmington River Trail down the hill from the site.
Paula Gladu-Morabito mentioned noise and environmental concerns but said safety was her top one.
“However our greatest concern is for the safety for those individuals who enjoy the path,” she said.
Jeff Rickard of Atwater Road said that the neighborhood was one of close families, friendly neighbors and some open space with wildlife. In addition to safety he and others said that the area produces huge amounts of tax dollars and a garage would lower property values and end up hurting the entire town.
“There’s a big chunk of revenue that comes from that neighborhood,” he said.
Kevin Jackson, also chairman of the Economic Development Agency said lower property values and decreased tax revenue would affect the whole town.
“Every single member of this town is going to take it straight in the chops because we try to put this dumb town garage, which we need, in this dumb location,” Jackson said.
Andrew Charron acknowledged that current zoning would allow for some industrial uses the neighborhood may not like but said such a proposal would at least generate tax revenue, he said.
Ben Haynes was one of several people who also mentioned the senior community at Boulder Ridge. Others said the site could be the source of runoff and affect wetlands and wildlife.
“It’s impacting a lot of people,” Haynes said.
Several selectmen, however, said they felt the site would be a good choice or at least in comparison to other spots the town's looked at.
Selectmen Lowell Humphrey said he appreciated the neighbor’s concerns but felt the project should be put before the town voters to decide.
The industrial park was in place before the residential homes above it, he said. Humphrey also said Commerce Drive actually has much less direct impact than many sites and considered and also said the Public Works crews currently share access with the Farmington River Trail
"Unfortunately, wherever we put it there’s going to be that kind of impact,” Humphrey said.
First Selectman Richard Barlow said he felt the Permanent Municipal Building Committee has been responsible in looking at some 70 potential locations.
“Other sites we looked at have certainly been in far closer proximity to residences,” he said.
Barlow also addressed the notion that there are plenty of other sites the town is overlooking. He cited one example — the suggestion by some that the town combine the grange site it just received on Cherry Brook Road and combine it with land owned by the North Canton Volunteer Fire Association.
In addition to the town not owning the fire association property and any usage issues, the two parcels are separated by a private road, have no direct utility access and are mostly wetlands, he said.
Some residents have also mentioned Lawton Road but officials said they felt the land at 55 Lawton is more suited to much needed fields space and that the impact to residents would be much greater. Town officials said Lawton Road, which has been approved for fields, has much closer neighbors and also lacks utility access and is zoned residential, which town officials said would present further challenges.
The proposal for the project will go to the Board of Finance next Tuesday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. or immediately following the conclusion of the selectmen's budget presentation to BOF, which starts at 6 p.m.
Skinner said he hopes to have a more refined proposal for the meeting. With a design, build approach that uses the same company to design and build a project without a separate bid process, the town should see a lower estimate, he said.
Skinner also said the purchase and sale agreement includes provisions that allow the town to opt out if the necessary approvals from residents, board and the land-use process should fall through. He also told a resident who spoke after the public comment portion that the town does not yet "own" the Commerce Drive site and only would if it clears all the hurdles in the process.
If it goes to referendum this spring, voters will have the chance to weigh in on the property. Selectmen would frame the question(s) once Board of Finance approval is granted. If the plan passes, the garage would have to go through the land-use process. The parcel is in the Industrial Park District section of the town's regulations. (Section 58)
Earlier Wednesday, town planner said the zoning commission had adopted a Municipal Community Facilities District that would apply to such a use as a garage. Any site in town, under the current regulations, would have to get zoning approval to apply that district, he said. The facility would also then require a special permit.
The commission is currently undergoing a rewrite process and has had some discussion of applying the municipal district in certain areas, which would then only require the town to get the special permit. However, putting such a facility in a residential zone would be very difficult, he said.
For more on the history of site consideration on the garage, check this link on the town web site.
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