Selectmen face a tough decision tonight.
Board members must decide whether to include a request for a proposed amendment on the special Town Meeting warrant for Oct. 17. The amendment would remove an agricultural preservation restriction on a land parcel where a Groton developer wants to build a 19,786 square foot restaurant. Approval would be in the hands of the voters.
There are three APRs of about 3 acres each at 66-68 Boston Road. Until recently, the 9-acre parcel had been used as a garden center for years. But it is now under scrutiny for a business use which is irking some and enthusing others.
Complicating the matter is a letter dated Sept. 22 from John Lebeaux, commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources. Addressing Selectman Chairman Kelly Ross, Lebeaux said the proposed restaurant and parking area “contravenes the statutory language and is prohibited by the terms of the Department approved APR3 as it is not an agricultural use.”
Selectman Don Siriani who opposes the amendment said Lebeaux’s letter clinched it for him.
“I’m calling to dismiss the matter,” he said, referring to the warrant article for special Town Meeting.
Residents are split between those who value land preservation and those who see no viable farming operation for the small parcel.
Between 1997 and 1999, the town paid $175,000 for each of three APRs to Keith Bohne who owned the land at the time. The APRs were meant to keep the land undeveloped in perpetuity.
Bohne sold the land in 2001 to Tom Goddard of North Reading who let it fall into disrepair. Goddard sold the parcel to Ebraham “Ebi” Masalehdan for $650,000 in February. With the support of the majority of selectmen this spring, Masalehdan proposed a farm-to-table restaurant with a footprint of 11,336 square feet. But to build the operation, Town Meeting voters would have to allow the APR amendment.
The request went before annual Town Meeting voters for the first time in April where four out five selectmen supported the measure. It failed anyway, 101 to 106. Siriani was the sole opponent. Six months later, it has come around again, but with fierce opposition. Among those opposed are Bill Harman, honorary director of the Westford Conservation Trust and former Selectmen Dini Healy-Coffin, Robert Jefferies and Nancy Rosinski.
This time around selectmen are more cautionary.
“I am waiting for all information that comes before us prior to our vote,” stated Selectman Mark Kost.
Selectman Scott Hazelton is also less certain about his support.
“I think it is fair to say that I have concerns with the amendment to the APR, but there remains information to be gathered before announcing a position,” he stated.