Groton –– The Department of Environmental Protection has approved the town’s proposal to build what it says will be a temporary parking lot on land bought in 1991 with a state grant to preserve open space, The Day reported April 7, 2006.

In an article by Gladys Alcedo, the newspaper said (begin text):

The temporary lot at the so-called Merritt Farm on Routes 1 and 215 will be used to replace the parking spaces that will be displaced by the planned $45 million expansion at the Robert E. Fitch High School. The school renovation project has yet to break ground.

“We really view their decision as something positive for us so we could keep the school operating (during school construction) the way it is now,” said Rick J. Norris, the town’s school construction project manager. “We will be able to provide the same amount of parking spaces.”

As a result of DEP’s decision, the Board of Education won’t have to make alternate plans for students and staff driving to the high school next school year, town officials said Thursday. The proposed temporary lot, consisting of about 90 spaces, would be located near the high school.

Some councilors and open-space advocates [GOSA] opposed the lot proposal, arguing that it went against the original intent of the town’s purchase of the 35-acre farm.

The town bought the land after voters approved a 1988 referendum authorizing the purchase of…properties in Groton for the preservation of open space or use for recreational purposes. Also, 40 percent of the $700,000 price the town spent on the purchase of the farm came from the state’s open-space grant program.

State DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy approved the temporary lot in a letter received at Town Hall last week. The approval stipulates that town officials could only have the parking lot during construction, estimated to take place between May 2006 and August 2008, and then they must demolish the lot and prepare the land for the development of athletic fields as noted in the original grant agreement. [The parcel is to be divided into 10 acres of athletic fields and 25 acres of open space for passive recreation.]

The state asked the town to consider installing an irrigation system as well as a trail around the proposed temporary lot that could link to existing or planned trails in that part of Groton.

Town Manager Mark R. Oefinger said the town will now draft the final designs for the parking lot, which have to be approved by the town’s Planning Commission. He intends to present the plans to the Town Council as an update…