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Last steps in Groton land swap expected to be completed soon

October 4, 2018 GMT

Groton — The Town Council on Tuesday paved the way for the town manager to complete the final steps in a land swap so the town can build a new consolidated middle school on the Merritt property.

The town has sought to construct its new middle school on the Merritt property, next to Robert E. Fitch High School, as part of the Groton 2020 School Plan. But first it had to resolve an issue over deed restrictions that require the property to be used only for “conservation, recreation and open space.” The restrictions date back to when the town purchased the property about 30 years ago. 

Two years ago, the state and Groton agreed on a plan to release the conservation restrictions on the 35-acre Merritt property and instead place restrictions on another property in town, the 20-acre Boulder Heights property. After some people expressed concerns that the two properties weren’t comparable, Groton later proposed another component to the deal: conserving 38 acres, called the King/Kolnaski property in addition to the Boulder Heights property. Most speakers at a public hearing last month supported that new plan.

On Tuesday, the Town Council voted unanimously to support a resolution that will allow Town Manager John Burt to sign and record an easement for the King/Kolnaski property, without having to return to the council.

“The intent is to allow this to move forward as quickly as we can,” Burt said by email. “We are reviewing the language and expect to sign an easement soon for the Kolnaski School property.” The attorney general’s office already has approved an earlier version of the easement, though the office may need to review the document again if any changes are needed, he added.

“This is the final piece needed to move forward with the construction of the new consolidated middle school,” he said. “I’m grateful to DEEP, the attorney general’s office, and our local conservation groups for their help navigating this process.”

The easement for Boulder Heights already has been approved, he said.

Graham Stevens, director of the office of land acquisition and management with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that as soon as the conservation easement for the King/Kolnaski property has been executed and the attorney general has approved it, then the two conservation easements, as well as the release of the easement on the Merritt property, can be recorded.

As part of the proposal to move the deal forward, Groton also had sought and received permission in New London Superior Court to remove the restriction on the Merritt property. The attorney general’s office had told Groton attorneys that they would need to receive permission from the court to remove the property’s restrictions to move forward with the plan, according to Jaclyn M. Severance, director of communications for the Office of the Attorney General.

The town plans to break ground on the new middle school in 2019 and open it to students in 2020.