SHIRLEY -- When all but one of the zoning changes MassDevelopment proposed for Devens were approved at Super Town Meetings in Ayer, Harvard and Shirley last year, one of the changes allowed a senior housing complex to be built next to the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School on Hospital Road, an area on the Devens perimeter and within the DREZ where a military housing development stood in Fort Devens days.

With the so-called "Shirley housing area" long since razed and the other projects allowed in Devens already underway, the state agency temporarily in charge of Devens is beginning to unveil its development plan for the 3 1/2 -acre site, which includes a 120-unit senior housing complex with at least 25 percent affordable units.

At the selectmen's meeting Monday night, MassDevelopment Real Estate Project Manager Ed Starzec and Betsy Crum, executive director of the Women's Institute, the nonprofit developer picked for the project, provided an outline of their plans.

Mapping out the project, Crum said it would proceed in two phases. Phase one calls for 58 units, all for seniors 62 and over. The focus will be on independent living with a case management social worker on site and health services brought in from the start, with interior space for medical professionals. Other common amenities will include kitchen facilities, hopefully with on-site meals offered once a day, and housekeeping.

Crum said her group has secured $400,000 in pre-development financing and is optimistic that more will follow.


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"The government has made senior housing a priority," she said.

Starzec said the senior housing units would be the first structures but not the last that MassDevelopment envisions for the site. "We see it as a springboard to developing the rest of the site," he said, envisioning retail space and recreational uses as well.

Sketching her organization's roots, Crum said the Women's Institute was established as a non-profit in 1981 and was so named because it was formed by women. At first, it was geared to domestic violence shelters, she explained. But its vision has broadened. "Now, we serve multiple properties in Massachusetts and Connecticut," she said.

These days, the Women's Institute specializes in mixed income housing and have completed 1,500 units to date, Crum explained. Ideally, the developments include an on-site services component, she continued. That is, they "bring in services" via area health providers, making it possible fir people to stay in their homes as they age. "We develop relationships with providers," she said, adding that they had already reached out to the Shirley Council on Aging, which welcomed the idea. "They were excited," she said.

Resident Frank Esielionis pointed out that there are senior services and programs available in the area that Crum could contact, such as Meals on Wheels, senior transportation via MART and an active Council on Aging with an Outreach Coordinator.

He also suggested that there might be a way to tie into other transportation options that would take people to medical facilities in Boston, for example.

Starzec indicated that MassDevelopment might look into it. "We're interested in regional solutions," he said.

Town Administrator Patrice Garvin noted that the Hazen Memorial Library is across the way from the site and would likely be a well-used resource for the new residents.