AYER -- A public forum will be held on Jan. 17 on the town's zoning bylaw, 7 p.m. in the town hall's Great Hall.

Ayer adopted its first zoning bylaw back in 1972, when Fort Devens was going strong and was the economic and social engine of the town. Over the last 45 years, and especially since the closure of the base in 1997 and its transformation into the Devens Enterprise Zone, the town has experienced a great deal of growth and change, some of it well-planned but too much of it haphazard, Ayer Town Planner Mark Archambault noted in a press release.

Over the decades Ayer has been developing its own sense of identity and has come to realize that is it a unique and vital town in the Nashoba Valley region. The development pressure long felt within Boston's 495 belt is now being keenly felt in Ayer, and this presents both tremendous challenges and opportunities, which can met much more successfully if the town has planned for that growth and change.

Does the Town of Ayer have the best possible zoning to regulate and guide development in Ayer? Experience over the last several years had shown the existing zoning bylaw to be out of date, poorly organized, and not up to the task of promoting optimal development in the years ahead.


Can the taxpayers of Ayer afford to financially and otherwise sustain the standard, 'Anywhere USA' type of sprawling commercial and residential development that rises up with the lack of good planning and zoning? Will current Ayer residents and their children be able to afford to live in Ayer as they age? Will growth be smart or not-so-smart?

Ayer is currently in the process of updating both its Master Plan and its Zoning Bylaw, both of which aim to encourage the wise development and environmental protection that will maintain and enhance Ayer's quality of life for decades to come. Over the next three months, leading up to the Special Town Meeting vote on March 19, the Ayer Planning Department will be holding public information meetings on the proposed Zoning Bylaw.