Community and Economic Development Director Alan Manoian leads a tour through Ayer. NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE/MINA CORPUZ
Community and Economic Development Director Alan Manoian leads a tour through Ayer. NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE/MINA CORPUZ

AYER -- Work to guide the town's future and bring the town's newly-approved Master Plan to life is set to begin.

Compared to previous ones, the plan adopted recently by the Planning Board sets realistic goals that the town is capable of accomplishing, said Community and Economic Development Director Alan Manoian, whose office helped draft it.

"This one will not end up on a shelf collecting dust," he said.

The plan covers areas including housing, economic development, infrastructure, and land use. Expanding transportation opportunities, protecting natural resources, and engaging residents are among general goals for the town.

Ways for Ayer to plan ahead for are laid out in an implementation plan. Goals with varying priority levels were assigned to various departments to carry out.

Here is a closer took at two areas of the Master Plan:

Housing

Concerns highlighted in the Master Plan include the cost and affordability.

More people are moving from Metro Boston in search of more affordable housing.

A single family home in Ayer costs on average just under $300,000 and under $200,000 for a condo, according to the Master Plan.

Between 2009 and 2015, Ayer's median income climbed more than a third to about $75,000, outpacing neighboring communities.

The condition and type of homes offered in town are other areas for improvement.

About a third of homes in town were built before 1940.


Advertisement

Those built after 2000 account for about 20 percent, according to the 2015 Census American Community Survey.

More than half of housing units are one or two bedrooms compared to 44 percent that have three or more.

One suggestion from the plan is to offer more rental units with three or more bedrooms to accommodate families or multi-generational households.

The loss of rental housing is a concern and can indicate that housing in town is becoming less diverse.

"Contrary to the enclave approach that is taken in many communities, it is to Ayer's benefit to have something for everyone. It allows people of all kinds to live and establish roots in Ayer and keep it funky, real, and authentic place that (it) has always been," the Master Plan states.

Affordable housing -- as defined by income and family size -- makes up about 8 percent of Ayer's housing stock.

The state has a 10 percent affordable housing requirement for cities and towns.

More housing for extremely low and low income households and affordable housing for seniors were needs identified in the Master Plan.

Economic Development

Ayer's economy was previously based on railroad shopping and service to Fort Devens. Today it includes manufacturing, technology, and retail.

The town relies more on commercial taxes than residential.

Commercial space is nearly 20 percent of all of Ayer's land. Those businesses generate about half of the town's tax revenue and provides more than a third of the total budget.

Ayer has a split tax rate, meaning commercial properties pay more than residential ones.

Overall, there are challenges to economic development include high taxes for businesses, commercial districts that aren't in the best condition, transportation to businesses and a low day time population due to residents leaving for work outside of town.

One implementation plan goal is do adopt design standards to bring commercial development to gateways, corridors, and industrial areas to improve streets and increase the town's "curb appeal."

Heading in from Devens, West Main Street is one of the first impressions people have traveling into Ayer.

A day of discussion and presentation brought town employees, developers, and other community members together on May 17 to see the potential for the corridor.

Manoian said during a presentation that West Main Street could have a similar village look found in towns such as West Concord or Newburyport through form based code. That type of development includes on street parking, sidewalks, buildings close together, and storefronts close to the street. 

A panel of realtors, developers, financers spoke about bringing development to the area, increasing how the corridor looks, and encouraging local businesses.

"We are sitting on one of the sweetest spots in the state," said Carol Bousquet, a realtor and Ayer resident. "This particular strip could be a gold mine."

To help people envision the potential for West Main Street, Manoian took a group on a walking tour that started at the Devens Shopping Center. He pointed out large parking space with buildings pushed back and a lack of sidewalks that don't really encourage foot traffic.

The redevelopment could start at the overpass near Woo Jung's Korean restaurant and go to the Devens gate.