HARVARD -- During its monthly meeting, the Joint Boards of Selectmen voted to take action on an issue under discussion, a move Chairman Leo Blair said is unusual for the joint boards.
After hearing a presentation from MassDevelopment's Director of Land Entitlements for Devens, Ed Starzec, about zoning changes the agency wants to forward via warrant articles in a Super Town Meeting scenario this fall, the board voted to form the JBOS Zoning Working Group.
The group will lack formal committee status, and in Blair's view, be able to function without the constraints of the Open Meeting Law. JBOS members agreed the small group consisting of one selectman from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley and a representative from the Devens Committee will work out its own ways to meet or conference with Starzec and others from MassDevelopment over the summer.
The group's goal is to work out a presentation format for potential zoning changes needed for MassDevelopment to carry out its redevelopment plans for the Shirley Village Growth area and part of Grant Road.
JBOS members talked about an interactive Internet survey, getting the word out via mass mailings, charettes or public forums and other pre-Town Meeting conduits to raise awareness of plans in the works to ask voters for the zoning changes.
The proposed re-zoning, per Devens-specific state law, Chapter 498, must be approved by the three stakeholder towns. It would allow MassDevelopment to move forward with plans to build senior housing in the Shirley Village Growth area, which it has been working on for over a year in concert with Shirley's Economic Development Committee, Starzec said.
A separate plan, relatively new, would expand ongoing residential redevelopment of Grant Road to include commercial uses as well.
Burned before when grand plans to redevelop Vicksburg Square were scuttled because voters said no to the necessary zoning changes, the agency wants to test the waters this time before taking its current proposals to the towns.
But Starzec and Executive V.P. for Devens, George Ramirez, said the changes MassDevelopment is asking for now are relatively minor by comparison.
Plans on the table call for building a senior housing facility in the Shirley Village Growth area on Devens land in that town and adding a commercial component to the pending residential redevelopment of Grant Road, where 120 new homes will replace those razed at the site years ago.
The potential zoning changes would allow the following uses in districts not currently zoned for them:
* A senior living facility in the Shirley Village Growth area of Devens.
* Health care uses such as medical and dental offices and labs and urgent care clinics.
* Commercial uses at the end of Grant Road, now slated for residential housing on 30 acres, which is less than half the parcel's available acreage.
Starzec also told JBOS he had hoped to come with a signed purchase-and-sales agreement in hand with the developer MassDevelopment selected for Grant Road, but he did not.
"It's complicated," he said and the deal isn't sealed yet. But it's in the works, he said, and he's confident it will be completed by the next meeting.