DEVENS -- Commerce continues to flourish at the old fort and a review of 2018 reveals an impressive litany of new and expanded manufacturing, industrial and residential activity, bringing jobs, residents and revenue to the surrounding towns of Shirley, Harvard and Ayer.
When Applewood Controls wanted to expand their operations to a nearby facility, they purchased a large tract of land at 33 Lake George Avenue, fully prepared to construct a 15,000-square-foot multi-use complex that includes three separate suites. They applied for a 'unified permit' which covers the scope of the entire project. After complying with all of the stringent criteria that Devens Enterprise Commission places on new construction, they were dealt a setback.
Applewood was on track to become the fourth major industrial construction project started, completed or approved this year alone, augmenting two major housing projects, renovated clinics and a significant renewable energy program. The small community continues to be an attractive destination for manufacturing and industrial corporations; as well as for housing developers and upstart organizations that repurpose the durable, mid-century military buildings that dot the landscape.
This year has seen a significant upturn in construction at Devens, continuing the steady growth over the past decade. The robust construction activity is not limited to manufacturing and warehousing.
* McInnis USA is a Connecticut-based cement company that was approved in June 2018 to construct two storage silos at 35 Saratoga Boulevard. The 90--foot-tall silos will serve as a way station for dry ingredients only, awaiting distribution to concrete-mixing plants throughout the region.
* Emerson Green is a plan to construct 124-unit housing development on 25 acres at the Grant Road neighborhood.
* Vicksburg Square redevelopment project is again on the docket, the 20 acre site, with its seven existing structures, is being considered for refurbishment to be used as a 292-unit multi-family housing community.
* Quiet Logistics, a merchandise shipping company already at Devens, will add a 320,000-square-foot warehouse to their operations in the former American Superconductor building on Jackson Road.
* At 112 Barnum Road a massive array of 8,000 solar panels occupies the roof of the 420,000-square-foot manufacturing building, almost 15 percent of Devens' energy demand is met by solar, thanks in large part to the new solar array that is part of a broader renewable energy initiative that includes several others. They all help offset Devens Utility Department's energy demand.
* A nearly completed addition to the CIP building at 66 Saratoga Boulevard has doubled the size of the warehouse to nearly 900,000 square feet on a multi-acre expanse. The company's permit application was approved in February 2017, delivering 430,000 square feet in 18 months. CIP paid Pan Am Railroad to upgrade the track's infrastructure around the site, adding feeder lines adjacent to the building. That process took less than two months from application to approval, with the railroad spurs done already and building construction beginning almost immediately.
* Clear Path for Veterans purchased and occupies the former military hospital building at 84 Antitem Road. The multi-use building is operational while it undergoes major upgrades and renovations, where a myriad support programs will be available for area veterans. The owners say that the transaction and permitting process was smooth and expedient.
Applewood also was granted approval in a timely manner, despite comprehensive criteria and strict environmental compliance standards set by DEC and MassDevelopment. After being granted the permit, Applewood conducted voluntary soil tests to determine if the ground could support the proposed structure. It could not.
Core samples revealed that the loosely packed fill was unsuitable for development. Management was faced with a decision: Remove and replace the materials over the 2.4-acre plot, a cost-prohibitive solution that demanded other options; or, find another nearby tract. The shadow over that solution is MassDev does not own much of the neighboring real estate, procuring a suitable tract would require an independent deal of a privately held land.
"We were all ready to issue their building permit," said Peter Lowitt, DEC's land use administrator. "But, in light of their setback, we will waive the permit fees when they reapply, if they can find a place on Devens." Applewood is determined to stay at Devens.
Applewood Controls designs and manufactures customized systems for a variety of industries. Their products include conveyors and integrated control panels as well as specially engineered factory devices to enhance automation.
Devens is the nighttime home to only about 450 residents but during the day that number is more than tenfold, thanks to the rapid expansion of industry and manufacturing. These, and all other construction works at Devens, must comply with stringent environmental criteria. Devens is rated a Four Star Community based on such metrics as sustainability, reuse and stormwater mitigation. The community boasts a solar farm and several refurbished military structures-turned business hubs.
There are many attractive features that lure industry and homeowners to Devens, primarily environmental. It is the only community in the region to receive a LEED certified community rating from national leadership of U.S. Green Building Council, for its ongoing commitment to responsible development where, according to a press release, "People, nature and businesses can all thrive."