Thanks to 265 Ayer residents (216 certified registered voters) who signed petitions, the Ayer Board of Selectmen has called two Special Town Meetings beginning at 7 and 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 22, to see whether voters will petition our Legislature to restore our municipal authority to all of Ayer, specifically that part of our town that we placed temporarily in the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone. DREZ is the land of the former Fort Devens in the Devens host communities of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley.
On Dec. 7, 1994, the Devens host communities voted separately in a Super Town Meeting to adopt our Devens Reuse Plan. This had the effect or ratifying Chapter 498 of the Acts of 1993 ("An Act Creating the Devens Enterprise Commission"), which also created DREZ and delegated our municipal authority for our land therein to DEC and the state agency now known as MassDevelopment. Chapter 498 anticipates that the final "disposition" of DREZ will be determined no later than the year 2033.
Our Devens Reuse Plan requires DEC to redevelop DREZ as an industrial park (with a minimum of housing in historically significant buildings) to enhance the industrial tax base for our host communities and replace the high-quality employment provided by the Army.
In recent times, DEC has lost its way, first pushing to create a new town of Devens, then trying to abandon "the physical and thematic core" of DREZ, the Innovation and Technology Center at Vicksburg Square, in favor of a huge, urban-style housing development. Three Super Town Meetings have rejected Devens as a town, then twice rejected the housing development.
More telling maybe is that in the Ayer section of DREZ alone there are, at last count, over 777,000 square feet of vacant warehouse-type space that once had tenants.
This simply doesn't happen in the part of Ayer under our authority. When Kraft Foods consolidated by closing a warehouse near Ayer's northeast border, it was occupied promptly by a high-tech manufacturer of command, control and communication vehicles. When a warehouse near Ayer's west border closed after a generation of operation, it was promptly reoccupied by two manufacturing businesses. Right next door (across Fitchburg Road from DREZ), when a plastics distributor and manufacturer closed, its facility was promptly reoccupied by a manufacturer of roof trusses and related construction components.
The time is now for Ayer to reclaim our authority and jurisdiction over all of our town. Zoning will be determined by Town Meeting responding to our Planning Board's recommendations. Permitting will be through our permitting authorities. Businesses will be dealing with conventional municipal authorities with whom they are comfortable. The redevelopment of the former Fort Devens will get back on track as we determine our own future, which will include high-quality jobs and healthy tax revenue.
Please attend Special Town Meeting on Monday, Oct. 22, to take this very significant step toward a healthy future for our community.
FRANK FREDERICK MAXANT