HARVARD — The topic of Devens and disposition was central in a special meeting between the Harvard Board of Selectmen (BOS) and the Devens Committee. The session was billed as informative, with members speaking about their views on Devens and whether it should become a town.
But the discussion quickly arrived at the key issue between the two parties: What would Harvard get in return for supporting Devens becoming a town? One Devens official said that if the state is not satisfied with the outcome of the disposition process, it could step in to protect its investment.
Throughout the meeting BOS Chairman William Marinelli maintained that Harvard should get something — namely a boost to the tax base from asserting jurisdiction at Barnum Road — though the Devens Committee was unsure.
Instead, Devens Committee member Michael Boucher suggested the two parties effectively split a 200- to 300-unit senior living facility at Salerno Circle.
Though jurisdiction and tax revenue would come to Harvard, Devens would provide municipal services there, making it more of a net benefit to the town. He added it would protect the viewshed, or scenic view, from Prospect Hill Road and the Fruitlands as well.
Boucher termed it an out-of-the-box compromise, but the selectmen gave no indication of interest and that discussion ended. With that idea off the table, the discussion turned to Barnum Road.
Marinelli suggested Harvard receive the portion of Barnum Road between the Ayer town line and railroad underpass, saying it could transition in 2010 to give MassDevelopment time to add more commercial development to offset the loss.
However, Devens Committee members maintained that the loss of the area could adversely affect the sustainability of a new town, citing that the $350,000 in tax revenue from the area is 10 percent of the current tax base.
“How do you know those lands aren’t vital for sustainability?” he asked.
Devens Committee member Thomas Kinch said those circumstances are different. Barnum Road is the only one that is already an asset for Devens, and the agreements with Ayer and Shirley are not set in stone.
Boucher addressed the perception that all parties must get a piece of the pie. “At the end of the day … would Harvard support a town at Devens where it wouldn’t get anything?” he asked.
Boucher said the state could weigh in to protect its $200 million investment at Devens if the end result of the collaborative disposition process does not appear viable.
Marinelli said Harvard would need to get something out of the process and suggested that, if Devens were not viable without Barnum Road, they should consider rolling back on some of the housing numbers for Devens since that seemed to be a given.
There was also public input from several Devens residents who accused Harvard of not wanting them in their town, and cited a sense of entitlement from the town in the disposition process.
Marinelli responded that he was not aware of any other closed military base that has become a town. The disposition process is a political settlement, he said, that requires all sides to be reasonable.
Wrapping up the discussion, both sides decided further talks should wait on additional financial information on the out-parcels, which would be provided by the disposition finance committee that Marinelli and Boucher serve on.
The tentative timeline for another joint meeting was in early January.
“A lot of these things, at least from a financial standpoint, will become clearer,” said Marinelli. “I think it’s going to switch from what’s feasible to what’s desirable.”
“I think in the end everyone is going to have to give up something,” he said.
The discussion over out-parcels orignated after an informal poll of Harvard selectmen on the question of whether the town would even want Devens back.
Though the selectmen had yet to take a definitive position on the question, Roy Scott Kimball and William Marinelli expressed support for a new town. However, Randy Dean noted a lack of interest from Harvard on the Devens question, saying the town needs closure on a process that has now gone on for 11 years.
“There’s been no lack of opportunities for Harvard residents to get involved,” he said. “We say we don’t know what Harvard residents want. I think we have a pretty good idea of where we want to go.”
Though selectmen Robert Eubank and Lucy Wallace supported further study of whether a town makes the most sense, the tone of the discussion was set by Marinelli early on.
Marinelli said he first thought an extensive industrial park at Devens, as outlined in the reuse plan with MassDevelopment, was a can’t lose opportunity for Harvard. MassDevelopment subsequently focused on operations over development and became increasingly fixated on large housing numbers, which turned his opinion around.
However, he termed that water under the bridge, saying the ballot question to determine Devens’ future must be ready by August of 2006 and that a course needs to be charted so that there would be time to flesh out details of that decision.
“I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion … that letting Devens go and become its own town may be the best thing for Harvard,” he said.
He added that Harvard would be giving up 20 percent of the land within its historic boundaries, along with millions of square feet of commercial-industrial development outlined in the reuse plan.
“Harvard needs to get something out of this process,” he said.