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Part one of a three-part letter

I write further to your Nov. 23 editorial, “Public Input,” which in my opinion, did not convey the full purpose and process of an ongoing planning effort for the so-called North Post of the former Fort Devens.

The complexity of the overall Devens disposition planning effort does not lend itself towards convenient sound-bites or a passing interest in the issues.

It requires a considerable amount of time and effort from dedicated volunteers, committed local officials, professional staff and paid consultants to research, organize and present information to assist the disposition process.

The following narrative, though more lengthy than a quick editorial, is intended to provide a greater context for the ongoing North Post planning effort — just one of many issues now under review by the six stakeholders through the Devens Disposition Executive Board.

Background

North Post is comprised of the MacPherson Road corridor and former Army airfield in Ayer and the Environmental Business Zone in Shirley. Combined, these areas total nearly 500 acres of land that is geographically and physically remote from the core of Devens.

Because of the unique nature of these lands (which mirror each other in size, and are bisected by the Nashua River and Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge), the towns of Ayer and Shirley are participating with MassDevelopment to plan for future use. The master planning is needed now to help inform the disposition scenario for the whole of Devens being developed for a November 2006 decision.

Obviously, a collaborative plan for North Post development benefits all parties regardless of the disposition option. This is common sense.

Thus, MassDevelopment underwrote the cost of consultants, Sasaki Associates, in order to:

Identify existing conditions including environmental constraints, access and existing infrastructure; develop maximum build-out scenarios for each zone to understand the potential development context; and prepare alternative development scenarios individually recommended by MassDevelopment, the town of Ayer and the town of Shirley in response to public input.

Public Input

Towards this end, on Sept. 22, Sasaki led a public information session in Shirley Town Hall regarding existing conditions and maximum build-out under current Reuse Plan zoning. About 20 residents and elected officials representing both towns participated in this event.

Next, on Oct. 11, my office — independent of MassDevelopment — sponsored a workshop in Ayer Town Hall attended by nearly 20 residents and officials to solicit further public input on Ayer’s portion of the North Post only.

On Nov. 14, Sasaki presented alternative development scenarios for the North Post during yet another public session held in Ayer Town Hall. This time, nearly 40 people attended, including citizens from the towns, elected local officials, state wildlife officials and representatives from MassDevelopment.

Each session was covered by local news media and was taped and rebroadcast repeatedly on local cable television. The presentation concluded with the names and addresses of contacts in Ayer, Shirley and MassDevelopment for additional public comment outside of the meeting process.

The Public Spirit editorial questioned whether public input helped guide the planning process.

I cannot speak for the town of Shirley, so my comments are limited to the public’s impact on planning for the MacPherson Road corridor and airfield in Ayer.

Comment from all of the sessions was virtually unanimous concerning expectations for MacPherson Road, and there was rare consensus on how to proceed with three development options for the airfield: Housing only, mixed-use or commercial-industrial only.

SHAUN A. SUHOSKI, director

Community and Economic Development

Ayer