Ayer Office of Economic and Community Development Director Shaun Suhoski wrote that our Nov. 23 editorial on public input did not “convey the full purpose and process” of the North Post master planning, saying the complex questions about Devens did not “lend itself toward (sic) convenient sound-bites or a passing interest in the issues.”
Having attended many of those workshops, we agree, though we do not entirely share the optimism over the process that Suhoski expressed in the remainder of his letter.
As Suhoski points out, the planning was funded by MassDevelopment, which has a professed preference for high housing numbers at the Devens Enterprise Zone. Our editorial questioned whether the work of the consultants was slanted to support their interests.
Suhoski was Ayer’s liaison with the agency in the process, and has doubtlessly devoted countless hours proactively representing Ayer’s interests, which may explain his optimism.
Our perspective was influenced by different factors.
They included comments from Suhoski’s counterpart in Shirley, Heidi Ricci, who said that night there were major last-minute additions to plans for the Shirley North Post she hadn’t yet seen. Specifically, conceptual designs to put housing on the hinterlands of the Shirley North Post, even though those areas were thought to be environmentally sensitive.
Ricci said afterward she had great difficulty getting MassDevelopment’s consultants to accept records that support the viewpoint they are, adding the entire process seems to have been driven by MassDevelopment’s questions of how much housing could be built and where.
Similar sentiments were expressed by a number of Shirley residents at the first workshop, yet the numbers from MassDevelopment consultants stayed the same throughout.
Closer to home, Ayer resident and representative Harry Zane was one of many who were puzzled with what was related at the second North Post planning workshop. Like many, he was fully expecting to hear a response to the universal mandate at the first workshop that MacPherson Road be fixed. Instead, he heard a lecture about increased traffic from development of the North Post and the possibility of traffic lights downtown, which he termed a complete surprise considering that upgrading MacPherson was supposed to alleviate those problems.
His exact words were, “I still don’t know why we’re doing this.” He said he wasn’t sold on the idea that more traffic would result from commercial development than residential, which was the key selling point for the mixed-use plan at the presentation.
For those who don’t know, Zane represents Ayer on the Devens Disposition Executive Board (DDEB) and was chairman of the comprehensive plan update committee. In short, he’s someone who should be in the loop on topics of public discussion.
Such was the content of two exit interviews from local officials close to the process, and we conducted many more. The recurring theme was concern that Ayer’s priority of getting MacPherson Road upgraded and adding commercial/industrial development at the Ayer portion of North Post were being pushed aside in favor of MassDevelopment’s housing objectives.
We hope to make it clear that this impression did not spring out of whole cloth and onto the pens of our editorial department. It is, instead, the inevitable result of exit interviews from involved residents who came to a meeting thinking their input would be represented and left puzzled by what they’d seen.
We thank Shaun for his response, however, and hope he’ll keep them coming. His letter is a long one. Rather than edit it for length, we will run it in two or three parts. Part one is in this issue.