The path to consensus

AYER — Much of the debate at the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting Tuesday centered on the disposition proposal before the selectmen that raised questions about housing at the North Post, rail station and improvements for Mac Pherson Road.

The proposal began with Devens becoming a town and jurisdiction at North Post reverting to Ayer.

It also included upgrades to Mac Pherson Road, 200 units of housing, 1.75 million square feet of commercial/industrial development, ownership of 20 acres of recreation fields and open space North Post, paid access to the Devens playing fields and access to the Mac Pherson and Grove Pond wells.

Many residents wanted clarification about what was really on the table. Resident Martha Craft was among that number.

“It seems to me there’s a lot of promises that are not in writing,” she said. “I hope they will be in writing by the time they come to the ballot, especially the parts about Mac Pherson Road.”

A similar sentiment was raised by resident Edward Kelley, who said MassDevelopment should not be allowed to turn one spade of dirt at the airfield until Mac Pherson Road is fixed.

Improvements on the road are seen as a priority in developing North Post and diverting traffic away from the downtown.

Kelley also noted MassDevelopment is calling for the Devens Enterprise Zone (DEZ) to remain in place until redevelopment is complete and called for clarification on when real jurisdiction of North Post would come to Ayer.

Kelley left the microphone to an ovation from the floor.

Some portrayed North Post as Ayer’s last chance to reduce the tax burden on residents by adding commercial and industrial development to the tax base. Others supported MassDevelopment’s claim that the lack of housing stock is a major deterrent to economic development in the region.

“Everyone realistically knew going into it that it was going to be a compromise,” said resident Patrick Hughes. “MassDevelopment has made a commitment to doing what we want … it’s better to understand these things as an open partnership.”

The meeting began with a PowerPoint presentation on the disposition proposal that drew from DDEB materials and projections compiled by MassDevelopment’s consultants.

Among the clearer points in those projections was that strictly commercial/industrial development at North Post would generate significantly more traffic than residential development. There would be roughly 20,225 car trips daily versus 13,734.

Roughly $3,000,000 was projected for both scenarios. However, it was acknowledged that the mixed-use scenario relied on state funding for $1.2 million of its revenue, some of which were one-time payments.

Both scenarios showed a likely addition to the tax base of $1.8 million through the development of North Post, though the commercial/industrial scenario showed a potential gain of just under $3,000,000 as early as 2035.

On less controversial topics, Selectman Paul Bresnahan said MassDevelopment had agreed to fund upgrades to Mac Pherson Road, a claim that was confirmed with MassDevelopment Chief of Staff Meg Delorier.

However, some residents objected to Mac Pherson Road being included in current negotiations. MassDevelopment had already agreed to fix it in the past and had not done so, some said.

The solution outlined by town administrator Suhoski called for an at-grade crossing to be installed. This would require financial support from MassDevelopment and asking Shirley to close an at-grade crossing at Walker Road, since additional at-grade crossing on the line is not allowed.

Overall, Suhoski called for a partnership with Shirley and MassDevelopment to fix the problem.

On another topic, there was concern over the refusal of other stakeholders to include Ayer retaining its rail station within the disposition discussion

Though other stakeholders have said the train is not part of the disposition question, Selectman Cornelius (Connie) Sullivan said Ayer should not agree with that position.

“I think it’s incumbent upon our town to make sure the train becomes part of that discussion,” he said.