At the meeting sponsored by the Ayer Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Jan. 31, citizens were asked their for their preference to two plans for the North Post: housing and business/industry or business/industry only.
Through my work on the Devens Housing and Transportation Committee and Ayer’s Comprehensive Plan Committee, as well as attending at least three meetings on the North Post, I’ve given considerable thought to the question posed to all of us.
Probably none of us wants change, and population growth projects many negative images for us: traffic congestion, air pollution, water restrictions and over-crowded schools. However, the prospect of very limited growth has its problems as well. Because of the tight housing market, many of our young people are fleeing the area. I have personally been affected by this problem — both my children have moved on because of the cost of housing combined with a decreasing availability of high quality jobs.
The only argument I’ve heard for using the North Post as a business only area is to keep our property taxes low. One of the primary factors that have contributed to our rising real estate taxes is the increasing value of our houses. This is a direct effect of an undersupply of housing. Those opposed to additional housing at North Post have argued that the industries in Ayer are paying a lower proportion of our revenue. That is not because there are fewer businesses, but because business property values are not increasing at the same rate as those of residential properties.
The presentation at the Jan. 31 meeting gave additional statistics to help us make the decision about the two scenarios. Preliminary numbers for the estimated economic impact show little difference between the two scenarios. The traffic impact of the mixed use will be about 14,000 trips per day; business-only about 20,000 trips per day. The 200 housing units will add about 75 students to our classrooms.
I think that proposing to develop the North Post with only business/industry is unrealistic. In our area, HP (formerly Digital) is downsizing, closing the King Street campus in Littleton. Cisco built a new facility at routes 111 and I495 that remains vacant. Devens has had trouble attracting the quality businesses they want. And the North Post is farther from major highways than any of the above examples. Also, businesses are less willing to expand in an area where the cost of living is so high, and this will remain the case as long as the housing supply is low.
For these reasons I am supporting mixed use (scenario 1) on the North Post. I hope you will join me in urging the Ayer selectmen to choose the mixed-use scenario as the one more beneficial to our town.