AYER — Devens and the future of North Post were central issues in a review of a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) being developed through the Devens Disposition Executive Board (DDEB).
The MOU is expected to outline recommendations for Devens’ future that would be codified in coming months and forwarded to the Legislature for decision. That is, provided that the MOU is ratified by five out of six Devens stakeholders this fall.
Though the MOU is not a legally-binding document, it would place consensus on items such as a new town of Devens and 200 units of housing at the North Post in writing.
Ayer Selectman Paul Bresnahan, who has been the town’s point-person in disposition talks, told the 20 residents in attendance that the session was intended to proof the document, which has been negotiated jointly through the DDEB.
”What we’re looking for primarily is errors of omission, erroneous comments or things that should be added,” he said.
Of chief concern to residents was the future of North Post where the town is expected to re-assert jurisdiction by 2010. Though jurisdiction would bring tax revenue and responsibility for providing local services, it would not include local permitting authority, which was cause for some discussion.
The current deal would retain unified permitting through the Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) through build-out, though there’s been talk of amending the enterprise commission’s voting structure after a town of Devens is incorporated to ensure local majorities when projects are reviewed.
”I think it would be a mistake to have 200 units of townhouses up there and the way it’s written, that could happen,” he said.
There were also concerns about density of development there, with resident and business owner Edward Kelley stating that MassDevelopment’s figures are dense at 10 units per acre.
Resident Richard Gilles suggested otherwise, noting the Devens Enterprise Commission stated in the MOU that it would seek to continue “sustainable development” at Devens. Gilles said that is a defined term in the development world, which encapsulates many of the questions residents were looking to address.
Soon after, Ayer Commissioner Martin Poutry said otherwise, stating that zoning is the key, since the commission’s charge is to administer it as written.
”I think if the individual towns want to see what’s going to happen, they should pay attention to the zoning,” he said. “People think the DEC controls the permitting process … I think really to control what happens in Ayer, it has more to do with the zoning than who makes that decision.”
Poutry was referring to the new-look DEC outlined in the MOU, which Bresnahan said stakeholders had agreed to in principal. The amended commission would have seven members to vote on applications, with four representatives from the town ultimately affected alongside one member each from the other communities.
The DEC currently has two representatives from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley and six “regional” representatives appointed by the governor.
Asked if the DEC had signed-off on the changes, Bresnahan said they had “tentatively” done so. He said the executive board’s coordinating committee has adopted it, though he said word had not been passed along from DEC Chairman William Marshall that the commission had accepted it. Even if they went against it, they would only be one out of six stakeholders to do so, he said.
Poutry termed the proposed changes a compromise and said he understood why they were included. He added that there are concerns within the commission over creating different zoning blocks by making the change.
In other matters, Bresnahan assured the gathering that MassDevelopment has agreed to underwrite study and construction of McPherson Road, which would take approximately five years and cost $12-to-$15 million.
On the topic of environmental cleanup, he said there will be no liability at North Post, which was seconded by Department of Environmental Protection representative Lynne Welsh. She said MassDevelopment signed an administrative consent order in 1998 stipulating that the agency will be responsible for any cleanup not performed by the Army.
The MOU is scheduled for completion by the DDEB by June, with a new reuse plan and zoning to be produced concurrently.
Whatever the final wording of those items are, Kelley advised Bresnahan that its terms should be well publicized prior to any ratification vote this fall.
”When you (voters) don’t know about it, you know what the answer is,” he said.