Planning Board completes discussion of North Post zoning


AYER — The process to determine Devens’ future has jurisdiction over the North Post slated to return to Ayer as part of the so-called 2B scenario.

However, the state is insisting on a 20-year zoning freeze as part of the deal, which would outline how Devens is developed. Those zoning documents have been commissioned by MassDevelopment through the Devens Disposition Executive Board and are expected to be released shortly.

Paul Bresnahan, Ayer’s point person on the disposition process, and MassDevelopment representative Ed Starzec paid a couple of visits to the Planning Board seeking feedback on North Post development under 2B. Minimum lots sizes, retail and height restrictions were discussed.

The North Post development plan outlined by Starzec calls for 200 units of housing, research labs, manufacturing, and research and development there. Prohibited uses include warehouses and exterior storage.

However, it did not specify where any of the usage zones would go on the airfield area with Starzec saying development is five to 10 years away and too far off to predict.

While objections from the board were few, height limitations were an unresolved issue. MassDevelopment was seeking a 75-foot figure, higher than the 40 feet that prevail in Ayer and 60 feet in Devens.

Though Bresnahan noted the town recently allowed a 75-foot height in the medical services district, board member Patricia Walsh said that was a special case.

Board Chairman Elizabeth Hughes suggested limits of 50-feet for commercial and 75-feet for industrial.

Starzec, who said he is concerned about the difficulty of changing those figures once they are agreed to, said he’d check back with MassDevelopment.

Starzec said he grew up on a 5,000-square-foot parcel, which had plenty of room for his family.

Hughes asked if that still would have been the case at 4,000.

It would have been, said Starzec, though it would have been tighter. He cited MassDevelopment’s “design controls” as being able to mitigate that, though he conceded those specifications would not be available by the time 2B comes to a vote in November.

MassDevelopment stipulated that housing be included in the North Post with 2B, but Starzec claimed the dense zoning was in response to the town’s requests, which Walsh objected to.

“Your delegation that negotiated the MOU specifically requested affordable housing,” he said. “That’s what we’re responding to.”

Starzec later specified the small lot sizes would be accessible to a greater range of incomes. He then asked the board for a minimum square footage, and Hughes said 5,000 to 8,000.

Walsh re-iterated her concern about the density when discussing another zoning district, which would have 24 units per acre with three-and-a-half-story townhouse units.

Hughes said she understood Walsh’s concern, but that hers were mitigated by the 200 unit cap at North Post.

There was also talk of executive board representative Harry Zane’s idea of “use swapping” to get the housing units off North Post, but Starzec made it clear MassDevelopment was not pushing that agenda or willing to do the footwork to make it happen.

MassDevelopment has a financial interest in the North Post it would not give up, he said, and the complex negotiations involved likely wouldn’t happen before the document was finalized in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s been out there for several months now, and it hasn’t moved past being a good idea,” said Starzec.

In other matters, the board confirmed its inclination to permit retail-only on a very limited basis at North Post, allowing only cafeterias or accessory retail within industrial sites.

While that measure was intended to decrease the possibility of creating competition with the downtown, Board of Selectmen Chairman Frank Maxant opined from the floor that it likely wouldn’t make any difference.

Retail was severely limited in the zoning that currently governs Devens, he said, and a retail center such as the Devens Common was listed as a “prohibited use” within.

Ayer required those concessions of MassDevelopment in the original agreements, he said, which the agency has ignored ever since. Overall, he said it was a fool’s errant to attempt more negotiations with MassDevelopment.

“It’s almost the same sentence and same concept from the original reuse plan,” he said. “ What’s being presented to the board is the same thing that was presented before and accomplished nothing.”

“So noted,” said Hughes.

Bresnahan and Starzec had no response.

Overall, Hughes gave no clue as to what her views on 2B are.

When the Planning Board began discussing 2B in July, she specified that the board discussing the probable ballot question should not be construed as support for it.

Walsh has been pushing for the board to enter discussions about whether they should support or oppose 2B, which may be on the September meeting agenda.

Zoning documents will be released shortly and forwarded to the board, said Starzec.