SHIRLEY — Resident John Oelfke was one of only a few townspeople in attendance at the Devens Disposition Executive Board information night. He raised several questions to a mixed panel of board members, consultants and town representatives.
“I don’t believe in doing a bad deal quick,” Oelfke said, noting the speed with which the executive board has moved the process along.
Another thing Oelfke doesn’t believe is that the Legislature will move ahead without the affirmative vote of the stakeholders.
Resident and Zoning Bylaw Review Committee member Richard “Dick” Hatch disagreed with Oelfke, citing regulation exemptions the Legislature allowed recently for the incoming Bristol-Myers Squibb facility on Devens.
If a financially viable opportunity comes up, he said, the Legislature could come forth with provisions to accommodate it.
During negotiations regarding the bylaws and reuse plan as well as the stakeholder approved Memorandum of Understanding, rumor has circulated that without the vote of the people, MassDevelopment could still go forward with its plan via legislative approval.
“We’re just going through a process here,” said Hatch.
“Are we just trying to make the best of a bad situation?” Oelfke asked.
The state has made significant investments in the disposition process, said Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) consultant George Hall Jr. of the law firm of Anderson & Kreiger, LLP.
If it gets to the point that no progress is being made, however, Hall said the Legislature has the ability to act.
The DEC does not want to force action, said Hall, if the recommendations presented by the communities are in keeping with what the state wants to do.
The executive board did not just act without support from the Joint Boards of Selectmen, said Ayer resident Patrick Hughes.
“Any good process is based on evaluation,” said DEC Director Peter Lowitt, who pointed to the 2002 five-year review conducted by the boards.
Because the jurisdiction of outparcels would return to the respective three towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, the state would be less inclined to overrule zoning without the towns’ consent, said Ricci.
Zoning Bylaw Review Committee member John Rounds, also a panel participant, said that one factor in moving the process forward is the realization that there are residents on Devens.
When Chapter 498 was adopted by the towns in 1993, Rounds said with a tinge of sarcasm, no one imagined that the residents of Devens would want the right to have a vote in the same area they reside, know what town they live in, and have a say in their children’s’ schooling.
A second factor, he said, is that 282 total housing units allowed in the original reuse plan was unrealistic considering how much economic growth has occurred in the area.
Devens has experienced over half of what was anticipated in a third of the time, said Lowitt.
It is also likely that MassDevelopment would eventually like to “get out of the town government business,” said Rounds.
Right now, said Devens resident David Winters, the Devens residents pay taxes to MassDevelopment, but can vote in Harvard to raise taxes and never have to pay the result.
Winters said he doesn’t think the state realized the position it put the Devens people in with Chapter 498 as it is currently written.
“MassDevelopment holds my life in its hands,” said Winters in support of the expedited process.
MassDevelopment Senior Vice President of Operations Richard Montouri was quick to point out that with the press in the room, it should be said that the agency has done a good job by the residents.
“Based on the last two speeches,” he said, “it sounds like we’re a dictatorship.”
The agency has acted very favorably toward Devens residents, Winters agreed, but the point is, it doesn’t have to.
Another point Oelfke wished to have addressed was the financial model provided by the executive board.
Oelfke said the tax base shown in the report is not reflective of the current tax base paid by the majority of citizens in town.
Oelfke estimated that the average tax bill for residents is $2,500, half of what is reported by the document.
The average tax bill estimated by the executive board Finance Committee, is a projection for the year 2025, Montouri said.
“Who’s looking at the numbers (on behalf of Shirley)?” asked Oelfke.
Since the plan will affect the town, said Selectman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio, he would expect that the town’s Finance Committee would provide commentary for the town meeting vote in October.
The documents are in the final draft stages, reminded Ricci, but the opportunity to make comments and revisions is still available through Aug. 28.
Town Administrator Kyle Keady, later asked about the lack of resident turnout at the information forums, said that not a day goes by that he doesn’t answer a question about the disposition process.
It is difficult to say whether voters may be awaiting a more complete picture, he said.
Keady and Guercio have met with various Devens officials countless times to remain active in the process, said Keady.
In addition, Keady said the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee has met with MassDevelopment representatives “quite successfully” to address housing densities in the Village Growth Area.
“It’s been a cooperative effort,” he said.
“We’re trying to get the information out there as fast as we can, and as well as we can,” said Keady.