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Rail, energy and housing are the keys to Devens growth

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DEVENS — MassDevelopment president and CEO Robert Culver simply stated that even though people go crazy every time he says what he feels about the future of housing on Devens, he still speaks his mind.

“(The Joint Boards of Selectmen) need to spend time together thinking about what’s fair to the community as a whole,” he said at the recent MassDevelopment board of directors meeting. “What is fair and what’s not fair is not just about Devens or their own communities.”

Culver’s statement came on the heels of Harvard Board of Selectmen Chairman Leo Blair discussing the recent Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS) meetings and discussions of the disposition of Devens.

“In a nutshell there’s two major changes in the JBOS,” Blair said. “Instead of looking just at disposition, we’re taking a more regional approach. The towns of Harvard and Ayer have begun looking into sharing (Department of Public Works). And as early as today, I was informed that Shirley would also like to be apart of the discussions.”

Culver seemed to appreciate the way the towns are moving forward when he said to Blair, “Dating is not a bad thing.”

Culver added that as a businessman, he has to look at the amount of funding MassDevelopment has put into Devens, but it’s not just Devens he says that is actually receiving the funding.

“I have nothing but the greatest respect for what has gone on here,” he said. “Ayer, Harvard, Shirley and Devens will all benefit from the amount of development going on here. One day, this great place known as Devens will be turned over to others and it’s really, truly amazing.”

Devens Committee Chairman Tom Kinch stated the change in the way things were being conducted is because of the current JBOS and feels the backbone of a real community is forming.

“We’re starting to think of a local community together, not just our own communities,” he said. “The industrial aspect of the area has gone on very well, but the residential has not gone on at all. Where we need the help is the rejuvenation of Vicksburg Square. It’s going to take some extra help but once it’s done, we’ll have the backbone of the community.”

All of the communities realize the redevelopment of Devens is only going to help the region going forward.

Ayer Selectmen Chairman Carolyn McCreary said she knows what Devens means to the region and it is not just economic.

“I love this opportunity to have Devens be this economic engine for the region,” she said. “There are some basic principles that we would like to put forward so that Devens will be a model, sustainable, resilient community.”

The three principles McCreary outlined were being energy efficient, energy self-reliant and Devens becoming free from an overdependence on the global economy.

A couple of factors McCreary said are important to the region is to have the proper number of housing units for all the workers Devens plans to employ with industrial companies such as Evergreen Solar and Bristol-Myers Squibb, and finding ways for commuter rail to be more attractive to commuters.

“We have to find a way for Boston people to want to take the commuter rail here to Devens for work,” she said. “Those things will only help with fuel costs.”

Devens Committee member Phil Crosby added that the communities are working together collaboratively and that needing or having more money to successfully agree on a disposition is not necessarily what they need as a group.

“We’re going to solve the problem together,” he said of disposition. “I think we’re on the right road and it’s a difficult problem. I think we need ideas more than anything, but I think we’re reaching that phase where we’re going to solve it.”

Blair told MassDevelopment the JBOS plan for the unscripted, no-agenda meeting scheduled on Dec. 4 is a way of “throwing out those ideas.”