DEVENS — The Joint Boards of Selectmen’s “unscripted” brainstorming session on Dec. 4 wasn’t as “sexy” as many thought it was going to be, but it still didn’t disappoint.
The selectmen from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley and the members of the Devens Committee seem to be on the same page and moving forward on the future of Devens.
“I’m sitting here thinking recessions aren’t that bad,” Shirley Selectman Enrico Cappucci said. “This is the first time I’ve sat at this table and thought things were getting done. We can really centralize and we don’t have a lot of time; the economy is not going to get better.”
The common theme around the table was the idea of creating a regional district.
“I think we need to talk about sharing resources and services such as police, fire and (Department of Public Works),” Ayer Selectman Carolyn McCreary said. “We need to act as a region, as a whole. Devens is supposed to be an economic engine.”
Newly elected Devens Committee member Armen Demeajian said there is a need to join forces on sharing services and it would be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
With everyone saying the same thing, Ayer Selectman Richard Gilles took the opportunity to introduce his idea; a gradual iterative program for eventual sustainable economic district.
“Ayer and Harvard are working toward sharing a DPW director,” Gilles said. “We start with a one-year agreement and in nine months if it’s working we kick the tires and do another year. We’ll start to develop agreements.
“We’ll have data coming in over the next six months and we can create a program where inter-municipal agreements will be in place over the next five years.”
Devens Committee member Philip Crosby showed his support for creating a regional district by holding up two handwritten drawings. One was of several pie pieces, representing Ayer, Harvard, Shirley and Devens as separate pieces, and the second was a large circle with each of the communities inside.
“This is where we are now,” he said pointing to the circle. “We need to expand our thinking to housing; especially affordable housing. Maybe Devens is a region where all the affordable housing is built collectively instead of each (town) on its own.”
Ayer Selectman Gary Luca seemed to agree with Crosby when he said the current housing cap needs to be removed.
“We need to let the market set the price,” he said. “I think we need to be more open to having more housing.”
Thinking completely outside the box, Shirley Selectman Andy Deveau spoke to the group about a suggestion made recently by Shirley Moderator George Knittel.
“He came to us as a resident, not as our moderator,” Deveau explained. “He said, what if we consider taking all of our towns and putting them into one town?”
McCreary feels the regional district can be implemented, but the towns still must maintain their own identities.
“Each of the towns have their own character,” she said. “While we can be together and we should be; we need to preserve the differences of each town.”
Gilles said he doesn’t see the character of the towns changing in the near future.
“I don’t see substantial changes happening,” he said. “Like how it feels to drive through a place; that’ll change in 30 years or even 10 to 15 years. Keeping the character is really important, but the social fabric will change and I think that will be gradual.”
Crosby said one of the differences between Devens and the other communities is that Devens residents are not in control of their community; MassDevelopment is.
“Right now we don’t have the control,” he said. “For selfish reasons as a small, growing community we need to have our own identity and control.”
Schools need to be a part of the conversation as well, Crosby added.
“The end result is in 15 years, we want to have the whole area to have the quality of education that Harvard has, not just Harvard but the whole area,” he said. “Why can’t it be that Ayer, Shirley and Devens have the same quality of education as Harvard?”
Deveau said the starting point to regionalizing the district is creating an “umbrella” for public safety.
“We all have a lot of problems (financially),” Harvard Selectman Ron Ricci said. “We came to this table (months ago) thinking Devens and out of it we’ve realized we have a lot in common. We can work together.”
Deveau said he was excited to be sitting at the table with his counterparts from Ayer, Harvard and Devens.
“I continue to hear to the same things around the table,” he said. “Imagine if we all lived in the same community; this would be awesome. I really like this process. I’m really anxious to get to the second step.”
Harvard Selectman Tim Clark said the next step would be to establish a common vocabulary that the selectmen use consistently.
“We need to teach the public that vocabulary,” he said. “We need to develop trust within the public. I don’t think the public cares about the details; they just want to know they can trust us in the process.”
The group adjourned the brainstorming session with a common goal in mind — creating a sustainable region through resources and services.
The next meeting will be held on Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m.