Skip to content




SHIRLEY — Once Monday night’s presentation on the proposed zoning changes to Vicksburg Square was done, there were some questions from the audience.

Asked about the configuration of space slated for development and how many units will be assigned to each building, Vicksburg Square subcommittee member and Harvard Selectman Ron Ricci said that’s a concern in Harvard, too.

Answer: The revised proposal will address that issue.

Shirley resident Heidi Ricci had several questions. She served for several years on a planning group that produced a comprehensively detailed Devens Open Space and Recreation plan and has championed eco-sensitive development that could bring revenue to the town.

Ricci said she supports reuse of Vicksburg Square’s historic brick buildings in MassDevelopment’s plan, which seeks to rezone the area from industrial technology to residential, with a mixed-use component.

In the process, the 282-unit housing cap set by the Reuse Plan will be upped to 400.

Ricci said she’s concerned about that. “What are the implications for Shirley with 400 new families?” she asked, especially since the Ayer/Harvard town line runs right through the proposed residential enclave.

Ricci said it’s hard to envision redevelopment with Devens disposition undecided. Noting talk of regionalized services and of Ayer “taking over,” she wonders how the new big picture might affect Shirley’s municipal complex, which is on Devens, she said.

Ricci also asked if land being cleaned up behind the middle school would be available for redevelopment to generate revenue for the town.

The answers were not forthcoming. Instead, such questions call for a sit-down with MassDevelopment officials, said Richard Montuori, the agency’s Vice President for Devens. He made similar offers to others, including resident Robert Eramo and members of the New Patriot Church.

The Devens-based congregation, which shares space with Native American tribal groups, is seeking a permanent home.

Robert Lyle said he attends the church and had spoken to “Mr. Brewer” at MassDevelopment about that issue. The group has eyed the former Devens chapel or the old Red Cross building, he said.

A Rindge, New Hampshire resident who said he was stationed at Devens from 1965 until he retired in 1988, said he attends the New Patriot Church, and like many other members, once lived on Devens.

“Most of the congregation consists of military retirees and their families,” he said. “Our hearts are here.” Now, they want to establish roots in a church of their own.

Montuori said the chapel is earmarked for commercial or residential use, but there are other options. “The church is welcome to participate in the RFP with other developers,” he said. And its scope isn’t limited. “Churches are immune to zoning.”

Eramo, a member of Shirley’s recreational field committee and president of Shirley Youth Baseball, said he’d like to see field use incorporated into the new zoning plan. He suggested that developers might be asked to kick in space to sweeten a deal.

But Montuori nixed that idea. “This isn’t like a normal town,” he said. MassDevelopment’s aim is to create jobs and spur economic development for the region and the state, he said.

Bill Campbell said he’d moved to the area to care for his parents. “My dad is a veteran,” he said. “It would be nice” if a social venue for veterans was part of the plan.

Cappucci cautioned that branching out in too many directions — tying the rezoning plan to open space requirements, for example — could slow the process. The focus now should be on saving Vicksburg Square buildings, he said. “We don’t want to miss the boat.”

But Ricci said it might not be wise to head down any one path without knowing where it leads. Devens redevelopment was supposed to be a partnership with the towns, she said.