SHIRLEY — A rezoning plan for Devens’ Vicksburg Square has been making the rounds in the three towns that will decide its fate.
Last week, a public hearing was held in Harvard.
Monday evening, March 23, a public hearing was held in Shirley, with a final hearing set for the following night in Ayer.
MassDevelopment officials and members of the Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS) subcommittee that’s been working with them to revise the plan, presented the updated draft to date. In final form, the rezoning proposal may include input from the hearings.
The proposal will be presented to voters in the three towns at “super town meetings” next month.
Formerly the headquarters of the U.S. Army at Fort Devens, Vicksburg Square has been mostly unoccupied since the Army moved out, said MassDevelopment’s Ed Starzec.
In a run-through of a PowerPoint presentation that substituted handouts for a big screen, Starzec sketched the 20-acre site and four imposing brick buildings that are the focal point of the redevelopment plan.
Over the past decade, the venerable buildings have deteriorated, he said. Vandals have broken in, and one building has sprouted mold in the basement. They all contain lead paint and may have other remedial problems that a developer would face, he said, but interest has perked up since the residential rezoning plan was introduced.
The Georgian Revival-style brick buildings, with lofty gables, three floors and bunker-like basements, offer tens of thousands of square feet of space.
Hale Hall, built in 1940, has distinctive arches, Starzec said. All four have a history but only three are “historic” by definition. The oldest, the Police building, built in 1918, destroyed by fire and rebuilt, he explained.
Vicksburg Square is a national historic site.
Knox Hall was built in 1929 as a “second cantonment hospital.” Revere Hall and Allen Hall, both built the same year as Knox, originally housed soldiers. MassDevelopment renovated Revere Hall and had its headquarters there until 2006. Allen Hall was once home to the Army Intelligence School.
Also on the Vicksburg Square map are the former base firehouse, built in 1930, and Bataan Corregidor Memorial Hall, built in 1932.
A branch of the Massachusetts State Police, which provides police service to Devens, is headquartered in the old firehouse, which has a fenced dog run now used as a kennel.
The other building, originally built as a dramatic theater, was converted to a movie theater before it was mothballed in the mid 1990s.
The imposing façades of these venerable buildings would not change in MassDevelopment’s new vision for the area. “These changes are to prevent further deterioration of those buildings,” said Selectmen Chairman Enrico Cappucci, who served on the JBOS Vicksburg Square subcommittee. He deemed the agency’s effort to change the area’s zoning a laudable means to that end.
Selectman Andy Deveau agreed the buildings should be saved and the new plan seems like the best way to do that. Noting the handsome lineup, as seen from the parade ground during Devens fireworks displays over the years, he said it would be shame to lose that historic view.
Guercio sided with his colleagues in backing the plan.