Next Monday, June 8, there will be a Special Town Meeting at 7 p.m. at the Bromfield School to decide on a single article. (There are also Special Town Meetings for the same article in Ayer and Shirley at the same time.) The article seeks to adopt changes in the Devens Reuse Plan and Zoning By-Laws for Vicksburg Square on Devens. Selectman Peter Warren, Planning Board Chairman Joe Sudol and I have been working on this since last November with representatives from our neighbors in the towns of Ayer and Shirley, the community of Devens and representatives from MassDevelopment. Four public hearings, a public informational session and an open house have been held concerning these changes. Input received from citizens has been incorporated into the proposed changes. The proposed changes are supported the Harvard Board of Selectmen, the Harvard Planning Board and the Joint Boards of Selectmen. A letter of support was also received from the Freedom’s Way Heritage Association.
Vicksburg Square consists of seven buildings on 20 acres located across from Rogers Field on Devens. Six of these buildings are on the National Historical Register. The four larger buildings were built in 1929 and are each about 100,000 square feet. Most of them have been out of service since the Army left in 1995 and all are in need of considerable renovations. These proud buildings need our help.
The purpose of the proposed changes is to broaden the range of allowable uses so as to attract developers who will bid on restoring these historic buildings. Such additional uses could include mixed-use residential, educational, health care, accessory retail, nursing home usage or office. This would be in addition to the present allowed use as a “technology incubator.” Some of the expanded uses will allow for use of historic tax credits to help fund the preservation of the buildings.
Most of us who have children who play soccer have noticed these buildings across from Rogers Field. Parts of them are in Ayer and Harvard. They are the heart of Devens and at some time in the future may become part of one or both towns. Preserving them by finding a viable use and preventing them from decaying to the point that they are lost is the right thing to do. Allowing for residential use will benefit the entire area by providing housing opportunities for both people who will work on Devens and those of us who wish to downsize. It will also help provide consumers for goods and services sold locally by allowing people who work in the area to live in the area.
In working as a Harvard selectman on this project and as a member of the Joint Boards of Selectmen, I have gained an appreciation of what is possible by partnering with our neighbors on a common goal. Success by the three towns in approving the reuse plans for Vicksburg Square will likely be the first of many opportunities to show positive results that benefit all our communities by working together. I urge you to come to Special Town Meeting on Monday evening and to vote your support for the article.
Harvard Board of Selectmen