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Residents to vote on creating new Devens economic team


HARVARD — One of the articles on the Annual Town Meeting warrant came from a “citizen’s request” resident Steve Finnegan brought to the selectmen at their March 16 meeting.

The article seeks to create another Economic Development Assessment Team, this time to set its sights solely on Devens.

Last year, voters agreed to the creation of the assessment team, which looked only at the Ayer Road commercial corridor. And there hasn’t been a serious, Harvard-centric study of Devens since the Devens Focus Group in 2003, Finnegan said.

But town officials have sought ways to raise revenue and reduce reliance on its single-stream taxpayer base, which is almost all residential.

That initiative began with a fiscal impact analysis team which tackled the structural deficit. A key recommendation was to develop a commercial and industrial strategy. That led to the creation of the economic development group. That group is expected to deliver a final report and recommendations at this year’s town meeting. It will presumably disband after doing so.

That leaves the field open for a Devens-focused economic-development team to study former military base. The idea isn’t new, but for Harvard, its time may have come.

With the disposition of Devens still undecided, some Harvard residents and town officials have pressed for a study of economic opportunities that resuming jurisdiction of Devens land within its boundaries would bring. Selectman Lucy Wallace had suggested including Devens in the original economic development team’s study zone but Chairman Bill Johnson said that was too tall an order.

“To do both was perhaps a bridge too far,” Finnegan stated in his proposal. In his view, “a sound, thorough study of commercial development” options in Harvard’s boundaries can’t be limited to Ayer Road and must include Devens.

According to his proposal, the Devens economic development report will include these items.

* Independent analysis of Devens’ financial status.

* Determine if Devens’ commercial and industrial development would benefit Harvard.

* Analysis of Devens’ commercial-tax policies and possible impact of changes.

* Examine financial impact if Devens education contract is continued or terminated.

* Define regional opportunities to share services.

* Identify financial implications of proposed changes to Devens Reuse Plan, zoning bylaws or other changes that may affect future development within the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone.