Part 1 of a 2-part story
DEVENS — Who should start the ball rolling on reviving a development plan for the vacant Vicksburg Square on Devens? MassDevelopment’s chosen developer, Trinity Financial of Boston, or the selectmen for Ayer, Harvard and Shirley? The Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS) for the three towns pondered a preferred approach at their Aug. 26 meeting.
At the June 2009 Super Town Meeting to try to rezone Vicksburg Square for residential use, Harvard and Shirley Town Meetings voted yes. Ayer Town Meeting said no, nixing MassDevelopment’s request to broaden the buildings’ innovation and technology uses.
This time around, a developer has been named. Trinity Financial President Jim Keefe has indicated his company will commit to the project, depending on whether a consensus is possible roughly by year’s end. Trinity’s November 2009 filing stated a preliminary intention for 250 housing units.
JBOS Chairman Ron Ricci asked his peers to consider hosting public forums in their home towns to gather feedback for the developers.
“I think the general consensus is, we wanted to be in a position of reaching out to our communities. Invite the developer if he wants to come. If we say ‘no’ too many times, they’re going to say these guys are too tough to work with.”
Ayer Selectman Jim Fay disagreed. Fay said the developer, not the towns, should lead the discussion forward. Throwing the leadership to town residents won’t be productive, Fay said.
“I’m not sure they know what they want. I’ve heard from this table that that’s the role of the developer. I’m not sure I can hold a meeting and say ‘what do you want at Fort Devens?’ and get a good response. They don’t know what’s possible yet until a developer tells them and then they can pick and choose. Let him do the work,” Fay said.
Ayer Selectman Carolyn McCreary agreed.
“We need someone who has more depth of knowledge of what’s economically possible. We need to have someone come in with the possible options of the reasonable reuse laid out before us,” she said.
Fay said Keefe professes an interest in preserving Vicksburg’s military history and is sensitive to not developing the square to compete with surrounding towns’ businesses.
Still, Fay said with 800 units on the market in Ayer, a housing-heavy Vicksburg reuse plan is bad for Ayer.