AYER — The developer tapped by MassDevelopment to lead the charge to revive the vacant Vicksburg Square buildings on Devens has announced a series of so-called “Vision Sessions.” The community meetings are to introduce the Trinity Financial development team and outline the project.
“The goal of this session is to learn from the communities the important issues related to the Vicksburg Square redevelopment,” reads a Trinity Financial flier. The information was distributed to the Ayer Board of Selectmen by Trinity’s Project Manager Abbey Goldenfarb at the selectmen’s Oct. 5 meeting. Goldenfarb was accompanied by Trinity Assistant Project Manager Dan Drazen and Design and Construction Manager Larry Sparrow, both of whom have been involved in Trinity’s $800 million, multiyear Hamilton Canal District rebirth in downtown Lowell.
While some in the three Devens towns (Ayer, Harvard and Shirley) have called for one large tritown meeting to talk over the fate of Vicksburg Square, Goldenfarb said “our goal is to have each community be heard… to really give us an education about what we should be thinking about as we go into the planning process.”
Goldenfarb outlined the preliminary community meeting schedule and stressed that although the meetings are scheduled in four locations — Devens and each of the three towns — each meeting is open to all.
On Saturday, Oct. 23, from 9 -11 a.m., the public is invited to attend the first Vision Session at Devens Community Center on Devens. From 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the Vicksburg Square buildings will be open for tours. Another afternoon community meeting is from 1-3 p.m. at Shirley Town Hall. Refreshments are to be served at the morning and afternoon sessions.
A similar schedule is planned for Saturday, Oct. 30, with a 9-11 a.m. meeting in Ayer Town Hall’s Great Hall. There’ll be another Vicksburg Square tour from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. An afternoon meeting in Harvard will be held from 1-3 p.m. at the Library.
“We think it’s important for people to get out and see these buildings and see the conditions they’re in,” said Goldenfarb.
Trinity Financial also plans a field trip Veterans Day, Nov. 11, where the curious can hop the train at Depot Square in downtown Ayer at 7:15 a.m., arrive at North Station at 8:22 a.m. and be shepherded around Boston on a bus for a guided tour of other completed Trinity Financial projects. The purpose is to show how their developments have aged gracefully even a decade out.
“Following a provided lunch, the tour would end back at North Station at 1:15 p.m. in time for the outbound train, which arrives in Ayer at 2:23 p.m.”
Trinity intends to take the feedback and return again to the four Devens communities for a second Vision Session, where a site concept would be presented. Another round of community meetings would ensue. A third Vision Session would follow for the community to preview Trinity’s final proposed development plan and program in advance of a tri-town “Super Town Meeting.”
Trinity Financial made the winning pitch to MassDevelopment over the winter with a plan in January that initially included 246 units of residential housing in the 400,000 square foot of building space. Since then there’s been talk of reducing the proposed housing unit talk but no commitment has been made on a final number. The trouble remains for the Boston developer: Residential uses are not presently permitted at Vicksburg Square.
In order to change the present zoning from the pure “Innovation and Technology” uses, all three Town Meetings must vote “yes” each with its own majority vote. The rezoning of Vicksburg Square was attempted June 8, 2009 when Harvard and Shirley voters said “yes” but Ayer Town Meeting said “no,” nixing the notion for many reasons. The failed initiative was then driven by MassDevelopment without a named developer or known development plans presented for public consumption.
On the consensus building efforts, Goldenfarb told selectmen, “We don’t see 100 percent of people being happy 100 percent of the time with what we propose here,” but Trinity’s goal is to include the community “in a way that we feel people haven’t been before.”