SHIRLEY — Trinity Financial, a Boston-based firm that is Mass Development’s developer of choice for a proposed makeover of Devens’ historic Vicksburg Square, outlined its project plans at the selectmen’s meeting Monday night.
It’s rather an old story by now, having made the rounds at so-called “visioning sessions” in Ayer, Harvard and Shirley and via numerous stories in local newspapers.
But Trinity Financial Principal Jim Keefe and Assistant Project Manager Dan Drazen made the recent presentation as if it was the first, stressing his continued commitment to the project and the historic mission behind it.
On task now to spread the word before super town meetings this fall, they were aiming to get the story straight and hopefully address concerns before voters get another crack at the proposal.
They’ve been this route before.
When a slightly different proposal was brought to the three towns last year, Shirley voters said yes, but the other two towns both said no. The measure needs a majority vote in each of the towns to pass.
Although the new and improved project passed muster with the state agency, those town meetings represent three major hoops for Trinity to jump through before a single shovel hits the ground at Vicksburg Square.
Last year’s effort included visioning sessions and a company-sponsored train trip to Boston to visit some of Trinity’s other developments.
Despite the initial defeat, MassDevelopment is still on board with Trinity, which still seeks to redo Vicksburg Square, not as a mixed-use commercial and residential complex, but as residential only, creating 246 new rental units in four old brick buildings renovated for the purpose.
One building, Hale Hall, will be restricted to senior residents over age 55.
The plan calls for a zoning change, same as last time and thus requires an amendment to Chapter 498, the state law enacted to transition the former military base for other uses. Changing the law requires a majority vote at each one of three “super town meetings” held in Ayer, Harvard and Shirley at the same time.
Now, a key challenge is to address issues that killed the project the first time around.
Ayer favored retraining existing zoning, in part because residents balked at the idea of adding retail establishments that might compete with Main Street businesses.
Harvard was worried about adding 200 families with school-age children to what could potentially be the town’s population after the final disposition of Devens is determined.
Shirley, while it has an equal stake, did not share those concerns.
“These are great old buildings,” Keefe said of the handsome brick buildings they plan to rehab as apartments, plus a couple of others that will add to the ambience. The old theater, for example, will become the new home of the Fort Devens Museum, now housed in a suite of rooms in an office building on Jackson Road.
The new site will be more visible; offering space for exhibits and a central location. The museum should be a community showcase, Keefe said, and in its new home, it will be.
This part of the plan also ties into the firm’s mission to preserve Devens history as well as Vicksburg Square.
The old buildings are deteriorating. Water and vandals have done a lot of damage and it gets worse every year, Keefe said. Soon, they will be beyond repair. That’s why it’s important to act now, if ever, to save them.
Keefe said the aim is to set an October date for the super town meetings and that his firm will cover the costs.