SHIRLEY — At the Selectmen’s meeting Monday night, Chairman David Swain told two members of the Recreational Fields Committee that their request to resubmit a recent Request for Proposals (RFP) was on hold.
The RFP — to lease out a couple of town ball fields behind the Ayer-Shirley Middle School — was sent out a couple of weeks ago at the request of RFC member Bob Eramo. The selectmen voted unanimously to do so, anticipating a response from a Littleton entrepreneur who, according to Eramo, wants to negotiate a long-term lease on the two baseball fields.
In return for exclusive use of the ball fields on weekends for tournament play and for practice at other times when they are not used for a school or town program, the tenant has said he will repair and maintain the fields. They’re pretty scruffy now, with sparse crabgrass, weeds and trees poking through the perimeter fence, which sags in places. There are also dangerous impediments such as a manhole cover and outcrops of old house foundations left over from the Fort Devens era, when the area was a military housing enclave.
After the RFP went out, the Economic Development Committee came forward with concerns, positing that the plan to lease the fields could clash with future plans to develop the area. Designated the “Shirley Village Growth District,” in the Devens Reuse Plan, the land belongs to Devens and is under the jurisdiction of MassDevelopment.
The Reuse plan was approved by voters in the towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley after the military base closed in 1994. The document laid out a visionary blueprint for Devens redevelopment over the next 40 years. Now, the EDC is working with MassDevelopment to map out Shirley’s sector of that vision in can-do terms, incorporating public input from a town charette earlier this year.
According to EDC member Jackie Esielionis, townspeople who attended the charette said they wanted shops and restaurants in the village growth area. Envisioned as an attractive entry from Route 2 that would contribute to economic growth in the town of Shirley, the enclave would include commercial establishments and a pedestrian-friendly layout.
The development concept they’ve been talking about with MassDevelopment also includes rental apartments above the businesses, Esielionis said, and the EDC was worried that a ball field might not be “compatible” with that model.
In an attempt to resolve their differences or at least get a handle on where each group was coming from, the two committees – EDC and RFC – sat down with Selectmen Chairman David Swain on a Saturday morning last month at the Town Offices. After discussing the issue at the table, the group visited the ball field site. The issue, however, was not settled.
When the expected RFP came in, it was deemed incomplete by the Selectmen.
Monday night, Eramo asked the board to give the potential tenant a second chance, which he said is neither unreasonable nor unprecedented. This time, all blanks will be filled in, he said, including financial data the RFP asked for that the applicant didn’t provide.
“He (the applicant) thought he could sit down and talk with the selectmen,” to negotiate a deal, Eramo explained, but he has promised to submit a complete form next time.
Asked what the board was waiting for to reissue the RFP, Swain said he wants to talk to the Regional School District about if and where the fields could be relocated to accommodate future development, if necessary.
Begun said he was told by School Committee members that there was no other practical place to put the fields. He cautioned against waiting too long to move on the RSF’s plan. “We could be stuck with an albatross,” if that opportunity is lost, he said.
Selectman Kendra Dumont said the town’s future rests on economic development and the board appointed the EDC to come up with a plan.
Begun said he’d like to see that plan on paper.
Swain agreed that both the field rental plan and the EDC plan should be in writing and on the table so the town can weigh its options. He also assured Begun and Eramo that the issue would not be backburnered. The Regional Advisory Team will take it up at its meeting Wednesday night, he said.