AYER — On Nov. 29, the Ayer Finance Committee issued a negative recommendation against Trinity Financials’ proposed vision to repurpose the vacant Vicksburg Square on Devens into a 246-unit apartment complex with mainly affordable. The Ayer Finance Committee was the first of the municipal boards in Ayer, Harvard or Shirley to weigh in with a position on the Boston developer’s plans for a largely affordable housing project on Devens
Via a press release issued on Dec. 12, Trinity responded in a point-by-point manner to the issues raised by the Ayer Finance Committee. Three quarters of the19-acre campus lies within Ayer’s political bounds and a quarter falls within Harvard’s political bounds.
Trinity has proposed a late January or early February so-called “Super Town Meeting” vote of the three towns to seek approval to re-zone the vacant complex for residential use. The tri-town vote has been nudged out to mid-winter after the area selectmen urged Trinity to move slowly and postpone its original plans for a summertime Super Town Meeting.
Within an hour of the conclusion of Trinity’s Nov. 29 Shirley public hearing over the project, the Ayer Finance Committee issued its 277-word statement to Nashoba Publishing. In it, the committee opined the Trinity proposal “will have a detrimental impact on the community.”
Trinity responded by press release on Monday, sending along a letter to the Ayer Finance Committee from Trinity Project Manager Abby Goldenfarb. In it, Trinity pushed back against what the committee labels as the five main pitfalls with the proposed project.
First, the Finance Committee said the project would boost Ayer’s population by 8 percent. The committee said the uptick will likewise boost municipal costs for services for residents at Vicksburg Square such as for the police, fire and DPW departments.
Trinity responded both that MassDevelopment presently services the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ). Trinity also argued that vacant buildings are likely to fall “vulnerable to vandalism and fire.” Trinity said they intend to have both state-of-the-art safety systems and on-site management.
If the DREZ lands revert to their respective towns, Trinity claimed that “Ayer would be the beneficiary of a considerable amount of commercial revenue.” Trinity suggested that upon such a disposition of the former Army base, Ayer would receive $1.2 million of the Fiscal Year 2012 $4.9 million in estimated Devens commercial property tax revenue.
Second, the Finance Committee argued that 120 school aged children would spark an annual $1.5 million in education costs while the apartment complex would only generate $200,000 in tax revenue. Trinity answered that only 52 students would reside within town bounds which would provoke only a $109,000 shortfall.
Third, the Ayer Finance Committee refuted the notion that Vicksburg Square tenants would infuse $6- to $8 million of their collective disposable income (income left after taxes) into the local economy. “After paying for rent, transportation, insurance and other necessities, the economic impact to the local economy will be minimal,” said the Ayer Finance Committee.
Trinity argued otherwise, “the average affordable household will have between $800 and $2,500 per month at their disposal.” Trinity said the 49 market rate renters “will likely have even more.” Ayer small businesses would benefit, Trinity claims, “significantly increasing revenue for the town’s commercial base.”
Fourth, The Ayer Finance Committee stated “the real estate market is flush with unoccupied rentals,” so adding 246 more apartments will “over saturate the local real estate market” and stagnate the local economic recovery for local landlords even as the economy improves.
Trinity said that’s not so, explaining its target market for attracting tenants pulls from a 20,000 renter household pool from communities like Harvard, Shirley, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Leominster, Littleton, Fitchburg and Groton. The impact on Ayer vacancies “will be negligible,” said Trinity, noting the project would be phased in over years and that there’d be 78 senior living units in the mix at a time of great need.
Trinity said it would be “shortsighted” to rebuff quality affordable housing, adding that the rehabilitation of “highly visible yet blighted structures” would boost Ayer’s marketability, too.
Finally, the Ayer Finance Committee said the proposed 80 percent affordability component is “not financially feasible” since the tax rate is set based not on the $83 million project cost but at $208,000 a year based on the total rental income the project generates. “The low rental income reduces the anticipated tax revenue,” said the committee. Harvard officials have argued similarly that the project’s municipal carrying costs would saddle any community which eventually assumes jurisdiction over the DREZ and the Vicksburg Square complex.
Education costs are most burdensome, according to the Ayer Finance Committee. But Trinity said that collectively Ayer households already fail to pay enough property tax dollars to cover education costs, and so state aid (Chapter 70 funds) bridge the difference. Trinity said it’s unfair to expect that the Vicksburg Square project would be self-sustainable on education costs, calling the claim “an unrealistic and unattainable criterion.”
Goldenfarb concluded the letter by asking for a follow up meeting with the Ayer Finance Committee. The committee was to meet Wednesday night as we go to press and so a collective response to the letter was not immediately available.