AYER — Any potential “Super” Town Meeting between Ayer, Harvard and Shirley voters to consider rezoning the 19-acre Vicksburg Square campus on Devens will be pushed out another two months to March or April.
That word came Wednesday night from Ayer selectmen Chairman Gary Luca when the subject of the proposed 246-apartment unit project was batted around by the Ayer-Shirley Regional Leadership Advisory Group.
The group, which meets monthly, gathers selectmen, finance, and Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee representatives and administrators to plot a common budget course. But the Vicksburg Square has been simmering on the stove for months and, at last word, was being framed for a late January/early February vote.
No one else at the meeting – except for Luca, a project supporter – seemed to know that Boston-based developer Trinity Financial was seeking an added two months to seek a tri-town vote to rezone the former U.S. Army office space from Innovation and Technology- to multifamily residential uses.
“I’m probably the only one in the room that favors the project,” acknowledged Luca, saying Trinity’s pure apartment proposal (without any home ownership opportunities) is a “good segue way for people to start out small…I’ll keep pushing.”
But Luca’s support was not seconded overtly by anyone else at the table Wednesday night.
Shirley Finance Committee Chairman Frank Kolarik told the Leadership Advisory Group that Ayer Finance Committee Chairman Brian Muldoon visited his board on Dec. 19 for a Vicksburg Square discussion. Kolarik said that while no formal vote was taken by his committee, there appeared to be sentiment forming against the project. On Nov. 29, the Ayer Finance Committee was the first town board from the three towns to take a public stand against the project with a unanimous “no” recommendation to Ayer voters.
“Brian met with our group on Dec. 19 and presented Ayer’s study to us,” said Kolarik. “At the end of the night, the Shirley Fin Com agreed with the Ayer Fin Com, but we did not take a vote one way or another.” Kolalrik said that his Shirley Finance Committee “Will take a vote on it one way or another prior to the Super Town Meeting.”
The Ayer Finance Committee had cited several main reasons for its opposition to the project, centering primarily on the impact the project would have on whatever municipality eventually assumed jurisdiction of the Vicksburg Square campus. Twenty-five percent of the campus lies within Harvard’s political bounds and 75-percent within Ayer’s political bounds. No land lies within historical Shirley bounds.
Meanwhile, some residents now living within the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone have a Jan. 25 date on Beacon Hill to have their petition for township considered by the legislature. If approved, the “Town of Devens” would become the state’s 352nd municipality – one of the smallest in the state and the first new municipality created in 90 years.
Muldoon was irked at how media outlets outside the area are framing the debate with a pro-Vicksburg Square slant. Muldoon thought it odd that Trinity has hired an East Coast public relations agency- Liberty Square Group – to aid in getting its message out to the three Devens towns. “It’s sort of odd because they’ve [Trinity’s] been doing it for 15 months without one.”
“They should have done it 15 months ago,” suggested Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee member Pat Kelly.
“To me it seems like David and Goliath,” said Muldoon of the multi-million corporation versus the slimly funded local towns. Muldoon also said MassDevelopment is errant for shooshing the vocalized concerns over the municipal carrying costs for the project which Trinity acknowledges would cost far more than the $200,000 a year in annual property tax revenue generated.
“They say ‘Don’t look at it that we’re in the red because ‘Devens’ is a project in motion or something like that,” said Muldoon. “They say ‘We’re a project in flux.’ It’s aggravating because our towns and schools can’t work that way but MassDevelopment can.”
“Anyone who comes out against it is frowned upon,” said Muldoon. “Someone put it to me this way – it [a weekend Boston Globe Op/Ed piece] made it look like we were idiots, hicks out in the middle of nowhere…and we’re dolts for saying ‘Wait a minute – hold on – this doesn’t make sense to us.’ So I’m really frustrated right now.”
Muldoon said his committee is in lockstep – they are done debating Trinity via the local press, including the Lowell Sun and Nashoba Publishing newspapers that service each Devens town. “Every time Trinity says something, they want to know what the Ayer Finance Committee has to say. We said it on November 29. No one’s giving us new numbers. Every time they put out a new press release? We’re not responding.”