HARVARD — Ahead of a Super Town Meeting to be held tentatively on March 28, members of the Harvard Historical Commission were given a preview of renovations proposed for the Vicksburg Square area of Devens by Boston-based developer Trinity Financial.
The briefing was given by Trinity’s assistant project manager Dan Drazen who opened the Feb. 1 meeting by reminding commissioners of other successful jobs completed by his firm in Boston and Lowell.
Trinity Financial was tapped by Mass Development to transform four large dilapidated buildings previously used by the Army for office, training and barracks space at Vicksburg Square into multi-family housing.
The plan as presented called for Trinity Financial to invest $83 million into the project and turn the 1920-1930s era buildings into 246 rental apartments, with 20-percent having market rate rents and the rest with “affordable” rents. One building – Hale Hall – would be entirely earmarked for senior housing units. The remaining Allen, Knox and Revere Halls would provide a mix of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartment units.
Restoration efforts would begin with Hale and Revere Halls to be followed by Knox and Allen with the neighboring former Baatan-Corrigidor Theater being remodeled for use as the new home of the Fort Devens Museum.
Drazen said restoration work would take into account concerns raised by local residents including the creation of rental housing, concentration of “green” improvements, historical preservation, and creation of some 55+ housing.
Accordingly, renovation plans for Vicksburg Square would pay special attention to Devens’ former use as a military base by attending to the historical preservation of the four main buildings with photo sources to be used to make sure entrances, doorways, windows and balconies all are accurate.
In regards to keeping things green, Drazen noted that plans called for the interior quad created by the four buildings to also be restored to its former look with the pavement that currently covers it over being ripped up and a landscaped public space with grass and trees laid out in its place.
Although there will be some parallel parking around the quad, most parking will be distributed in a series of lots outside the square comprising a total of 466 spaces.
Finally, building restoration will place an emphasis on sustainability with such amenities as a rainwater collection system for use in irrigation, solar collection, and a bike swapping system for human powered transportation to Ayer’s train station.
Concerns raised by Historical Commission members included the scale of the existing buildings and the amount of breathing space between them, parking, accessibility to local stores and services, and creating a sense of community.
Questions were also raised regarding the town line between Ayer and Harvard which cuts through the Vicksburg Square.
Having the project divided could create problems for residents regarding taxes and school attendance, noted former selectman Lucy Wallace, who’s launched a bid for re-election to the Board of Selectmen. Wallace asked whether Trinity had any plans to have the town line changed so that Vicksburg Square can be all in one town or the other.
Drazen said such an undertaking would be a drawn out process but admitted his firm had no plans to seek a change. He did say however, that rezoning of Vicksburg Square would be needed for Trinity to execute the plans presented. The complex is presently zoned for innovation and technology uses only, but Trinity proposes adding multifamily residential uses of the buildings, as well as light retail uses .
Approval for the changes, said the project’s manager, rests with voters attending a so-called “Super Town Meeting,” to be held among Harvard, Shirley, and Ayer voters and tentatively set for March 28.
If voters approve and all permitting is approved, Drazen guessed that work on the Vicksburg restoration project could begin within a year.