AYER — “I feel I still have something to add to the town,” said Selectman Gary Luca. On Feb. 3, Luca pulled nomination papers to seek a third consecutive three-year term on the board.
The present terms of Luca and fellow Selectman Carolyn McCreary expire in April.
“I’m getting good feedback from the people who put me there,” said Luca.
Luca is proud of a 2007 Department of Revenue audit of town operations he championed. Luca said he’s also repeatedly sought a review of local government operations with the creation of a Town Government Study Committee. That group’s work concluded with a series of recommendations handed back to selectmen last fall.
Luca says he supports the group’s call for a return to the days of a three-member Board of Selectmen. Luca said of the other recommendations, the board needs to take them up shortly.
Luca likewise said he was proud to have played a part in the last five balanced budgets.
The $64,000 question lingers: How should the former Fort Devens lands now known as the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone be disposed of. “Devens has been disappointing because it hasn’t gone anywhere. And I don’t see anything unless there’s an epiphany by all the towns.”
Luca said the continued existence of the Joint Boards of Selectmen is vital but that the group needs focus.
“The way it was set up and the present purpose, they’re really not the same,” said Luca. “It was designed to offer advice to MassDevelopment as to what to do up there. It’s done everything but that. As a result, when they [MassDevelopment] need something done, they just get a Town Meeting together.”
The percolating Devens issue headed for a likely Super Town Meeting vote this spring is whether to rezone Vicksburg Square from innovation and technology business growth space to a multifamily residential use. About 75 percent of the Vicksburg Square land is located within Ayer’s political bounds.
“I think it’s good for the region,” said Luca. Boston developer Trinity Financial proposes overhauling the former Army mixed-use office, training and barracks space into a 246-unit apartment complex where four out of five units would be set aside for low- and very low-income households.
Luca, considering a possible outcome, said it “all depends on how many show up. Last time (2009), it was dead pretty quick.” Harvard and Shirley voters said yes to a prior rezoning effort, but Ayer voters shot down the proposal by MassDevelopment to locate 350 housing units in the complex on a 22-73 vote.
“It’s getting a lot of play, but many are getting sick of hearing about Devens and have become apathetic,” said Luca, who understands why some would be irritated. “There hasn’t been any benefit from it. It’s just been more time without a lot of benefits. It’s frustrating.”
A small turnout may spell another no vote, Luca fears. “I think so. I’d hope it would draw more people; I hope that with all Town Meetings.”
Luca’s hands are tied with regard to the selectmen’s push to build a parking facility at the corner of Park and Main streets. The board’s goal of erecting an $11 million multi-tiered commuter rail parking garage has been downsized to a $4 million, open-air parking lot servicing downtown merchants.
Luca’s in-laws own a Park Street parcel — the vacant La Sita Restaurant — targeted for purchase by the Montachusett Area Regional Transit authority if and when the parking project proceeds. “Until there’s a design awarded, I can’t speak,” said Luca.
Regarding empty Main Street storefronts, Luca said the selectmen’s role is limited. “There always seems to be vacancies in Ayer anyway. Most of the properties are controlled by two people. I think they’re doing all they can to fill the spaces.”
“People that want to open a business in Ayer have to look and say ‘Why do we want to come to Ayer?’ I don’t know if it’s so much a lack of doing anything or a sign of the times that people don’t want to invest in a business when there’s economic uncertainty,” said Luca. “Of all the places that have closed and opened, they all have their own reasons for doing it. You’d like to be proactive, but what can you do to draw businesses to towns? It’s up to individuals to take a chance.”
After publicly airing his concerns over DPW work hours in January and venting over the condition of town roadways last September, Luca admits he’s taken some lumps recently over the resignation of DPW Superintendent Dan Nason.
“Yes I have, but I’ve been consistent about accountability. That’s what I’ve been running on for six years and I’m not going to change that.”
“The employees of the town, including the elected and appointed officials, have to be accountable to the people who put them there, and they are the taxpayer,” said Luca. “I’ll continue to ask tough questions. If someone doesn’t understand the reason for it, they can ask me.”
Luca has been with the U.S. Postal Service for 23 years and was installed as Ayer’s postmaster the same day he was re-elected to office on April 27, 2009. He said he’s not responding to each and every critic who’s chosen to criticize him on the opinion page, including selectman candidate and former Ayer patrolman Mark Coulter.
“Maybe he has something to bring to the table,” said Luca. “Anyone that runs, I wish them luck. It’s thankless a lot of the time. A lot of people have different reasons for running or have agendas; some want to do something good. I don’t have any allegiances to anybody. I do what’s right for the people and give them a voice.”