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Nashoba Publishing/Mary Arata
Montachusett Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Glenn Eaton reviews the scope of services the agency will provide the Joint Boards of Selectmen in drafting a Devens plan.
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DEVENS – The Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS) is asking its member towns to sign-off on a grant for shared planning services. It’s the selectmen’s attempt to get their collective arms around Devens planning concerns.

On March 27, the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) voted to accept the JBOS member towns’ application for a District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) grant. MRPC amended the JBOS application at the behest of Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to include the hiring of a planner to leads the discovery process.

“They said they’d feel more comfortable with a staff support as a subtext,” said MRPC Executive Director Glenn Eaton to the JBOS on April 26.

DHCD is overseeing the $2 million DLTA sum allotted by the legislature for use between the 13 regional planning commissions. MRPC’s share is $157,000.

Eaton estimated the JBOS grant would cost some $35,000 to $40,000 once the planner’s hours were calculated. Under the terms of the DLTA grant program, the entire project must be complete by October.

The DHCD is led by Secretary Gregory Bialecki, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors at MassDevelopment. MassDevelopment is charged with the build-out of the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ) lands and providing services to the residents and industry on the former Fort Devens Army base.

The MRPC proposes a scope of services that calls for mapping out priority areas for development and areas for preservation within the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ). Then the MRPC would cross examine those areas against the 1994 Devens Reuse Plan and “list appropriate changes in laws or methods of planning.”

Eaton suggested meeting with different stakeholders to achieve the regional study end, including:

*MassDevelopment for a look at the state agency’s “current, short and medium term plans for the DREZ”;

*The Devens Enterprise Commission, which is the one-stop permitting and land use authority for Devens for its 5-year review and future by-law modifications;

*The Harvard Ten-Year Planning Committee”, also known as the Master Plan Study Committee;

*The Shirley Economic Committee;

*The Ayer Board of Selectmen and Ayer Planning Board;

*The Devens Citizens Advisory Committee;

*Robert Walker, the developer of Devens Common for a review of his current and future plans for the retail hub off Jackson Road on Devens; and

*convene one public hearing to gauge public sentiment on an updated Devens plan.

MRPC would also crosscheck its findings against other regional plans, like the Route 495 corridor/MetroWest planning overview, for example, to “make sure we’re not duplicating planning efforts,” said Eaton.

The deliverable would be a set of suggested “zoning and permitting changes that would be consistent with the intention of Chapter 498 [of the Acts of 1993 – which outlines DREZ governance in the absence of a municipal form of government] and in context of the changes over recent years and developments currently under consideration,” according to the MRPC scope of services.

The scope states that the suggested changes to Chapter 498 and the Devens Reuse Plan would be reflective of “Smart Growth, affordable housing, renewable energy, the airfield, Vicksburg Square and the Shirley Village Growth District.”

Another MRPC job will be to meet with Town Administrators and determine areas where the Devens towns could join to share in collective purchasing opportunities. Eaton said it’s not clear yet if the towns would be interested in co-purchasing or sharing “copy paper together or maybe a fire truck.” Eaton said MRPC has worked out a survey form in the past that they’d employ here to ask the towns’ of their interest areas.

“We presume savings, but there aren’t always,” said Eaton. Sometimes the benefit is improved services instead. “It’s not always about money.”

“We’ll take it from here,” said Eaton when asked by JBOS Chairman Tom Kinch as to what help the selectmen can provide. “Basically you just need to sign the contract. We’ll break down each of these tasks.”

Harvard selectman Peter Warren, attending his last JBOS meeting as his tenure expired on May 1, asked Eaton if he thought one public hearing would be well attended by residents of the four communities and whether more hearings would be prudent.

Eaton said, as far as MRPC is concerned, providing the service of facilitating public hearings into the Devens planning process would eat into the grant funding to the tune of $8,000 to $10,000.

“It didn’t cost that in Harvard,” said Warren.

“The reality is they cost a lot of money to deliver,” answered Eaton.

JBOS Vice Chairman Frank Maxant said the shared planner was “something great to help us sort out what we do as time goes on.”

JBOS Chairman Tom Kinch said, “What we’re trying to do is come up with some ideas within the scope of a $30,000 to $40,000 project. It’s not going to be a million dollar project. It’s going to be a start.”

Devens Committee member Phil Crosby asked why MRPC would poll the Devens Enterprise Commission on planning directions. “I see the DEC as a regulatory organization which responds to plans received.”

Crosby posed the question to MassDevelopment Devens Executive VP George Ramirez, who confirmed that the state agency, and not the DEC, “decides what’s to be developed next .. you’re doing that planning and decision making all the time. That’s not the DEC they regulate.”

“We can debate their roles,” said Eaton. “For the purpose of the report, we need to talk to everybody. I look at the DEC and I see Peter [DEC Administrative Director Peter Lowitt] as a planner. But good point. Thank you.”

“I wasn’t going to mention this before but you gave me a beautiful cue line,” said Maxant, who has drafted two home rule petitions that will be before Ayer voters at Annual Town Meeting on May 14. The measure asks voters to rally the legislature to return municipal jurisdiction of Ayer’s historical DREZ lands back to the Town of Ayer and away from MassDevelopment.

In context of the DLTA planning process, Maxant said, “Our town planning boards should be included to a deep extent.”

A final DLTA contract was expected to be presented to the towns this week.

Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.

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