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Pepperell mill site, Peter Fitz School development a priority for board


PEPPERELL — The Economic Development Advisory Committee met with a representative from MassDevelopment Wednesday to discuss options to spur economic growth in town, including redevelopment of two properties.

The future of the former Peter Fitzpatrick School and the mill site, formerly the Pepperell Paper Co., were debated.

The former school building, which houses the North Middlesex Regional School District offices, could be developed, potentially as an assisted-living complex.

“We have two options with Peter Fitz,” said EDAC member Keith Bagley. “We can keep it zoned the way it is, and the only way to develop it is assisted living. I’m not sure assisted living is going to have the biggest impact on our economy in this town, but our other option is to rezone it, open it up to developers and choose how we can develop it.”

An attempt to rezone the property from urban-residential to commercial in 2012 was voted down at Town Meeting.

Member Chuck Walkovich said some sort of development of the site needs to be pursued.

“We are spending money today to keep that facility open. If we were to change it into assisted-care living or elderly care, and it’s developed as that, it would generate income for the town,” Walkovich said. “We have to do something. We are losing revenue, we are paying expenses, and either we develop it or sell it.”

Shyla Matthews of MassDevelopment said her organization can help the town put out a request for proposals to outside developers.

“We can help you develop a request for qualifications, and we can help you develop that to be very narrowly focused,” Matthews said.

The mill site, next to the Nashua River off Main Street, is privately owned by Perry Videx, a company that buys old factories and resells manufacturing equipment.

Two years ago, Perry Videx demolished the buildings on the site and addressed environmental concerns raised by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The property has gone unused since Perry Videx purchased it nearly a decade ago, but Town Administrator John Moak said the company has recently expressed interest in auctioning the land.

Bagley said the property has gone unused for too long, causing negative effects for the town.

“It’s an eyesore and it has a huge impact on the whole town economically, not only in terms of job potential, but the personality of the town, the way it appears, aesthetics. So we’re thinking about it from all of those angles,” Bagley said. “As a representation of the town, we’d rather not wait any longer.”

Bagley said the mill site’s proximity to the Nashua River and historic location make it a potential draw for people coming to Pepperell if it could be developed commercially.

Bagley also brought up the need of having an up-to-date master plan so that voters can better understand the direction that EDAC recommends the town move in.

Matthews said MassDevelopment could help the town write a new version of its master plan.

“We say to towns all the time, who are you and who do you want to be, and the master plan will pull that out if it’s done well,” Matthews said.

EDAC members also briefly discussed the development of a marketing plan to advertise the town’s assets.

That marketing plan would include a tagline to attract people to town.

“There’s a need to bring cohesion and a sense of pride and a sense of community to let people know what we are,” Moak said.

Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.