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Pepperell needs: More business, more residents

PEPPERELL — Like many small towns, Pepperell wants to preserve what makes it unique. That old-fashioned appeal is worth preserving.

On the other hand, the town needs new businesses and residents to broaden the tax base and provide the services taxpayers want and need.

“As we grow the town, we want to have a balanced approach,” said Diane Cronin. “Rezone, but keep the old-fashioned appeal that residents feel is very important.”

Cronin and other members of the Economic Development Advisory Committee met with selectmen on Oct. 20 to discuss their findings and recommendations.

They began their work in 2012. A survey sent out with the February 2013 census garnered over 1,200 replies.

Residents identified the need for commercial and business development, retail establishments and services.

“We need zoning flexibility to attract business,” said John Masiello, a committee member.

EDAC identified 10 parcels of four acres or more that could be used to attract an anchor business if the zoning would allow development.

Attracting one anchor business would create a more robust business environment, he said. For example, the new medical center under construction on Main Street will help market the businesses in town, he said.

More retail and service businesses will help stem the number of people traveling outside the town to spend their money, member Roland Nutter said.

A recent study referenced in the EDAC report, “Pepperell Comprehensive Plan Update 2007-2016,” stated that Pepperell is losing $80.4 million each year to retail leakage, purchases that are made outside of the town.

The right housing options are also a big part of attracting and retaining residents. A key market is the 25- to 40-year-olds who are not looking for a large, single-family house, but smaller apartments or condominiums to rent in an area with shops within walkable distance are also needed, Nutter said.

The town’s inability to make ends meet will have a negative effect on attracting new residents, he said. If there is no tax increase, the town needs to increase revenues in other ways.

Marketing Pepperell’s heritage is one way to increase the town’s visibility and bring visitors, said Cronin. The town is rich in attractions.

Pepperell has a deep Revolutionary War history, an industrial heritage, open land and walking trails, and local arts, crafts, musicians and athletes. The covered bridge, rebuilt by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and reopened in 2010, is one of the few existing covered bridges in the state and is close to Boston.

A unified marketing plan with signage both in-town and on highways, maps guiding visitors to various sites including the walking trails, and more historic naming and references would make good sense, she said.

“Many businesses here do this already,” she said. In addition to being on the Historical Commission, Cronin owns the Covered Bridge Country Store.

She pointed to the new medical center as a place where rezoning and historic preservation worked hand-in-hand. The town will gain a needed medical center and retain a piece of its heritage.

Town meeting approved a citizens petition in May 2013 allowing changes to the zoning for the center. After that, it took more than a year to get approval from state agencies to allow construction, according to Town Administrator John Moak.

The old Hall-Winch home on the site could not be reused as part of the project, Cronin said. To preserve the history, the Historical Commission photographed the building and salvaged parts of the building before demolition.

More development, like the medical center and the announced expansion of 1A Auto to the former mill site, is needed.

“We’re strongly recommending a larger business come to town,” she said. New or expanding local businesses will contribute to the tax base.

“There are limitations to commercial space in Pepperell,” Cronin said.

Zoning changes and taking an approach that would facilitate an anchor business were some of the recommendations EDAC made to the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board, she said.

The committee plans to refine its recommendations and assist the boards in any way it can to take them to the next step, she said.

The committee’s report will be available on the town website:

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.

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