A new view

PEPPERELL — A new headquarters building project will change the face of a former mill site and its town center surroundings, officials say.

The family-owned business, 1A Auto, is getting ready to construct a brick office building on a site along the Nashua River. The site plan, approved by the Planning Board last Wednesday, calls for improvements that officials say will benefit the community.

Viewed now from Main Street Bridge, the site is vacant, wearing the broken brick remnants of the former Pepperell paper mill. The Nashua River continues to flow alongside the lot. But it’s been a long time since any structure there complimented the beauty of the meandering river.

The plans submitted for the 1A Auto project, will make the river more accessible for pedestrians with a new riverwalk, said Jeff Prime, an architect and construction manager for Dacon Corporation of Natick. Users will not be able to access the riverwalk from the river.

The riverwalk will connect to conservation land, said Conservation Officer Paula Terassi. Another business will help make the river accessible for boating.

Pepperell Hydro, located across the river at 35 Groton St. in the former power plant for the paper mill, will be required to install canoe access with associated parking as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing requirements, she said. The nearest canoe access, on Canal Street across Main Street, is a pullout with room for only four vehicles.

“There would not be public access to the river on 1A property,” Prime said.

One of the major concerns of local residents is the ugly fence at the site, said Planning Board member Matt Nesbit. The plan calls for a new fence.

“That’s a nice fence,” said Dave Fenstermacher, the project engineer from VHB, a firm specializing in balancing development and infrastructure with environmental stewardship.

As part of the site plan, 1A Auto would pay for engineering needed to improve the Mill and Main streets intersection, Prime said. “We have not agreed to pay for the construction.”

“It’s been a problem for years,” said Planning Board member George Clark. “I think the town ought to be looking at it.”

“The town ought to be saying ‘what can we do to help?'” Clark said.

The new building is intended for up to 400 employees, said Chairman Anna MacDonald. She said she understood that Clark did not want to force 1A to pay for already needed road improvements, but the expansion will be adding traffic to the intersection.

“It’s time to fix it if you are going to add another 405 cars,” she said. The plans call for 405 parking spaces.

1A is receiving help from the town in the form of tax increment funding, she noted.

Another developer with a smaller project made a plan to replace curbing and lines to make a different intersection work better, said Al Patenaude, a Planning Board member and contractor.

“The private contractor will be paying,” he said. “I don’t think this is any different.”

“I think this is a fair balance,” he said. The town has helped the company with taxes and by making a great effort to permit the project.”

Clark voted with the other members of the board, making the approval of the site plan unanimous.

After the meeting, MacDonald said the new building will have a fitness center and a day-care center.

Dacon is opening the bidding now and encouraging local commercial contractors to participate, Prime said.

Construction should get underway this summer and will take about 14 months.

Prime was happy to be working for a local family that is improving its community and with the reception of the project by the town. “It’s a fantastic thing,” he said.