SHIRLEY — Harvard Selectman Chairman Lucy Wallace and Victor Normand, who represent that town on the Devens Jurisdiction Committee, came to Monday night’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen to offer a rundown on what’s up with the HDJC, how it came to be and what its goals are.
It was formed independently from the other two stakeholder towns — Ayer and Shirley — whose historic boundaries exist within the sprawling acreage of the former Ft. Devens Army base. Created during WWI as Camp Devens, it closed in 1996.
After the base closed, the Devens Reuse Committee, with representatives from each of the three towns met in “charettes” to brainstorm a blueprint for the new entity. The outcome was the Devens Reuse Plan that formed the basis for enabling state legislation: Chapter 498.
Today, Devens is a thriving business and residential community, operating under the auspices of MassDevelopment, the state agency (formerly known as the Massachusetts Land Bank) tapped to repurpose the former base and charged with its temporary governance.
Under the legislation, that arrangement is set to end in 2033, if not before. In the interim, a group called JBOS (Joint Boards of Selectmen) was formed to be a conduit among the towns, discussing related issues as they came up. As the new, civilian Devens shaped up, JBOS petered out. It re-emerged, briefly, but is now dissolved, for all practical purposes if not officially. It hasn’t met in years.
Enter the Harvard-Devens Jurisdiction Committee, which according to Wallace and Normand came about as an offshoot of their town’s Master Planning process. It was not intended to be a one-town take-over move but rather a kind of public think tank, as they described it, envisioning the town’s future with Devens added. It is an option open to all three towns and one that Wallace said she favors.
There have been attempts to jump start the final resolution. Devens residents have made a couple of failed bids to form a town. Spearheaded by MassDevelopment, a multi-layered study committee came up with a ballot question forwarded in Harvard, Ayer, Shirley and Devens called “Scenario 2B” that would have parceled out jurisdiction differently. It failed.
It has since been posited that if the towns do nothing, they will all simply resume jurisdiction of their former turf when 2033 rolls around. But apparently it won’t be that simple.
“When we updated our Master Plan in 2016, we folded in the possible impact of resuming Devens jurisdiction” and hired an out-of-state subcontractor with no prior knowledge of Devens affairs, Wallace said. “That was a good thing.”
The recommendation: Put a non-binding “should we?” question on the town ballot to determine whether residents wanted to start thinking about Devens jurisdiction and its impact. Apparently, they did. The response was “overwhelmingly positive,” Wallace said.
So the nine-person HDJC was formed, with Planning Board members, selectmen, and Harvard and Devens residents on board and the town’s new economic development director serving as staff.
The committee has not been operating in isolation but has reached out to the Ayer selectmen, who have decided to form a similar group and to Shirley Town Administrator Mike McGovern, Wallace said.
The premise is that the towns need to study the issue individually before coming together to talk. “There’s no intent to come to a conclusion,” just to map out a process, Wallace said.
But Selectman Enrico Cappucci didn’t buy it. He’d favor JBOS as the proper platform for the activities Wallace and Normand referred to, he said. Absent that, he’d like to see the three town administrators sit down together on a regular basis, as he has previously proposed.
“In my view, forming committees that exist outside Chapter 498 is not a good idea,” Cappucci said.