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Draft Mill Site Report Finished

January 15, 2010: Nashoba Publishing, by Don Eriksson

PEPPERELL – A draft report on future use of the former paper mill has been turned into the Mill Site Study Committee by consultant VHB Inc. and is expected to be finalized by Feb. 8.

The report lacks only final recommendations which will be forwarded to selectmen by individual committee members and televised at the Feb. 8 selectmen’s meeting in an attempt to attract wider awareness.

It was decided at last Wednesday’s meeting that public input from a community forum held several weeks ago was similar enough to the information gathered at a forum held last year during creation of a marketing study to forgo the need for a third public forum.

The draft and final report is a summation of the site’s constraints and challenges, regulatory and zoning considerations, alternative developments and their effect on town utilities, as well as traffic and other considerations.

“It is strictly visionary and resident input was important,” Committee Chairman Selectman Joseph Sergi said. “We need however to move beyond concept. We’re going to work collaboratively with MassDevelopment and the owner (Perry Videx LLC of New Jersey) to solicit development.”

Sergi said talks have included town control of the site and he has a “strong sense” from residents that they want planning to go forward. An executive session at the Monday Jan. 11 selectmen’s meeting with Perry Videx was to discuss what controls are necessary, he said.

“Some say the Board of Selectmen is saying one thing with budget concerns and another thing with the mill (development),” Sergi said. “We must be aware of (the budget) but it doesn’t mean planning for the future stops. There is an uptick in the state economy and some are saying the state is out of the recession.”

“This is good timing with the uptick. Speaking as a private resident, you look at the constraints and challenges (at the mill site) and there’s a lot to expect from a private developer. We need to tap into public resources. The next step is talk to MassDevelopment,” he said.

Two visions for the site are included in the draft. Both feature light retail space and a restaurant on the portion nearest Main Street. The first alternative envisions professional offices and a health club in the middle section and private residences at the far end. The second alternative envisions an arts center and parking in the middle area and open space at the far end.

One challenge is potential contamination of the soil and the fear that residential development could become condemned such as a condominium complex situated on a former landfill in Lowell.

According to Sergi, Perry Videx is willing to demolish structures on the site giving the town clear land. “But,” he said, “there must be a transaction at the end. ‘Transaction’ means ‘buy.’”

Sergi said the genesis of the report is to present an idea of what’s going on with the site and to “put some buildings on it.” In that respect, he said, it is complete.

“There were test borings done in 1996. Residential use demands the highest possible standard. We already know from DEP it’s clear for like development, and retail/commercial use (demands) other (considerations).

“We’d be doing a disservice to the public if we think this is settled. These are the facts,” he said, referring to the draft report. “But the town is not going to be a developer.”

Town Administrator John Moak, present in his first week on the job, said, “A report like this stimulates conversation. It’s easier to criticize than to create. Now we can evaluate and move one. This also shows that Pepperell is serious.”

Pepperell has, he added, one of the state’s most unique structures in the covered bridge currently under reconstruction and the river dam at the other end of the mill property.

“Everyone wants some connection to water. This would be opening an interest on both ends of that property,” he said.

The attractiveness of residential construction to a developer versus the chance to create a destination that would draw people to Pepperell has pulled in opposite directions during all discourse. It has become obvious, Sergi said, that a concentration on retail space would not succeed.

There has also been consideration given to construction of assisted living quarters at the site. The Peter Fitzpatrick School could, for example, become such a facility that itself would likely draw people to town on a 24/7 basis.

“Outsiders have told me that the mill site presentation on the town Web site shows that obviously the community is committed to the project,” Sergi said. “I’m so proud of the town. At present we have an eyesore in it’s midst.”

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