Kezer: Goal for Devens is to Build Self-Sustaining Community

March 20, 2015 : Nashoba Publishing, by Jon Bishop

DEVENS – Devens Senior Vice President Thatcher Kezer, who started March 2, said that his first few weeks on the job were deceptively easy: he had no problem managing his e-mail.

“I’m now finding out that everyone was just playing nice,” he said, noting that people flooded his inbox once he got settled. “It was just a false sense of security for two weeks.”

But he doesn’t mind. He’s a hands-on kind of guy.

Kezer, who is a former mayor of Amesbury, said that it has been “absolutely enjoyable” coming to Devens and that he’s spent much of his time trying to get familiar with the many ongoing projects.

MassDevelopment’s objective for Devens is to build a “self-sustaining community” that can provide jobs, homes and activities, he said.

“I’m starting to see how all those moving parts are coming together,” he said.

His favorite part of the job thus far has been meeting the people.

“Overall, I get a sense of a lot of positive outlook for the people in the region,” he said. “There seems to be a really good vibe from everyone I’ve met about what the future looks like,” adding “that’s been a joy.”

Kezer said that his biggest challenge — and his biggest goal –is outreach to the region.

“No community can survive on its own,” he said, stressing the need for municipal partnerships.

“When I was in Amesbury, we did a lot of that,” he said, adding that it made the Amesbury and surrounding communities better off.

Devens, he said, can help fill needs. One of the biggest issues in the area is jobs.

“We need to bring more jobs to this part of the state,” he said.

Devens is a commercial enterprise zone, and it’ll create a lot of jobs that

will support the entire region, he said.

It can also help with housing.

“One of the biggest shortfalls in Massachusetts is housing,” he said.

The biggest moving demographic is recent retirees and empty-nesters looking to down-size, and Devens, which has a development on Grant Road and potentially senior housing on the horizon, can give those people places to go. This, he said, will have a positive impact on the home values in the area.

Which is why he disagreed with state Rep. Dennis Rosa, who recently put forth a proposal that would study how Devens impacts Leominster, Fitchburg and Gardner, and Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, who, in a story in the Sentinel & Enterprise, said that Devens is prospering at a cost to Leominster.

“Devens has a no-compete clause,” Kezer said. “There’s a defined Devens region.”

Companies do not come to Devens if it is a detriment to the region, Kezer said. Also, there are private landowners in Devens who make their own arrangements with companies.

Devens, he said, wants to have “a positive impact for the entire region.”

And that’s really his ultimate vision. He wants people to realize that Devens has been a partner for everyone’s success.

“That’s what I want for people to think about Devens,” he said.

Kezer said that Devens is like other communities — it has the same opportunities and challenges — but certain things, like infrastructure and environmental matters, are magnified because of its history as a military base.

As Senior Vice President, he wants to take a very activist approach to the environment. He’d like to get things cleaned up and mitigated, he said.

There are also the proposed zoning changes — the senior housing in the Shirley Village Growth District, healthcare uses in the Shirley Village Growth District, the Adams Circle Zoning Swap, and the allowance for buffered offices, light industrial, and research and development on the southern end of Grant Road — which he said will help Devens be self-sustaining and also reach out to the region.

So Kezer has a lot of things to do. But he’s not worried.

“This is basically running a small city,” he said. “It’s familiar territory for me.”

© Copyright 2015 Nashoba Publishing.