MassDevelopment Directors Meet Locals on Devens

October 16, 2009 : Nashoba Publishing, by Mary E. Arata

DEVENS – The MassDevelopment Board of Directors – owners and developers of the former military base turned residential and business community – were on hand last Thursday, Oct. 8 as part of their annual local meeting with officials from Devens and surrounding communities.

The board discussed a number of issues related to the future development of Devens and changes that might effect all the stake holders.

Potential tri-town changes

Harvard Selectmen Chairman Ron Ricci lamented the failure of two different tri-town “Super Town Meeting” initiatives: The Devens “2B” disposition proposal and the recent effort to rezone Vicksburg Square to permit mixed retail and mult- family housing uses.

“Possibly good things failed,” said Ricci, who then urged a review of state law regarding the tri-town voting system

The Joint Boards of Selectmen for Ayer, Harvard and Shirley have discussed potential changes to the tri-town tallying process. Currently there must be three yes votes – one from each town – for a measure to pass a tri-town vote. Some have wondered if instead there should be a total tally of the yes votes across town lines to find the popular vote, instead of giving the member towns a single yay or nay. Such a change would require an amendment to state law.

Ricci said some changes would make the law easier to deal with and more flexible when trying to attain three-town consensus on projects.

However, MassDevelopment Board Chairman Robert Culver was confident that the current voting laws could work.

“I do not give up faith in the ability of the towns of Harvard, Shirley and Ayer and the good residents of Devens, (along with the) DEC, JBOS and us (to affect positive change),” he said. “I believe the only way we can make Devens work, and the three towns, is that there’s got to be a little give and a little take and that’s called cooperation.”

Dispatch center applauded

Ricci applauded MassDevelopment’s proposed regional emergency services dispatch center and called it “a chance for success.”

Ricci also asked the board about its “vision of further development on Devens.”

There was a moment of hesitation before Culver elicited scattered laughter with his vision of the future of Devens.

“I’m just wondering if that’s my opportunity to say 600-units of housing,” Culver said with a smile.

Revenue sharing and regionalization efforts are on the front burner, said Culver. “I think everything can be on the table but it can’t be all for one and taking it from one another.”

Global business effort praised

Culver had high praise for Devens Land Use Administrator Peter Lowitt and his staff for attracting global interest in the Devens development process.

Lowitt thanked the board in return for supporting energy efficient development. “The DEC will support you and we’ll be the first community in the state to adopt the new Stretch Energy Code,” said Lowitt.

Culver said, “We’re trying to do something that should be a learning experience for the whole commonwealth.” The new code is optional for communities to enact for residential and commercial construction, with exemptions for small commercial buildings. New construction and residential renovations are covered by the code.

Enacting the code will enable a city or town to qualify as a “green community” under the Green Communities Act. The Patrick Administration has included the measure as part of its Recovery Plan, allowing communities to leverage federal recovery funds earmarked for energy efficiency projects.

Resident says businesses not involved enough

Bob Eisengrein and his wife Bette Barbadaro, who live on Devens, sat in the front row and listened to the proceedings. Eisengrein said he found it interesting that Devens-based industries don’t have a representative voice on Devens. “They don’t even know who’s going to govern them in the long run. They need a voice and to be a partner.”

Eisengrein says some Devens businesses are unaware of the unsettled status of the final Devens disposition, as to whether the land will become its own town or whether the lands will revert to the three towns, or some other configuration. But Eisengrein says one business owner told him bluntly, “if I wanted to be in Harvard, I would have built in Harvard.”

“Their attitudes are important and I don’t know how you get them involved. They can provide a lot of input,” Eisengrein said. “They have almost a billion dollar investment in Devens, which is more than anybody else.”

Secretary Greg Bialecki was the January appointment by the Patrick Administration to head the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. He said he has noted hesitation among business leaders to make public their concerns outside of testimony on narrow issue like a tax or a regulation.

“They tell me privately strong opinions they have about land use, housing, transportation issues and feel very strongly that there are certain things we need to do as a state to be competitive and be strong,” said Bialecki.

“I don’t have an answer but I’m trying to help those people talk more publicly about their views about how the state can be more prosperous in the future,” said Bialecki. “I value their opinion as stake holders in all of this.”

Before concluding the board of directors’ Devens meeting, Culver took another pass at an earlier issue, and again drew laughter by pondering aloud if there could be a consensus reached “to agree to 600 units of housing” on Devens.

No one present, at least, answered his question.

© Copyright 2009 Nashoba Publishing.