Thanks to Mary Ellen Jones and Nashoba Publishing for this timely update on the Vicksburg Square rezoning process!
October super-town meeting sought on Vicksburg Square
By M. E. Jones | NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE
PUBLISHED: March 3, 2020 at 11:21 a.m. | UPDATED: March 3, 2020 at 11:23 a.m.
SHIRLEY – After three failed attempts to re-develop Devens’ historic Vicksburg Square, where the fate of several stately brick buildings overlooking Rogers Field is at issue, the question may now come down to one last re-zoning bid at a super town meeting in Ayer Harvard and Shirley this fall.
At a recent selectmens’ meeting, MassDevelopment’s Senior Vice President for Devens Jessica Strunkin and Director of Land Planning and Permitting Ed Starzec sketched the latest plan to redevelop the area.
Earlier efforts faltered, drawing alternating opposition in two of the three host towns whose stakeholder status is tied to historic borders that still exist within Devens’ sprawling acreage, disrupted when the Army moved in over a century ago.
Objections varied based on proposals that included mixed use residential/commercial scenarios.
As each successive proposal went down in defeat, MassDevelopment — the state agency charged with redeveloping and temporarily governing the former military base – backed off but didn’t give up, meeting with municipal representatives and taking notes, hoping to find the right fit next time.
In other areas, Devens has made impressive progress since the Army base closed in 1996.
The civilian enclave now boasts 100 new businesses and organizations, thousands of civilian jobs and 2,100 acres of open space and recreation land, according to MassDevelopment’s website, plus a small residential community.
Resurrecting Vicksburg Square could cap this successful run by saving an historic gem from the wrecking ball. As it is, the handsome old brick buildings stand deserted and deteriorating, windows boarded up, granite steps sprouting weeds.
So MassDevelopment is making the rounds again, with plans to visit boards in all three towns.
Last time around, the three-town roadshow leading up to the super town meeting vote featured detailed makeover plans, including visuals, site tours and slick presentations by a big name developer.
This time, there’s no fanfare, with no developer on board yet and scant specifics so far.
The low-key approach is by design. MassDevelopment has said it aims to take things one step at a time, starting with the zoning change.
The towns get the last word
Guided by the Devens Reuse Plan and governed by state legislation that backs it up – Chapter 498 – proposed zoning changes in the reuse area must pass muster at a super town meeting, held in each town, simultaneously. To succeed, the measure must pass in all three towns. If one says no, it fails.
Reiterating what she said on a previous visit to the board last spring, Strunkin said the goal is to rezone Vicksburg Square, switching its designation from technology and innovation (businesses) to residential and paving the way for a 288-unit rental complex in which 25 percent of the units will be affordable.
They’re still aiming for a super town meeting date in October, she said.
There’s been an alteration in the proposed package since last time, however.
Strunkin noted the addition of “ancillary uses” as well as residential apartments. She didn’t elaborate but said the change was in response to “feedback” during the planning process.
Strunkin promised postings on the “coUrbanize” website to update the public.
Starzec said outreach will also include public hearings in Ayer, Harvard and Shirley.
Asked what happens if the fourth try fails, Strunkin said there’s no plan B, so far.
“This is our plan of action now,” she said, and if it doesn’t fly, it’s back to the drawing board.
But time is not on their side. “Those buildings won’t last forever,” she said.