DEVENS - "The goal is to create a new sustainable neighborhood," said Devens Enterprise Commission Administrative Director Peter Lowitt.
On Tuesday, Lowitt presented the commission with an outline of a potential set of "Innovative Residential Development" (IRD) guidelines which, if approved, could direct the future development of a vacant 140-acre land parcel located off Grant Road within the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ).
The 4,400 acre DREZ was once part of the Fort Devens Army base but is now owned by the state. The lands are managed by state agency MassDevelopment, which was charged with leading the DREZ build-out.
Lowitt said the IRD model contemplates a close working relationship with MassDevelopment to forge a cutting-edge, compact, sustainable, and socio-economically balanced residential neighborhood for Grant Road.
The Devens Reuse Plan dictates that 25 percent of DREZ housing units be set aside as "affordable" housing stock. Since the number of dwellings permitted within the DREZ was capped at 282 units, that means at least 71 units are required whenever full residential build-out occurs within the DREZ. Lowitt said there are presently 46-48 affordable units among the 130 housing units that exist within the DREZ.
That leaves the potential for some 150 additional housing units to be built under the DREZ cap. Lowitt said the IRD model looks at the DREZ affordable housing goal in the aggregate. To ease towards the 25 percent affordability
The IRD concept contemplates both single family and multifamily dwellings for Grant Road, with an unspecified mix of ownership and rental opportunities. In this early draft form, a multifamily dwelling could contain a maximum of 20 units, while a townhouse could contain up to 8 units.
Each multifamily could be built on a maximum footprint of 2,500 square feet. Single family lot sizes of 15,000 square feet could be shrunk to 7,000 square feet, with the undeveloped 8,000 square foot unused 'balance' set aside elsewhere in the development as larger tracts of open space for the neighborhood, Lowitt said.
Instead of the commission's current two- or three- step permitting process, the paperwork could be collapsed into one unified permit application. Developers could submit design proposals compete to land portions of the Grant Road project.
Each developer would be asked to build to the LEED ND Silver sustainability specifications for neighborhood design. However Lowitt said developers would not be required to complete the entire Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] filing process.
To gain LEED-style 'points', Lowitt said there would be aspects of the IRD zone which would help provide new lot dimensional requirements to provide more compact development. Site plan standards would likewise be tweaked.
Street design options could include alleys, "Green" infrastructure streets, and universal-access roads that provide thoughtful design for safe coexistence and travel for the disabled, bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Cul de sacs would generally be discouraged except for locales where dead-end style streets tend to make sense within the landscape.
Open and green space aspects of the IRD regulations would require recreation, trails, and community amenities, while outlying parcels could remain undeveloped for a time "beyond DREZ termination so that future generations can decide its use."
It's a nod to the underlying DREZ concern - final disposition of the DREZ lands. The lands were once were governed by the towns of Harvard, Ayer and Shirley before the Army purchased the lands in 1917 and assumed governmental jurisdiction over the military encampment.
As of yet, there's no agreement on the final jurisdiction of the DREZ. The governor-appointed Devens Enterprise Commission acts as an all-encompassing land use board. There aren't traditional authority-weilding locally elected officers for DREZ residents. Dueling propositions have been for the lands to revert to municipal jurisdiction, or for the DREZ lands to be incorporated into the state's 352nd municipality.
Commissioner William Castro asked to hear more about preserving outlying lands for "future generations". Lowitt explained that as much as 20 to 50 percent of the Grant Road land could remain open "in perpetuity."
The term "in perpetuity" had historically been interpreted to mean just 30 years of protection. Lowitt said state lawmakers have recently redefined the term to clarify that 'in perpetuity" means "a lot longer" time frame.
"Our intent is to protect open space," said Lowitt. Deed restrictions or protective covenants could be used to protect the land, Lowitt said.
Lowitt played out a "what if" scenario - what if the towns regained jurisdiction of their lands?
Then "in 2034, if the town of Harvard decided they wanted to rezone that land, they'd go to Town Meeting. "Maybe they'd want to keep it as open space - maybe they don't - but the residents would have a say."
For inspiration, Lowitt said he'd visited the grounds of the repurposed Northampton State Hospital to find out "what worked and what didn't work." Lowitt said the draft IRD proposal will next head to the commission's Housing Committee for further review before returning to the full commission for consideration.
Commission Planner Neil Angus said he found inspiration in the just-completed first redevelopment phase of the Old Colony housing complex in South Boston, which is seeking LEED ND Silver certification. "It's like night and day between the old community and the new community," said Angus.
Angus said the Boston project is vibrant and "aesthetically pleasing", with naturally-calmed traffic thanks to new street design, and "neighborhoods that really promote connectivity and neighborhood togetherness" with proximity of services and shops which encourages walking, among other things.
"That is what LEED ND is all about," said Angus. "A lot of these concepts are being incorporated into thousands of developments nationwide."
The focus is on people and neighborhood, not automobiles. "This is what this is all about," said Angus.
"Nowhere in this discussion was TOD [Transit-Oriented Design] mentioned," said Commissioner John Oelfke, in reference to models like "Smart Growth" where development is to be encouraged near mass transit lines, for example. "I don't hear it anywhere. What happened?"
It is in the program, Angus assured. "We didn't want to overwhelm you in ten slides" of the brief PowerPoint presentation.
Lowitt said one thought to get "transit ready" would be routing of shuttle buses in or around any future Grant Road development.
"I think it's cool," said Commissioner Duncan Chapman. And in the future, maybe the towns would want to grow the maximum number of DREZ dwelling units. "People say they don't want a lot of residential units today. Twenty years from now, people may say 'Gee, we have to take care of the people in town."
--LOWITT PAY BUMPED UP 3.5%
Commission Chairman Bill Marshall said the executive committee met last week and agreed that after four years of no pay increases, the committee recommended Lowitt receive a 3.5 percent pay bump, retroactive to the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. The staff otherwise is receiving a 3 percent increase this year. The commission unanimously approved the raise, bringing Lowitt's salary to $110,869.
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