DEVENS -- One year after neighboring towns refused to rezone Devens' historic Vicksburg Square for an affordable-apartment project, MassDevelopment is turning to a new tactic to create more housing: building on already residentially zoned land.

MassDevelopment, a quasi-public economic development agency that manages Devens, has issued a request for qualification to look for developers to build 120 new housing units in the Grant Road neighborhood.

Encompassing 70 acres in the northwestern section of Devens, the neighborhood is the last remaining piece of residentially zoned land in the former Army fort community, according to Ed Starzec, land-entitlement director at MassDevelopment.

The agency wants 20 percent to 25 percent of the proposed units to be "affordable."

With Bristol-Myers Squibb's announcement this week to expand its Devens facility and add 350 jobs, the agency believes there is a growing need for more housing within the 4,400-acre community, which is, in large part, an industrial park.

"We feel the market is in recovery," Starzec said.

He added that the 20 zero-net-energy homes that the agency had developers build in Devens have nearly sold out already. Zero-net-energy homes refer to houses that are equipped with power-generating devices, such as solar panels, to produce energy needed to live while cutting down on energy consumption with super insulation and other design features.

While working on those eco-friendly homes, MassDevelopment also attempted to contract with Trinity Financial of Boston to redevelop the historic but abandoned Army barracks at Vicksburg Square into 246 apartment units.

Trinity's proposal failed at town meetings in Ayer and Harvard on March 28 last year, while Shirley Town Meeting supported it. The project required the consent of all three towns.

MassDevelopment has worked to turn the former Army base into a place for people to work and live in accordance with the vision provided by the residents of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley. Under its bylaws, Devens can have up to 282 residential units, of which 140 have already been created.

MassDevelopment said in its press release Wednesday that it's time Devens had more housing.

"Demand for nearby housing is likely to grow, with 3,200 employees and counting working in Devens," the press release said.

The 120 units may include single-family homes, duplexes and multifamily structures, as well as elderly housing and nursing homes. They could be either rental or ownership units. Up to a quarter of the units will be "affordable."

The Devens Reuse Plan developed by Ayer, Harvard and Shirley requires about 25 percent of the 282 housing units in Devens to be reserved for low- and moderate-income individuals and families and/or special-needs populations, according to MassDevelopment. About 27 percent of the existing 140 homes fall under that criterion.

MassDevelopment will also encourage developers to come up with walkable neighborhood designs and open-space developments that set aside larger-than-usual green space in exchange for some density bonus. The agency will look at whether developers have compelling visions, and have demonstrated experience with similar projects and an ability to secure financing, among other factors in deciding which developers should work on the project.

Ayer Selectman Jim Fay, who is a retired Army master sergeant, said the 70-acre Grant Road neighborhood was once home to many junior officers, and that some of those houses still exist.

"It will blend in very nicely with the neighborhood," Fay said, stressing that he was speaking as an individual, not for the board.

The Ayer Board of Selectmen is scheduled discuss the Grant Road project Tuesday. Because the 120 units fall within the 282-unit cap, and because the project does not require any rezoning, area towns do not have control over the project.

"I have nothing against it," Fay said.

Fay particularly likes the affordable component of the project.

"It's going to be a suitable development," he said. 

The deadline to submit a response to the request for qualification is May 24. MassDevelopment hopes to see construction start next spring. Under that timetable, the first residents would move into the units in fall 2014.

For more information, visit www.massdevelopment.com/wp-content/ uploads/ 2013/03/ communitybriefing_03262013.pdf.