SHIRLEY -- After its pitch in Shirley the week before, the proposal for senior housing off Hospital Road surfaced at the Joint Boards of Selectmen on April 24.

The first phase of the project could potentially carry 30 to 40 units, built on land that MassDevelopment owns right behind the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle school.

But the zoning for that land is commercial, explained Jackie Esielionis of Shirley's Economic Development Committee. She asked JBOS to consider holding a super town meeting to vote on the zoning change.

After hearing that residents would like to see the area as a mixed-use development, the committee zeroed in on a plan similar to Mashpee Commons, with boutique shops and second-floor office spaces, Esielionis said.

MassDevelopment turned down that idea, but later came to Shirley with the idea for senior housing.

"Then we took it to the Council on Aging and they were very happy about that, because we have an incredible shortage of senior housing in this town, probably in the other towns as well," she said.

Esielionis said the housing could be independent living, assisted living or a nursing home, depending on what the developer proposes. But the housing would be strictly for seniors, generally 55 years or older.

"What we also talked to MassDevelopment about is could we benefit all three towns by giving preference to those three towns," she said.

Meanwhile, the front of Hospital Road could still be reserved for any retail.


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The super town meeting would also need to vote on a change in the housing cap for Devens.

Shirley Selectman Bob Prescott said their Board of Selectmen thought the idea would help the town in the future.

"We've been talking about this for a while, and I think that when you look at Devens there isn't that component there," he said. "We don't have that component in Shirley."

Former Ayer selectman Frank Maxant questioned why Ayer and Harvard had to be involved, noting that it is sometimes a challenge for Ayer to get a quorum of 50 people to a town meeting that only concerns Ayer.

"I see this as being a major campaign to get 50 people to a super town meeting to approve the zoning change in Shirley to begin with," he said.

Another route, Maxant explained, would be to rescind those sections of Chapter 498 which require a super town meeting with a home-rule petition from Shirley that's supported by Ayer and Harvard. The home-rule petitions could be approved at fall town meetings, he reasoned.

Now, it's up to the selectmen from the three towns to take the super town meeting proposal back to their boards.

Ed Starzek of MassDevelopment updated the situation on Grant Road, where 120 housing units are planned for construction.

MassDevelopment is still working on getting a contract signed with the developer, he said, but that doesn't happen overnight.

The overlay governance proposal fizzled once again at the table, as the deadline for Ayer's town warrant has passed and Harvard has already held its Town Meeting.

The original idea was to pose a nonbinding referendum question to Town Meetings on what residents think of overlay governance, which would involve Ayer, Harvard and Shirley retaining control over the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone. MassDevelopment would continue to be responsible for development.

But the proposal fell apart after an argument that began with whether to poll the Devens residents first.

Prescott explained that Shirley selectmen supported polling the residents while still polling the three towns regardless of the Devens outcome. Ayer Selectman Gary Luca echoed the same opinion, while Selectman Leo Blair of Harvard said the Harvard board wanted more information from the Devens Economic Analysis Team.

Luca noted that Ayer was ready to put the question on its warrant, but it's too late now. It could happen at the fall Town Meeting, he noted.

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