DEVENS -- The proposed senior housing in the Shirley Village Growth District reached the Devens Enterprise Commission on Thursday, which voiced concerns over the prospect of the project passing a super town meeting.

The first phase, proposed for the area directly behind Ayer Shirley Middle School, could bring 30 to 40 units.

The general idea, brought to the Joint Boards of Selectmen and Shirley selectmen in previous weeks, is to have some manner of housing reserved for seniors in the commercially zoned location. Meanwhile, the edge of the 35-acre lot facing Hospital Road could be reserved for retail.

Ed Starzek of MassDevelopment said one market study shows a need for additional senior housing.

"We've been approached by a couple of developers, too, who are interested in it," he said. "It seems like there is a demand for it."

But new zoning for the project must pass at a super town meeting of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, as the current Village Growth zoning does not allow housing.

Voters would also have to increase the housing cap at Devens, now limited to 282 units in the Devens Reuse Plan.

"When you say super town meeting, is this just going to be the town of Shirley involved?" asked DEC member Paul Routhier.

He was told it would involve all three towns.

"Oh, my God," he murmured. "OK."

DEC Chairman William Marshall stressed that the idea of increasing the housing cap will be very important at a super town meeting.


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He said MassDevelopment needs to propose a definite number associated with the increase or request dropping the cap altogether.

Marshall also noted that once the agency is committed to a super town meeting, the process of adding on other questions, proposals or processes becomes a concern.

"You run some risks of having something that somebody doesn't want and killing the whole process," he said.

That is a major concern, he said.

"Unfortunately (the fact that) the precedents of every super town meeting since the first one having not been successful is a concern, I think, to everybody going forward," he said.

DEC member Armen Demerjian said the idea of senior housing is a very positive one, and there will not be any difficulty filling up the housing.

"I think we should, and everybody should, work hard to bring that project into fruition," he said. "Not that anybody is opposed here."

Starzek said he believes senior communities in Harvard and Ayer are full, so the new project would not detract from any existing facilities. The project could benefit seniors specifically in the three towns.

Member William Castro said the location is fairly isolated, and asked how the housing would be attractive to seniors who do not drive.

"My guess is the Shirley senior van would be on the bulk of it," offered member John Oelfke, former director of the Shirley Council on Aging. "And a lot of them do walk, and a lot of them do drive."

Starzek explained that the senior-living project is the first step in putting some momentum into the whole parcel.

Selectmen members of the Joint Boards are in the process of going back to their individual boards to discuss the idea of a super town meeting to seek the change in zoning.