SHIRLEY -- With a five-member roster and a reinvigorated mission, the Economic Development Committee is stepping up efforts to bring businesses and new, nonresidential tax revenue to town.

To that end, the EDC plans to meet weekly to map out a development strategy and get a presentation ready for Town Meeting this fall.

In June, EDC members discussed a workshop in Lancaster that provided valuable pointers as the initiative moves forward.

At the workshop, Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco sketched the other town's successful "43D" process, which could be a model for its neighbor.

Designed to spur revenue-enhancing commercial and industrial growth across the state, the 43D designation comes with perks such as grant eligibility. Communities such as Shirley and Lancaster that say yes to the provision agree to streamline the local permit process for designated 43D projects.

Part of EDC's charge is to locate such parcels in areas deemed suitable for the types of development they want to promote and to seek out businesses that fit.

Chairman Jackie Esielionis said EDC also hopes to forward community-friendly projects that pass muster with neighborhood property owners.

But that proved to be a complicated task.

With two zoning-related articles drafted for Annual Town Meeting aimed at creating a "mixed-use overlay district," EDC faced opposition.


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Targeting a section of Lancaster Road zoned commercial/industrial and where there are businesses, EDC proposed changes in zoning bylaws and the zoning map to align with its development vision.

Included in the new map was a section of Apple Orchard Estates, now zoned residential.

Explaining the EDC's reasoning at the time, Esielionis said the committee felt mixed-use zoning would benefit both residential and business owners, allowing flexibility in how they use or market their properties.

In the works for some time, the proposed overlay district was basically a mockup of Lancaster's mixed-use zoning bylaw and was crafted with assistance from a Montachusett Regional Planning Commission planner.

But the Shirley Planning Board rejected the plan and Apple Orchards homeowners strongly objected to their neighborhood being part of it, although the developer, Steve Goodman, was all for it.

Reportedly, Goodman hopes to finally wrap up the protracted project, which never reached full buildout. He has been eyeing nonresidential uses for undeveloped lots.

But EDC scrapped the overlay district plan and agreed to work on an alternative to present at the fall Town Meeting.

Business Development 101

Recapping the workshop, Esielionis said a key question posed to Pacheco was, "How did you get these businesses" to come to Lancaster?

Pacheco apparently told his audience that cellphone firms are almost always on the lookout for new cell tower locations, particularly to plug reception gaps or "black" areas.

He advised finding out where those areas are and to "talk about a wireless overlay district" to expand site options, Esielionis said.

A cell tower deal could reap $25,000 in annual town revenue, according to Pacheco, plus "piggy back" fees from other companies renting space on the tower.

Other suggestions the EDC took away from the session included:

* Having a clear set of goals and objectives.

* Looking to other communities for inspiration, such as Ayer, which has services and is pedestrian-friendly.

* Seeking contacts in state government.

* Direct communication with the MBTA about "historic preservation tax credits associated with commuter rail stations, pros and cons.

* Partnering with MassDevelopment.

* Letting "interested parties know we're open to TIFS."

TIFs are tax breaks offered to businesses as incentives. TIF programs typically run for 10 years, with caveats such as the firm pledging to provide a certain number of new jobs.

EDC members who attended the workshop, including Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, have a lot to mull over from that meeting, Esielionis concluded. 

Establishing a redevelopment authority, for example, which was cited as an important piece of a well-constructed development plan, along with showing sustained growth and focusing on the process, with the town administrator as development coordinator.

Works-in-progress

On a parallel track but not nearly as far along as the Lancaster Road initiative, selectman and EDC member Bob Prescott has been talking to property owners along Great Road/Route 2A, where residences and businesses already co-exist, to see how they'd feel about a future proposal to rezone properties from residential to commercial/industrial.

Expecting resistance from one large landowner whose ties to his property go back generations, Prescott said he was pleasantly surprised to find the owner open to the idea.

Although Prescott championed the mixed-use overlay district plan and still thinks it's a sound idea, the EDC switched gears, he said, and is headed in a different direction now.