PEPPERELL -- At its Monday night meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted to place an article on the Oct. 29 Special Town Meeting warrant to rezone the Peter Fitzpatrick School into a commercial property, pending a recommendation from the Planning Board.
Selectman Joseph Sergi said if the Planning Board does not recommend the rezoning, the article will be tabled. The Planning Board will be discussing the rezoning at their Sept. 24 meeting; there will be a public hearing at the meeting at 7:15 p.m.
Selectman Michael Green, as well as a representative from the Planning Board, will also be meeting with abutters on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. Sergi encouraged residents to attend the hearing and vocalize opinions regarding the rezoning. Meanwhile, he opened the floor for discussion to clarify the matter to the public.
The school is currently going unused. The district wanted to revert the property back to town ownership, but the action is prevented by a state grant for the building; it must be used for district purposes until June 30, said Sergi. It is available for rezoning as of July 1.
"By making it commercial ... it's a chance to bring in revenue," said Green.
Currently, according to Sergi, 700 school seats are vacant due to overbuilding and a decline in school-aged children. Between 2005 and 2011, school-age child enrollment has gone down by 19 percent.
"We're also going to get $15,000 to $18,000 for Mass Development ... if we move forward with the sale," said Sergi.
Currently, there is some discussion over the possibility of a supermarket going in the location.
"The grocery store seems to have a little more interest," said Sergi.
He said a supermarket chain has shown interest in the past, but that the selectmen "can't vote either way, because there's nothing there, just interest." He said he has been approached in the past by several developers, but that their interest "all fades away."
John Masiello of Pepperell commented that if the lot was turned into a commercial property, "any generated revenue for taxes goes back into the town," whereas if it remained a school, it would be a tax burden on residents.
Brian Keating of Pepperell said while it would be good for taxpayers to have more revenue coming into the town, he had concerns about what commercial rezoning would mean for Main Street businesses.
"My fear is losing businesses that are more proportionate to the town than having larger businesses," he said.
Phil Durno of Pepperell said if the town retains ownership of the property, "The town is responsible for anything that goes wrong with that building."
But it will all come down to what the taxpayers want.
"What kind of downtown area do we want or not want? A lot of people want to leave it alone ... This is a discussion we're ready to have at Town Meeting," said Sergi.
The selectmen also approved articles for a new police cruiser, a generator and a chipper for the Highway Division, building maintenance for Town Hall and the public safety complex, a veteran's tax work-off program, an amendment to the senior tax work-off program, appropriating funds for the tax work-off programs, using funds for unpaid bills, leasing the landfill for solar-energy production, a tax increment finance agreement for Masy Systems and replacing firefighter gear.