SHIRLEY -- At a June 20 public visioning session at Lura A. White Elementary School, Montachusett Regional Planning Commission principal planner Eric Smith led a discussion about the potential benefits and problems associated with development of the Lancaster Road Priority Development Area (PDA) in Shirley.

The MRPC is working on a Gateway Plan for the Lancaster Road area as part of continued planning related to the Lancaster Road PDA. Shirley will also be engaging the MRPC in the development of potential zoning bylaw amendments to further economic development in the Lancaster Road PDA. The project will be completed by the end of November.

With the help of the Commonwealth's District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) program and the MRPC, Shirley has already benefited from eight economic development projects, including the initial and phase two development plans for the Shirley Village Growth Area, the Shirley Chapter 43D Expedited Permitting Guidebook, and the Shirley PDA Assistance Project.

An overview of the area

A year ago, Smith addressed a similar audience at another planning session with an overview of his analysis of data regarding the seven areas of Shirley currently zoned as "industrial," and their potential for development that would increase the tax base.


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At the time, Smith said that, although one of the 2010 economic development master plan chapter objectives for the town was to increase the tax base in Shirley, of about 278 acres of existing land in commercial/industrial (C&I) zoning districts, less than four acres are considered "readily developable."

In addition, of the 275 acres in the four commercial-related zoning districts in Shirley, only about 11 are vacant and developable.

Smith pointed out that the Lancaster Road PDA includes about 52 industrial-zoned acres. Assessed as "District 6," this area includes about 288 acres owned by 18 different people. Over half of its current land use is "vacant undeveloped residential;" another 50 acres include single- and multi-residential housing; and, about 24 acres are considered "vacant undeveloped industrial."

The area, which has become priority number one out of the list of seven, includes the Devarney Court and Tophet Swamp areas to the north, and Mt. Laurel Circle and Apple Orchard Estates to the south. Its environmental features include about 100 acres of 500-year floodplain, 150 acres of aquifer, 150 acres of priority habitat, and 90 acres of wetland.

Smith said that some of the infrastructure features that make the area particularly amenable to C&I development are the availability of water and sewer, and its close proximity to Route 2. The area also has businesses to build on, and is close to many economic target areas.

One of the barriers to C&I development in the Lancaster Road PDA is that two of the largest parcels of land are "unbuildable." One is the Apple Orchard subdivision, which also includes "Parcel K," 13 acres being used as a soil remediation system, and the 9-acre "Parcel I," which is classified as open space. Another challenge is the lack of direct access to Route 2 through that area.

With the town struggling with the existing residential tax burden, last year's discussion focused on the possibility of rezoning the area to one of limited residential/commercial expansion in the southern portion of the area, with the addition of mixed-use residential and working space using Great Road West as a model. The open space, Smith said, could possibly be part of a "parcel land swap."

Opportunities for commercial growth

At the June 20 charette, Smith presented data on the 15-minute drive time trade area from the Lancaster Road Area PDA, citing 277 eating and drinking establishments, 173 convenience retail stores selling items from groceries to building materials, 140 automotive-related retail businesses, and 376 shoppers' goods retail stores. 

Smith said that the retail market assessment for the study area was used to identify retail categories that the Shirley community could consider targeting to fill existing demand that is leaking out of the community.

That analysis showed some $25 million in sales leakage for full service restaurants, $529,000 for drinking establishments, $13 million for personal care stores, $2 million for lawn and garden equipment stores, $22 million in automotive-related retail, $20 million in home furnishings, $15 million in clothing stores, and $31 million in shoppers' goods retail sales.

Group discussion

After Smith presented the Jackson Road entrance to Devens as an example of a gateway into Shirley from Route 2, he asked the participants a series of questions, including if they would support a reconstructed Lancaster Road with a similar streetscape.

This led to questions about: the cost benefit to the town, fixing the bridge in the area, where the best location for access to the area should be, improving and completing the existing roads, developing design guidelines for existing businesses in the area, working with both property owners (Keating and Chisholm), and the zoning changes that would be necessary to move forward.

A major problem that would have to be remedied in the Lancaster PDA is the lack of direct access to Route 2 from the Apple Orchard development.

Bob France, Chair and CEO of Senate Construction, headquartered on Mt. Laurel Circle, mentioned the possibility of using some of the property buffering the prison in the southeast corner of the area. The prison facility is adjacent to Route 2. Others suggested an entrance through the Chisholm property in the Fort Pond area.

In answer to a question about potential recreational facilities on the site, Economic Development Committee (EDC) member Jackie Esielionis said that recreational opportunities for employees of area businesses is important; however, there was little more discussion on the subject.

Shirley resident Hugh Muffoletto cited the low attendance by members of the general public. "I'm sure that there are high school students who would have all kinds of ideas about recreational uses," he said.

Attendees included the three Shirley selectmen, members of the EDC, developers France and Steve Goodman of Apple Orchard Estates, members of the Shirley Conservation Commission, Director and Capital Campaign Committee Chairman of Shirley's Historic Meetinghouse Paul Pryzbyla, Smith, and MRPC GIS Analyst Renee Marion.

Muffoletto suggested that the EDC cast a wider net in terms of getting input from citizens of the town, such as through an online SurveyMonkey survey that would not require that those who participate be physically present at a meeting.

Smith said that the online survey and a suggestion to make available an online slide presentation with audio were items on which he would follow up.

EDC Vice Chairman Rico Cappucci stated that he would see to it that the committee included information about the October or November follow-up meeting in the July Town of Shirley tax bills.

Smith wrapped up the meeting by saying that the MRPC would write up the charette findings, prepare a draft gateway plan report for review, and incorporate comments on the plan into its final report.

Anyone with questions or comments about the Lancaster Road PDA may contact MRPC Principal Planner Eric Smith at 978-345-7376 ext. 319, or esmith@mrpc.org.