By Dustin Luca
---- — The Town Yard project has spun in place during 2012, and many other years. Time will tell is 2013 will be the year it gets traction.
News will pick up quickly for the Town Yard in 2013 with a public hearing discussing the project slated for late January or early February, according to selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia. A vote at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting will also help determine whether the Town Yard stays at its current home or moves elsewhere in town, opening up three acres of Lewis Street to downtown development.
The project was being led by the Town Yard Task Force when it was brought to Annual Town Meeting in April. The proposal was to purchase land on Campanelli Drive and River Road, and then build the facility for $18.5 million. But with the majority of the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen recommending the project’s withdrawal from the Town Meeting floor, it seemed the project wouldn’t see the light of day.
Voters rejected the idea of removing the project from the warrant. A majority then voted to support the plan— but not enough to pass the project because a two-thirds majority was needed. Supporters came 31 votes shy.
Since then, selectmen has discussed it on a regular basis in a workshop format.
“We took the hint from Town Meeting that we needed to take it on as a project, not appoint another task force,” Salafia said. “We’ve been running workshops the entire year since then. We’re drawing near a recommendation.”
The next steps for the project are putting a zoning proposal before Town Meeting voters in 2013, and putting an offer out to buy land for relocating the Town Yard in the future.
With the proposal, residents will consider retooling the Town Yard’s present site on Lewis Street to support some form of mixed use — a combination of residential and commercial space. Town Meeting voters will be asked if they want to rezone the property for a different use.
If the voters support the plan, the town will pursue relocating the Town Yard and look into a request for proposal that is currently on the table to buy privately owned land, according to Maria Maggio, acting Plant and Facilities director.
“This is the third one we’ve done,” Maggio said, adding that the first RFP led the town to a plan for Dascomb Road while the second one brought them to Campanelli Drive. “Those (replies) are due Jan. 17.”
If the Town Yard is moved, the present site could become an extension of the downtown community, perhaps with a mix of retail and apartments, something that members of the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee support.
So far, only two people have picked up the packet of information on the RFP, according to Maggio.
If voters reject the rezoning proposal, town leaders will focus on using the Lewis Street site as a two-story Town Yard facility, according to Salafia. The Town Yard land there is already owned by the town. Early in 2013, the future of the Town Yard will come down to a single choice.
“It’s time,” Salafia said. “If we can come up with a solution that lasts another 50 to another 100 years for the town, I’d be thrilled.”