By Dustin Luca
---- — The purpose of the Town Yard zoning article coming to Town Meeting and concerns about existing site conditions at the Town Yard dominated discussion during the final selectmen forum.
Last Thursday, the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen hosted a community forum on a zoning article slated for an Annual Town Meeting vote in May. The proposal, if approved, would rezone the Town Yard on Lewis Street and land around it to allow for more development options.
Kenneth Buckland, principal with the Cecil Group, said the town has "an amazing opportunity here that many communities would be searching for, high and low."
The proposed Andover Transit Oriented Development District is made up of parcels inside and abutting a triangle-shaped area made up by North Main, Pearson and Railroad streets. Lewis Street, the present home of the Town Yard, sits at the center of the district.
For all land within the proposed district, current uses — as homes, businesses, the Town Yard — would remain intact. The zoning would create accessory uses that don't exist today for the land, such as a mixed use development that allows a blend of businesses and homes.
But last week's discussion focused closely on documented toxic conditions at the site, particularly in the soil underneath the Town Yard, and how the vote on the article would affect rebuilding or relocating the Town Yard.
The toxic conditions on the site have created "an activity-use limitation for the Town yard," Buckland said. "Because you have that liability, you have to maintain control. You have to be responsible for it."
Mary Lyman, the lone dissenting voice against the proposal among the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen, has frequently called attention to the site's conditions and its potential millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
"We own it forever. We own the price tag to that part of it," she said. "You think it's only in one spot. If, in 25 years, it's found in another spot, it's still the town of Andover (who is responsible). We're still going to clean that up."
Buckland urged the audience, "don't be afraid of this, because, in fact, it's done all over the place. It's done on a regular basis."
There was also uncertainty surrounding the purpose of the article.
"This is not a Town Yard article," Peter Caruso, president of the Andover Business Community Association, said. "It's truly a zoning article, and it's expanding the downtown business area, and that's a good thing."
But Caruso's concern is that voters will think otherwise when the proposal hits the Town Meeting floor.
"This particular article does not concern the Town Yard being moved, not being moved," he said. "It could stay (on Lewis Street), and I think the public needs to understand that this particular Town Meeting warrant article talks about allowing this area to have a business community, period."
Don Robb, Council on Aging chairman, said that the town's real problem "is the Town Yard."
"For 15 years or more, the Board of Selectmen has been trying to find a solution to the Town Yard," he said. "Now, we're going to ignore the problem, and present this to the town."
By the end of the meeting, Selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia said he wanted to be clear that the article is, ultimately, a referendum on the Town Yard's future.
"If Town Meeting does vote to pass this, we will move it. If they vote to vote it down and it doesn't pass, we will build there at whatever cost," Salafia said. "This will be the solution for the Town Yard, whether it be on that site, or somewhere else."
Coming out of the forum, Planning Director Paul Materazzo said he expects the Planning Board will hold more forums up to Town Meeting to further gauge where the public sits on the proposal.
"We want to have consensus so the public is behind the proposal," he said. "The more we can do to get the facts out on what we're doing, ultimately, helps us on the backend."
On the other hand, there will be no more time set aside to discuss the project at selectmen's meetings, according to Salafia.
"We have very clear direction," he said. "We know what we want to do. We're looking at this as a solution."