Neil Fater Editor
The Andover Townsman
---- — Andover residents may vote this spring on a vision for how the Town Yard site on Lewis Street could be redeveloped.
Former Town Yard Task Force Chairman Rick Feldman is pushing selectmen to bring a Town Yard plan before voters at the 2013 April Town Meeting, saying if they don’t take action this year, it may be years before any solution is found.
“The clock is ticking to make a decision,” said Feldman. “We’re now in November. I worry if we wait another year, other priorities -- all meaningful -- are going to take the front seat. There’s nothing sexy about a town yard.”
Projects to build a new Ballardvale Fire Station and a public preschool building are in the planning stages.
Selectmen Alex Vispoli said he expects the town to come to Town Meeting with a plan to rezone the area that would outline the type of development that would be allowed on the site if the Town Yard moves. But he said the town has three options, including building a new Town Yard on the site of the current facility.
Vispoli said that since selectmen became more involved in the process, they have heard for the first time from the heads of Public Works and Plant & Facilities that a new Town Yard could be created on the existing site. Joe Piantedosi, the former Plant & Facilities director, always argued that the site was too small for the town’s needs.
“We can build on that site and we can build an acceptable solution,” said Vispoli.
Andover could also swap the Lewis Street land the Town Yard sits on for another piece of property. This would allow the Lewis Street land near the downtown to be redeveloped and the Town Yard to be moved out of the downtown area. The Town Yard is at the bottom of Lewis Street, and abuts the Andover commuter rail on Railroad Street. Among other functions, the Town Yard is where the town fuels and repairs its vehicles and stores road sand and salt.
Supporters of developing the site usually talk about having multi-story buildings with stores on the ground floor and condos on the top floors.
“The objective is to get a vision set and then go out to the development community,” said Vispoli.
“We have to solve this problem. It’s been going on too long. I’ve been an advocate to redevelop that property, but it has to make economic sense, too,” said Vispoli. “It has to make sense for the taxpayer both long-term and short-term.”
Vispoli was against an idea two years ago to spend more than $20 million to buy a Dascomb Road site, and move the Town Yard near the Tewksbury line.
Different Town Yard Task Forces over the years have supported buying land at 5 Campanelli Drive, off River Road, and moving the Town Yard there. A proposal last year was to spend more than $3 million to buy the site and another $15 million to design and construct a new Town Yard. Officials tried to withdraw the article at Town Meeting, but residents asked for a vote. The idea, which did not have support of the selectmen or Finance Committee, failed by 68 votes.
Feldman wants to see the town move its Town Yard out of the downtown and away from residential developments. This would allow the downtown to expand. The town could then sell the land near the Andover MBTA commuter rail stop and collect tax money on the new homes and businesses created there.
“This is a long-term perspective, but that’s why you elect leaders, to make those decisions. It takes good leadership to make those decisions,” said Felman of developing the Lewis Street property. “That only can help the future of Andover. Andover isn’t going to expand to the south down Main Street. It isn’t going to expand to the east. The opportunity for [downtown] expansion is Lewis Street.
“I like to think they [selectmen] have all the information they need. These are hard decisions,” said Feldman.