By Dustin Luca
---- — It’s back to the drawing board for the Town Yard.
One week after Town Meeting rejected a proposal to rezone the 3-acre site and surrounding property for a second consecutive year, selectmen are now faced with deciding the next step for the deteriorating complex near the center of town.
“What we’ll do, as a board, is take a step back, take a look at where we have been with the process, look at the message we got at Town Meeting, and look at a long- and short-term approach,” selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said. “The need and the requirement to replace the facilities that are there still needs to be solved.”
While town officials will be revisiting several issues following last week’s Town Meeting votes, the Town Yard is foremost on many minds.
The proposal to create the Andover Transit Oriented Development District by rezoning 24 acres of land around the Town Yard on Lewis Street for mixed-use development narrowly failed to garner the required two-thirds vote necessary for adoption. The article fell 29 votes shy of the mark this year; last year, it failed passage by 31 votes.
The article came out of efforts to rebuild or relocate the Town Yard, which was built in the ‘60s as a temporary town maintenance facility. The price tag for a new facility has been pegged at $20 million.
Cost is the biggest concern facing the project, according to Vispoli. In the past, a $22 million effort to rebuild on Dascomb Road got pulled from the warrant prior to a vote. Last year’s $18.5 million proposal to relocate the facility to Campanelli Road was also viewed as being too expensive.
But Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski said the current town yard is obsolete. “They are working under very ancient, old conditions,” he said of public works employees. “It has outlived its usefulness.”
Vispoli said now it’s his board’s responsibility to provide one or two possible solutions.
“We need some more time,” he said. “We still have everything on the table, but the focus has to be on the cost piece of it.”
Selectmen will also have their hands full with the next steps necessary to complete the purchase of the Reichhold property on Lowell Junction Road.
Town Meeting authorized selectmen to apply for land grants to raise up to $550,000 to buy the final three parcels of the one-contaminated site, which has undergone a cleanup.
The approval was the latest in a series of steps toward converting the property to a recreational facility. The town had previously raised $1.3 million to buy 11.49 acres of the former industrial site at 71 and 77 Lowell Junction Road.
Unofficial designs presented at Town Meeting showed the potential for two baseball diamonds and two soccer fields to be built on the site.
While Stapczynski said a 27,000-square-foot warehouse on the property will be used to store public works vehicles off-season, the rest of the site is not suited for a town yard because of winding roads that have weight restrictions, among other problems. In addition, he said, the town is not allowed to store salt or sand on the site.
He said it will cost $2.7 million to convert the site into ballfields, but that won’t happen soon.
“We will hold the land for years to come,” he said.
Town Meeting’s overwhelming support for spending $60,000 on a stream gauge to measure water levels in the Shawsheen River surprised even the main proponent. But Washington Park Drive resident J. Barry Mahoney, who submitted the citizens’ request, said voters showed that they understood the plight he and his neighbors face, even though town officials opposed the proposal. The money will cover operation of the gauge for four years.
“We were surprised because it is not often that the selectmen and Finance Committee disagree on something and it gets passed,” Mahoney said.
Conservation Director Bob Douglas said the gauge also will be helpful with ongoing efforts to dismantle two of the town’s three dams in the Shawsheen. That work is slated to start next year.
Love that dirty water
Residents also voted to support two efforts aimed at improving the town’s water infrastructure: a $1 million fire hydrant replacement program and a $195,000, four-year flushing program.
The water system hasn’t been flushed in recent memory, according to Chris Cronin, acting director of the Department of Public Works. Over time, some pipes have built up layers of sediment. The flushing will discharge that material, Cronin said.
“It’s important to do, (but) it’s going to be problematic,” he said. “We’re going to have dirty water. We’re going to have to be patient.”
Cronin said once the entire system is flushed and maintenance measures are in place, residents will confront dirty water less often.