By Dustin Luca
---- — Town officials are working quickly to create a zoning plan for the current Town Yard space on Lewis Street ahead of next year’s Annual Town Meeting.
A Town Meeting warrant article is expected to give voters an option for converting the Town Yard space to some form of residential, commercial or mixed use space.
Selectmen and Planning Board members met with a consultant reviewing the area Monday to go over a variety of possibilities and their implications for the town.
Throughout the meeting, members of both boards showed concern about how many new school children potential new residential units in the space would mean for Andover schools. This would add to existing overcrowded conditions at some of the town’s schools, according to Selectman Mary Lyman.
Because of that, Selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia characterized the rezoning process as a three-way balancing act.
“We want to get as much value from the land [as possible], but we’re balancing it against the impact to the community. The third balancing act is if you make it so restricted, a developer won’t build it,” Salafia said. “[Residential] density will be important to any builder, but not great for the impact to the town unless we restrict it as such so it won’t bring a lot of kids into the schools.”
Officials frequently called attention to Windsor Green, an apartment community on Lowell Street with nearly 200 apartments. While the project was slated to generate around 38 students, today it houses 101 school-aged kids, according to Selectman Alex Vispoli.
One option, as suggested by Salafia, is to build a 100-percent commercial development that no homes to generate students. Members of the meeting opposed the idea, however, on the grounds that developers wouldn’t want to build it and the commercial space wouldn’t draw enough people to it with the Main Street part of downtown so convenient already.
The solution, according to Planning Board member Vincent Chiozzi, is a mixed-use development with high residential density and a rich commercial space that creates “that 24-hour feel.”
“Otherwise, it just feels like a commercial area that closes up at 8 or 9 o’clock at night,” Chiozzi said. “Mixed use is the way to go, and it has so much going for it as a site.”
The discussion is expected to continue on Jan. 7, when the two boards will review how different mixes of commercial and residential space will add to the school-age population.
From there, a more clear vision of the Town Yard’s current home on Lewis Street will move on to Town Meeting for voters to discuss.
“The idea is to come up with some agreeable potential for it and then bring it to the voters at Town Meeting to see if there’s the appetite to do that,” Vispoli said. “Then, if you get a ‘yes,’ then you can go forward with the proposal of the next step. That’s looking for an alternative site (for the Town Yard).”