By Dustin Luca
---- — Residents seem divided over the idea of rezoning land downtown to pave the way for the Town Yard to be moved and the area to be redeveloped.
A mixed reaction was displayed at a forum at the Public Safety Center last Thursday, Feb. 7, which came nearly a year after residents narrowly rejected a plan to build a new Town Yard on Campanelli Drive for $18.5 million. This year, officials are asking residents to rezone the current Town Yard space on Lewis Street to allow it to be used for other things.
The aim of the zoning is to “create additional value on the town’s holdings,” Planning Director Paul Materazzo said. “We’re essentially looking to create an overlay district on a number of properties that will allow for flexible zoning.”
The zoning area being proposed also includes parcels within a triangle shape formed by North Main, Pearson and Railroad streets. This includes homes on Lewis Street and Buxton Court.
The proposal doesn’t aim to replace homes with businesses. It seeks to add uses for developers who may want to build in that area in the future, according to Materazzo.
The impetus for creating new zoning is the three acres of town-owned land that could be sold to developers if the Town Yard is moved, according to Materazzo.
“The town could stand to gain about $3.3 million for selling just the property with the zoning in hand,” he said. “So, essentially, what the community is doing as part of this overlay process is clearing the way, putting in the community plan we feel is appropriate for this area, and setting the table for the development community to come in and develop based on the community’s vision.”
Lynn Kim, a Barnham Road resident whose mother owns a business on Pearson Street, said “we do need to move forward with this project.”
“When we first moved in 20 years ago, lots of homes were mixed use but mostly residential,” Kim said. “Now there’s the youth center, a parking lot. The historical homes were removed. It’s kind of a mix of random different buildings, and with the Town Yard right in the middle, so close downtown, I just really feel like it’s a really odd looking area.”
Where she works at Lawrence General Hospital, “I hear conversations among the hospital staff. ‘Andover is dead. There [are not] many fun things to do around here,’” she said. “So I feel like what you’re presenting, the potential of that area, it seems like it’s going to bring a lot to the community.”
Bateson Drive resident Steve Fink said a vibrant downtown “is such an exciting thing,” and the zoning would help enhance the downtown business community in that way.
“The potential is so enormous for Andover. I just hold up Concord, Newburyport and Lexington as great examples where work like this has happened,” he said. “If you really want to do something substantial about property values, do the kind of project you’re talking about.”
Others were less optimistic about the zoning proposal. Magnolia Avenue resident Ann Cobleigh, responding to questions from a North Main Street resident, said “it’s not just your property, but perhaps a neighbor’s property” that could be developed using the proposal.
“If they put a coffee shop next door, it could perhaps affect the value of your property, plus or minus.”
Selectman Mary Lyman, the lone voice against the proposal among members of the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen, said her concern “is the toxic waste that’s there, that the town will be responsible in perpetuity.”
It is expected that oil and other chemicals are in the ground, because the Town Yard has gas pumps and is where the town repairs vehicles
“When you do these cost estimates and you think the land is worth all this, you subtract whatever it will cost to clean it up and whatever it costs in the future,” Lyman said.
Steve Cotton, a member of the former Town Yard Task Force that was behind last year’s Campanella Drive proposal, expressed concern over what would happen with changing the zoning before moving the facility.
If the Town Yard didn’t move, “it sort of seems that the heart of (the zoning district) would be this industrial, not very attractive neighbor,” he said. “I’m kind of at a loss to see how the vision that Paul’s laying out here could really come to revitalize downtown if all of this really didn’t take place.”
Saying yes to the proposal means the town will pursue moving the road and town vehicle maintenance facility away from Lewis Street, Selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia said at the hearing.
Whether the town supports or opposes the expanded zoning proposal, after decades of work, Salafia said a solution for repairing or replacing the Town Yard is on its way.
“We’ve been looking at this parcel for decades. A guy stopped me on the street the other day and said the reason we call this Andover is because we do things over, And-over, And-over, And-over,” Salafia said. “It’s finally a solution. We don’t have to do it And-over, And-over.”
The forum was the first of two chances for the public to weigh in on the zoning proposal before Town Meeting. The second will be held at Memorial Hall Library next Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m.