Voters at the annual Town Meeting on April 27 will decide whether to sell a three-acre parcel in the Historic Mill District to a developer.
If voters give the Select Board the authorization to sell what's known as the town yard, the community will seek proposals from firms interested in redeveloping the property, which served as the maintenance facility for the Department of Public Works for many years.
About 40 residents attended a recent presentation on how the town will go about selecting a developer at the Memorial Hall Library. A preliminary request for proposals – also known as an RFP – is already on the town website, according to Austin Simko, town clerk and chief strategic officer.
The town yard is part of the Historic Mill District, a 100-acre area in the downtown that includes Dundee Park, the MBTA stop, St. Augustine Church and other properties along Pearson, Railroad and Essex streets. Many years ago, textile mills were located there along with houses for the workers and stores.
The objectives for redeveloping the town yard, which is next to the MBTA stop and Buxton Court, include compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood; making it a place people want to visit; better traffic management and improved mobility for bicycles; arts and recreational space; and a mix of restaurants, stores and homes, Simko said.
The town also expects the redeveloped town yard will be environmentally responsible and energy efficient, he said. Currently, the property consists of a few unused buildings.
An environmental consultant determined the site is not polluted, according to Planning Director Paul Materazzo.
Each interested developer will be asked to submit a statement of qualifications, a development proposal and proof of financial feasibility, Simko said.
"If we don't think you can build it, we throw you out," he said.
The final decision on choosing a developer will rest with the Select Board. An RFP Selection Committee will review proposals and make a recommendation.
Simko and Materazzo have proposed a seven-member committee that would include two members of the Historic Mill District Task Force, three at-large residents, the planning director and a representative of Town Manager Andrew Flanagan's staff.
Flanagan would appoint the members of the committee, which will rank the proposals.
The developer that is chosen does not have to be restricted to the town yard, Simko said. If a developer can buy adjacent properties and include them in the project, that's allowable, he said.
"We have done an appraisal," Materazzo said. The value of the town yard has been placed between $4 million and $5 million, he said.
Selectman Chris Huntress asked if the request for proposals will allow creativity on the part of a developer.
"We have been disciplined in keeping (the process) open," Simko said.
Huntress also asked for a timeline on the project – provided Town Meeting approves the sale.
Simko said construction could start by the summer of 2021.
It appears local residents want the redevelopment to include homes, according to Simko. Ninety-five percent of the 750 people who responded to an online survey said they want all or a substantial portion of the homes to be condominiums, he said.
Officials will be asking for the authority to sell the town yard – not lease it. Selectman Alex Vispoli said his board has already wrestled with that question and the consensus is to ask voters for permission to sell the property.
Charlie Kendrick, the chairman of the Historic Mill District Task Force, said the town has a "wonderful opportunity" to recreate a community.
Kendrick, who has many years of redevelopment experience, including the revival of Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, urged those present to continue their involvement in the Historic Mill District.