ANDOVER — Last night was the town’s last chance to talk about rezoning the Town Yard in a “community conversation” format.
The discussion focused on two things: How contamination at the site affects its future development and what the true purpose of the upcoming Town Meeting article is.
Last night, officials held the second of two nights of hearings over a zoning proposal targeting several acres around North Main, Pearson and Railroad streets. With the Town Yard at the site’s core, rezoning the land to add more development options could extend downtown Andover northward and give officials the signal they need to relocate the Town Yard from its current, aged facility on Lewis Street, officials have said.
But for many in the audience, that wasn’t clear last night.
“The real problem we have facing us is the Town Yard,” York Street resident Don Robb said. “For 15 years or more, the Board of Selectmen has been trying to find a solution to the Town Yard. Now, we’re going to ignore that problem and present this to the town.”
Selectwoman Mary Lyman, a vocal opponent to relocating the Town Yard off of Lewis Street, said Andover’s goal “was to get a Town Yard. That was our goal. We can do that with this site (by rebuilding it instead). We can manage it, but we’re losing sight of it trying to expand it to something else.”
Cyr Circle resident Mary Carbone said the article is “all about a zoning change,” and added that “it should not happen.”
“We should relate to the people that are working at the Town Yard, who have been hanging out to dry for years there,” she said. “It’s in deplorable condition. They deserve better than that.”
Tim Vale, chairman of the Economic Development Council, likened the article to “creating an opportunity.”
“Think about selling your house,” he said. “You want to make it as attractive as possible for the potential buyer. That’s all we’re talking about here.”
Selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia said the zoning article “will be the solution for the Town Yard.”
“If Town Meeting does vote to pass this, we will move it,” he said of the yard. “If they vote to vote it down and it doesn’t pass, we will build there at whatever cost.”
That cost was also a frequent concern at the meeting, as discussion occasionally drifted to on-site contamination and how that will affect future development.
Many were concerned over the problem resurfacing decades down the road, and the town picking up the bill for cleanup costs.
“I’ve watched this happen with a particular site, and it’s happening 24 years later,’’ Lyman said. “They just found it at a new site. Everything was supposed to be fine. As a town, we can certainly try to maintain it with what we have.”
Samos Lane resident Bob Marshall likened the cost of future remediation as “soft dollars,” given the nature of the contamination being a “liability unknown.”
The site “isn’t worth anything,’’ he said. “It’s only worth what the developer wants to pay for it, and we’re going to be paying through the nose for all the cleanup on this site.’’
Selectman Alex Vispoli said the contamination “neutralizes itself out.”
Whether the town sells the land and moves the Town Yard or rebuilds at its current home, “we’ve got to deal with it one way or the other,” he said. “It’s the same liability either way.”