EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 10, 2012

School impact comes up in Town Yard talk

By Dustin Luca
dluca@eagletribune.com

---- — ANDOVER — With the Town Meeting warrant closing in a month, officials are working quickly to determine what the Town Yard site on Lewis Street could become if the facility moved elsewhere.

A Town Meeting warrant article is expected to present a zoning option to residents that would change three acres of town-owned land currently used as the Town Yard into some form of residential, commercial or mixed use zoning.

A meeting between the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board yesterday raised many possibilities for what the land could look like if fully developed into something other than the Town Yard. The discussion was fueled by Kenneth Buckland, principal with The Cecil Group, a planning firm charged with presenting zoning alternatives for the site.

But an overriding concern for the boards is how redevelopment would impact local schools, some of which are considered overcrowded without additional residential growth, according to Selectman Mary Lyman.

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.”

Some officials called attention to Windsor Green, a nearly 200-unit apartment community on Lowell Street. While the project was projected to generate around 38 students, the project today 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 has no homes. Members of the meeting disagreed with 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 being 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 two boards will meet with Buckland again on Jan. 7 to review how many school-age children might be generated by different types of development projects. Out of that, a zoning article is expected for Town Meeting that will give residents the opportunity to voice whether they want to rezone the Town Yard land or not.

That vote would possibly pave the way for a future article either relocating the Town Yard off Lewis Street or rebuilding it at its present location.

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