By Dustin Luca
---- — Some residents seem excited about rezoning Andover’s Town Yard at May’s Annual Town Meeting, but others are concerned about how it would impact traffic and property values in the area.
The Planning Board and Board of Selectmen held a public forum yesterday at the Public Safety Center. The meeting opened a zoning proposal up to the public after around 10 months of meetings that prohibited public input.
At the meeting, officials presented a plan coming to Annual Town Meeting to rezone the Town Yard on Lewis Street and most of its surrounding property to allow for more development opportunities.
If approved at Town Meeting, officials would take the vote as support for moving the Town Yard away from Lewis Street, where it was built in the ‘60s as a temporary solution for the town’s vehicle and road maintenance needs, according to Paul Salafia, Board of Selectmen chairman.
“What the town is looking to do is create additional value on the town’s holdings,” Planning Director Paul Materazzo said.
The zoning is aimed at taking advantage of a railroad station on neighboring Railroad Street to create transit-oriented development. It would allow for mixed use development incorporating retail stores, restaurants and residential units in some fashion.
The property also sits on the edge of downtown Andover in what, for years, officials have referred to as the “Golden Triangle.”
The Town Yard takes up around three acres of land in the center of the proposed district, but if rezoned, “the town could stand to gain about $3.3 million for selling just the property with the zoning in hand,” Materazzo said.
Some in attendance professed their support for the plan, like Greg Sebasky, chairman of the Andover Green Advisory Board and chairman of Phillips Electronics, which employes around 2,500 people in Andover.
“We have challenges in attracting the kind of talent we need for our company for the future, particularly young people who don’t want to live so far from the city, or if they do, they want options,” he said. “They don’t want to live on River Road, out by the Franciscan Center.”
Andrea Leary, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Transportation Management Assocation and member of Andover’s Economic Development Council, said the EDC supports the rezoning opportunity because “we feel it provides an excellent opportunity for the town to expand the downtown business corridor, the walkability.”
Others weren’t as optimistic. While he praised the Board of Selectmen for taking the project on the way they have, Steve Cotton, a prior member of the Town Yard Task Force charged with relocating or rebuilding the facility, raised concerns about rezoning the land ahead of moving the Town Yard.
Especially if the Town Yard doesn’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 [Materazzo]’s laying out here could really come to revitalize downtown if all of this really didn’t take place, if Town Yard were to remain in the middle.”
Others at the meeting also weighed in on the intersection of Essex and Railroad streets, where Pearson Street creates what was characterized as a dangerous situation.
The zoning proposal allows for buildings to be built around 60 feet high towards the center of the district, which is on a hill sloping down. Resident Fran Fink objected to that portion of the project, particularly because of how it would look from Railroad Street.
“Do we have any other six story buildings in town anywhere? I’m having a hard time thinking of one,” she said. “I’ve always thought the new brick, multi-family housing across from McDonald’s on [North Main Street] looked like the great Chinese wall. They’re too tall and too close to the street.”
Selectwoman Mary Lyman, the lone dissenting voice between the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board, said her opposition to the plan was focused on toxic contamination on the site that would need to be remediated by the town should the property be sold.
“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,” she said, adding that it could cost millions before the town’s role in the process is complete.
The meeting was the first of two public conversations on the proposal. The second will be held on Thursday, Feb. 21 at the Memorial Hall Library.