Overview of the Devens Enterprise Commission

This section describes the makeup and responsibilities of the Devens Enterprise Commission.

Table of Contents

Overview

The Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) was created by Chapter 498 of the Acts of 1993 and is the local regulatory and permit-granting authority for the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (Devens). DEC is administered by 12 commissioners appointed by the Governor, 6 of whom are nominated by the boards of selectmen from the towns of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley3 (2 commissioners from each town). Chapter 498 also allows for a total of four associate members to be appointed by the Governor: one nominated by the Governor and three nominated by the boards of selectmen of the three towns. Section 9 of Chapter 498 states that all the commissioners “shall have proven expertise in one or more of the following areas: industrial development, housing, finance, business, real estate, environment, planning, transportation or municipal government.” During our audit period, DEC had three full-time staff members: a director / land use administrator, an environmental planner, and an executive assistant. In addition, DEC awards contracts for other services, such as accounting, legal services, and building permit and inspection services.

Devens was created to help provide an orderly and expeditious conversion and development of approximately 4,400 acres that were a portion of a former federal military base, Fort Devens,4 into a non-military-use area. According to the Devens Reuse Plan,

[Chapter 498] provides for $200 million in bonding capacity to fund the redevelopment effort, which is geared to creation of jobs and the protection of the towns from fiscal impacts that might occur if responsibility for the maintenance and redevelopment of Devens were returned immediately to the towns.

Additionally, according to its Independent Auditors’ Report on General Purpose Financial Statements, DEC reported the following revenue and expenses for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

DEC Revenue

 

Fiscal Year 2019

Fiscal Year 2018

Permits and Other Fees

$468,994

$824,842

Taxes*

148,676

136,849

Miscellaneous

3,197

                –

Intergovernmental

107,428

138,890

Earnings on Investments

10,952

8,645

Total

$739,247

$1,109,226

*     Chapter 498 grants MassDevelopment the authority to assess and collect property taxes. Two percent of the tax collected by MassDevelopment is turned over to DEC to fund its operations.

 

DEC Expenses

 

Fiscal Year 2019

Fiscal Year 2018

Personnel

$310,262

$286,601

Non-Personnel

506,285

494,345

Depreciation

1,727

1,868

Total

$818,274

$782,814

 

Chapter 498 made the Massachusetts Government Land Bank (later merged into MassDevelopment) exclusively responsible for acquisition, control, maintenance, and redevelopment of Devens. To provide for orderly development, a long-term (20-to-40-year) reuse plan and zoning bylaws5 were developed by the Massachusetts Government Land Bank and the towns of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley. The reuse plan and zoning bylaws provided development goals and planned uses of the property and were passed at town meetings in the three towns, as required by Chapter 498. According to the Devens Reuse Plan,

The Devens Reuse Plan provides a comprehensive framework and strategy to reuse the buildings, infrastructure, land and open space to produce jobs and environmental protection in the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone. The focus of the Reuse Plan is to capitalize on the unique attributes of Fort Devens to attract new businesses and to support existing industry clusters in the region. The scale of Devens and the magnitude of the challenge requires a long-term vision for the reuse, and a pragmatic, flexible Reuse Plan that can respond to the changes that may occur over the 20–40 year time frame to implement the Reuse Plan. . . .

In order to accommodate the needs of a broad range of income groups, and to ensure the stability of the residential core, approximately twenty-five [percent] (25%) of the 282 units to be reused or constructed under the Reuse Plan will be reserved for low and moderate income individuals or families, and/or special needs populations. It is recognized that the success of the residential reuse is dependent on a balance between market rate and the affordable / special needs populations.

The reuse plan allows for a maximum of 282 units to be reused or constructed under the reuse plan. As of June 30, 2019, there were 158 housing units constructed and occupied. Additionally, plans were in place to reuse or construct 107 more housing units, for a total of 265 units.

The reuse plan and zoning bylaws do not provide definitions of low and moderate income. DEC has expanded its definition of “affordable” to identify low-income units as those serving households below 80% of the area median income and moderate-income units as those serving households below 100% of the area median income. DEC’s definition of special-needs populations includes veterans, women who have children and are homeless, and people with disabilities.

DEC has worked with MassDevelopment and the towns of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley toward providing Devens with additional housing (282 units) to be reused or constructed under the reuse plan. As of June 30, 2019, occupied housing developed under the reuse plan was as follows.

Summary of Devens Occupied Housing Unit Inventory as of June 30, 2019

Project

Total Occupied

Market Rate

Low Income

Moderate Income

Affordable*

Harvard Portion of Devens

75

62

13

0

17.3%

Ayer Portion of Devens

32

21

11

0

34.4%

Veterans Inc. (7 in Harvard, 7 in Ayer)

14

0

14

0

100.0%

Energy-Efficient Single Homes—Harvard

8

8

0

0

0.0%

Energy-Efficient Townhomes—Harvard

12

12

0

0

0.0%

Grant Road Phase 1—Harvard

17

16

0

1

5.9%

Total Residential Units

158

119

38

1

24.7%

*     Low-income and moderate-income units are considered affordable.

†     As of June 30, 2019, 107 additional units were planned for Grant Road, 27 of which were to be affordable.

Regional Affordable Housing Coordinator

On October 12, 2016, MassDevelopment contracted with Metro West Collaborative Development, Inc. to retain Metro West as a consultant, providing services related to compliance with affordable housing requirements, for MassDevelopment and DEC. The contract’s Exhibit A (Scope of Services) states,

These services will [be] intended to provide MassDevelopment and the DEC with ongoing oversight to ensure compliance with affordable housing regulatory agreements with respect to tenant and owner eligibility for housing developments in Devens.

As part of these services, Metro West was obligated to mail annual certifications to all affordable housing occupants whose units it was responsible for monitoring (i.e., occupants of all affordable units except Veterans Inc. units) to ensure that applicable restrictions were adhered to. These restrictions include limitations and approval requirements regarding modifications and the leasing or sale of units. The certifications were mailed to the occupants as a reminder of their responsibilities to adhere to affordable housing deed restrictions.

For the purposes of sharing the services and costs of a regional affordable housing coordinator, on January 1, 2018, DEC and MassDevelopment contracted with their local community housing consortium, the Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination. This consortium included the towns of Bolton, Boxborough, Harvard, Hudson, Littleton, and Stow. Under the contract, the town of Hudson, through its municipal affordable housing trust and administrative support from its Planning and Community Development Department, would lead the procurement and oversight of the consulting.

Commuter Options

The Devens zoning bylaws require DEC to conduct progress reviews of the status of Devens redevelopment every five years. As part of these reviews, DEC establishes goals in support of the reuse plan and zoning bylaws, and it reports on progress made toward the accomplishment of goals established in the prior five-year progress review.

According to the Devens Reuse Plan,

The Devens Reuse Plan incorporates several transportation initiatives to reduce vehicle trips and utilize alternative modes of transportation consistent with environmental goals for the project. These include:

  • Promotion of the use of commuter rail for employee access to the site including consideration of on-site shuttle service to [the Ayer commuter rail station].

In its progress review for the period 2011–2015, DEC identified 18 goals to focus on over the next five-year review period (2016–2020). One of these goals is as follows:

Working with MassDevelopment, local businesses and surrounding communities to support regional transportation plans and establish additional commuter options for businesses and residents to and from Shirley, Devens, Ayer and Littleton. Work on implementation of 2015 [Montachusett Regional Transit Authority] Transportation Plan and fixed route bus service between the train stations in Ayer and Shirley via Devens. Continue to support Fitchburg Line reverse commute early morning service to foster diverse commute options to Devens.

To achieve this goal, DEC has partnered with the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) to establish, maintain, and support a shuttle bus program to serve Devens and the surrounding communities.

MART

Chapter 161B of the Massachusetts General Laws established regional transit authorities (RTAs) to provide a public transportation system under the control of municipalities. Each RTA supports a number of communities and is governed by an advisory board composed of the chief elected officials from those communities. According to its website, MART’s mission is “to provide safe, reliable, efficient, and cost-effective transit . . . to our customers.” MART’s operations are overseen by an advisory board made up of at least one member from each of the 22 communities6 the agency serves.

MART worked closely with DEC to establish the Devens Regional Shuttle Program, which provides fixed-route and demand-response shuttle services7 to Devens and surrounding communities. MART relied on research provided by DEC, MassDevelopment, and Devens businesses to help determine where and when to provide these services. The Devens shuttle began operating in April 2017. During the audit period, DEC continued to work with MART to improve the shuttle service by providing input for schedule adjustments; providing marketing and advertising; and obtaining additional funding to support the program, particularly during its inception.

Additionally, DEC took on a lead role to improve the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter rail extension in Fitchburg by working with town officials and obtaining federal and state grants to improve the rails. DEC requested from the MBTA additional commuter rail service to Ayer and recommended adjustments to the Devens shuttle service to align with local MBTA commuter rail stops.

According to MART, over the course of our audit period, it became less reliant on outside sources to identify any need for scheduling adjustments to Devens shuttle services and relied more on data it gathered through shuttle drivers.

3.     The regional development zone created by Chapter 498 includes areas of Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley.

4.     Section 2 of Chapter 498 defines Fort Devens as “the lands, including all easements, reservations and rights appurtenant thereto, and all buildings, structures, utilities and improvements located thereon comprising all or a portion of the military base of that name presently located in the towns of Ayer, Harvard, Lancaster and Shirley and within the ownership, control and jurisdiction of the United States government.”

5.     According to the Devens zoning bylaws, “As provided in [Chapter 498], the By-Laws furnish the legal foundation and procedural structure for the implementation of the planning and reuse goals and objectives set forth in the Reuse Plan.”

6.     The communities are Ashburnham, Ashby, Athol, Ayer, Bolton, Boxborough, Fitchburg, Gardner, Hardwick, Harvard, Hubbardston, Lancaster, Leominster, Littleton, Lunenburg, Royalston, Shirley, Sterling, Stow, Templeton, Westminster, and Winchendon.

7.     Demand-response transportation services are those that run on a flexible schedule and flexible routes based on the needs of passengers with disabilities.

Date published: July 27, 2020
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