State Senator Jamie Eldridge, who represents Harvard as well as Ayer and Shirley, has, for the second time, filed a bill with the Massachusetts legislature on behalf of Devens residents that would grant the former military base independent status as a Massachusetts town.
The bill, SD 573, is a new version of a citizen's petition filed two years ago. That document was signed by five residents, including Tom Kinch, current head of the Devens Committee, an advisory group that represents homeowners and renters at Devens, and Eric Stoltzfus, a member of the Devens Enterprise Commission, which oversees development of the 4,400-acre enterprise development zone.
The latest version, according to Eldridge spokesperson Megan Montgomery, is signed by a single resident.
In an email to the Press, Montgomery said Eldridge had filed the latest petition at the request of longtime Democratic activist and Devens resident Robert Eisengrein, who passed away two weeks ago. Although he has been a strong supporter of residential housing at Devens, Eldridge has not taken an official position on the legislation, Montgomery said.
"Bob Eisengrein devoted the majority of his life to the cause of granting Devens status as a town in Massachusetts," Eldridge wrote in a brief statement. "I was deeply saddened to learn of Bob's passing and it is with pride that I carry on his cause as Devens continues on a path of residential and economic transformation and growth."
The original petition was filed Jan. 21, 2011 and referred to the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. A hearing on the measure was held a year later on Jan. 25, 2012, but the bill never made it out of committee.
The petition asks that "all the property" of the Devens enterprise zone be "incorporated into a town by the name of Devens" and granted all the powers and privileges "to which other towns are entitled and equipped by the constitution and laws of this Commonwealth."
The petition complains that the defeats by Harvard, Ayer and Shirley voters of the so-called 2B disposition proposition in 2006 and of the Vicksburg rezoning proposal in 2012 demonstrate that "reaching a disposition resolution at a local level is virtually impossible." The petition argues that there is no incentive in the 1996 legislation that created Devens for the three towns to agree on a course of action.
Given the inaction of the Joint Boards of Selectmen of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, the petition continues, there is "just cause for the Legislature to intervene and create a fair and equitable disposition decision."
Lucy Wallace, chair of the Harvard Board of Selectmen, said the town had taken no position on the Eisengrein petition. "Creating another Massachusetts town runs counter to the state's movement towards regionalization." There is a fixed amount of money in the local aid pie, she said, and adding another town would subdivide it further.
Besides, she said, MassDevelopment—the state agency that oversees Devens redevelopment—has invested more than $200 million to create an infrastructure that is largely commercial and industrial. At present only 282 families live there today, she noted. "Residential use is incidental."