SHREWSBURY – The number of apartments in the proposed Beal Commons development in Shrewsbury town center has been reduced as this project progresses.
The amount of open space, which will remain city property, has also increased.
The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a land disposition agreement, which is a precursor to a sale agreement, with those changes on Tuesday.
“If I had any hesitation, I wouldn’t vote to go ahead. I absolutely wouldn’t,” said coach Maurice DePalo, who chaired Beal’s reuse committee.
DePalo said that based on his work, the information provided, and the project process to date, he believes this is a good project for the city.
“History will judge whether or not we make the right decision,” DePalo said. “When you look at other cities and towns that are doing this kind of rejuvenation, I think that’s the right thing.”
The process dates back to 2016
Beal operated for around a century as a school, educating generations of students in Shrewsbury.
However, it closed last year and was no longer deemed necessary for school purposes following the completion of the new Beal Elementary School on Lake Street.
Summarizing their process, this week town staff went through studies, initiatives and Town Meeting articles that ultimately led to this project, dating back to the 2016 Shrewsbury Master Plan, which discussed the revitalization of the centre- town.
The Beal Reuse Committee was specifically formed to study the future of the property after Shrewsbury was given the green light to build the new Beal School in 2017.
Civico Greenly, which was the only developer to respond to the city’s tender to redevelop the school, then presented its plans in May from last year.
The developers presented their plans again at a public hearing on December 7, prompting a response from community members.
Chairman John Samia said there were three themes at the hearing – a desire for fewer residential units, more open space and more parking.
Community members reiterated those arguments in the days and hours leading up to this latest vote, gathering along Maple Avenue on Monday to hold signs asking elected officials to “stop the Beal deal.”
New plans reduce development
The developerLopers initially showed plans that included 8,000 square feet of retail space, 65 apartments and a 0.4 acre public park on Wesleyan Street.
City Manager Kevin Mizikar presented two negotiated options after meeting with developers.
The one that elected officials ultimately backed included 55 units, seven of which would be classified as affordable housing. There would be between 7,000 and 8,000 square feet of retail space as well as 136 parking spaces, 20 of which would be public. There would be 0.7 acres of open space owned by the city, roughly the size of an existing ball diamond.
The World War I memorial at the former site of Beal would be preserved and the city would have “perpetual” rights to the monument, Mizikar said.
The city estimates an annual revenue of $167,274.72 for developers, which Mizikar says is conservative. The property would be sold for $250,000.
“I respect that an individual’s gut reaction to hearing a number like $250,000 on a four-acre parcel with a public building may feel uncomfortable, may not seem fair,” Mizikar said. . “Everyone knows what they’re paying for their house and how much it’s worth.”
“Let me be very clear,” he continued. “This is not a market rate transaction. This is a public redevelopment project with the public interest in mind.
As Mizikar explained, the city sells land to a private entity, telling the developer what to build, regulating it through the process, and withholding its money through the process.
“We would actually keep it, if they weren’t playing with the public interest in mind,” Mizikar said.
The project must balance the public interest while remaining financially viable for the developer, he continued.
The selectors weigh
Gathered this week, the selectors had the chance to ask questions and give their opinion on the plans.
As she spoke with residents who are excited about the project, Theresa Flynn said the current plans represent an outcome that others don’t want.
She noted, however, that she thinks the project will benefit downtown.
“I think it will enhance our downtown and attract businesses, and businesses that residents will enjoy, while maintaining recreational spaces for residents to enjoy,” Flynn said. “I think it will be a draw for the whole community.”
She said it would be “great” to engage in discussions with the community about how to invest the $250,000 paid for this site.
Coach Beth Casavant said separately that she spent hours talking to residents on Beal’s phone. She said she met people at their homes, answered emails and had conversations while running errands.
“That doesn’t mean I didn’t hear you if my decision didn’t reflect what you wanted it to be,” she said. “It’s not about listening to the loudest voice, it’s about balancing all voices and coming up with a project that I think is best for the community.”
This is not the end of the process, as it will proceed to the Planning Board review stage, Mizikar said.
UPDATE: Shrewsbury residents call on elected officials to ‘stop the Beal deal’
Shrewsbury gives City Manager green light to negotiate Beal deal
Shrewsbury Selectmen reflect on written comments on the Beal project
Shrewsbury residents give their opinion on the proposed Beal project