Board of Selectmen Hears Public Input on New Fire Station, Old Stop and Shop
Last night the Board of Selectmen held a public input session.
Resident Maria Karafelis asked Town Manager Paul Cohen about the status of the proposed new center fire station, specifically regarding the town’s plan to build the station without a vote for a debt exclusion. Last spring, the town voted down a proposal for a new fire station at the polls.
“Why did you not go for a debt exclusion and why are you keeping it within the budget of the town?” Karafelis asked.
“The simple answer is to keep everyone’s taxes down,” said Cohen. Cohen explained that the town could build the station within Proposition 2 ½.
“Two things happened this year that changed the equation dramatically,” he said. “First is we are no longer being cut (in) state aid.”
Cohen said that this factor in itself “helped (the) budget situation.”
Cohen also said that the Board of Selectmen’s municipal health insurance reform resulted in a $1.4 million swing in this year’s budget.
Cohen also said that he and the Board of Selectmen evaluated the priorities of the community when crafting the next fiscal year’s budget and determined that the long-term future of the fire station was the number one capital need of the community.
Selectman George Dixon reminded the assembly that the fire station proposal is a “conceptual plan” right now and details still need to be finalized. Selectman Jon Kurland said that one of the new options for the fire station calls for it to be built next to the town offices, with access via Billerica Road.
As of now, Cohen said that work with town architects has been slow.
“We’re doing the best we can with the limited budget that we have,” he said. Cohen said he would like the Permanent Building Committee to update the selectmen by March regarding the proposed fire station.
Another issue at the forefront of residents’ minds is the future of the former Stop and Shop plaza near Central Square. This is an issue that Cohen said was moving slowly, partly because of the multi-national aspect of the Stop and Shop, who owns the land and buildings, and partly because Stop and Shop is continuing to collect rent from Marshall’s and had little financial incentive to move quickly.
“Under the current zoning that’s in place today, they can go in there and lease space to multiple tenants…with essentially not needing any zoning relief,” said Cohen. He said that the Board of Selectmen has been in discussion with Stop and Shop and has proposed the idea of creating a multi-use, community-beneficial site.
“We think that this has the potential that this could become a once-in-a-lifetime redevelopment opportunity that will really, hopefully, win widespread community approval and support,” said Cohen. The town, in conjunction with the Chelmsford Housing Authority, is exploring the potential for the site to hold a mix of housing and smaller shops. Cohen believes this would encourage a walkable town center.
Cohen said the potential for a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods is out of the question because Stop and Shop will probably not entertain the idea of a business moving in that could be considered competition.