SHREWSBURY – Residents had a chance to weigh-in and ask questions, Tuesday, about a proposed mixed-use project at the former Maj. Howard W. Beal school.
Some advocated for a community center in Shrewsbury while others supported more open space. Some residents expressed concerns about traffic and the number of apartments included in the proposed development, known as “Beal Commons.”
“I think we like what we see, but I think we’re a little concerned at the overall volume of it,” said resident Karin Holovnia. “It seems a little overwhelming.”
Civico and Greenly was the only developer that responded to Shrewsbury’s request for proposals to redevelop the old Beal school. They presented their proposal to the Board of Selectmen in May and have since been in negotiations with the town. That negotiation culminated in this public hearing.
“We’re excited to present this project simply because we believe it will make a significant and positive impact to the town,” said Board of Selectmen Chair John Samia.
He said the town believes the project will serve as a “catalyst” for future investment and development of the downtown area.
Assistant Town Manager Kristen Las said the project is estimated to add $23 million in initial investment in Shrewsbury’s Town Center and generate annual revenue between $150,000 to $200,000,
However, Las said that doesn’t include revenue from motor vehicle excise tax or meals tax from a proposed restaurant or brewery that might operate in a completed Beal Commons.
The project would include 8,000 square feet of retail space — such as a brewery, cafe or specialty market — and 65 apartments in an L-shaped building, according to conceptual images.
The building would be set about 40 feet back from Maple Avenue. The developers plan to maintain the World War I memorial currently on the property.
There will be 142 parking spaces, 20 of which would be public parking spaces. Developers proposed an additional 11 parallel spots on Hascall Street, next to Beal.
Vehicle access to the site would be off Hascall Street, though pedestrians would be able to access it off Maple Street.
There would be a 0.4-acre public park near the back of the site off Wesleyan Street.
Samia discusses residential component
“The market is not willing to invest in just retail without a residential component,” Samia said.
Samia said the project will provide additional affordable housing units in Shrewsbury, which is one of the selectmen’s goals. The town said about eight of the apartments will be affordable, accounting for 12.5 percent of the development’s residential units.
The town is expecting the apartments to have little impact on Shrewsbury’s schools and municipal services, Samia said.
Town Manager Kevin Mizikar said the current plan is to sell the building to Civico and Greenly for $250,000.
“$250,000? Half the price of a single family home in Shrewsbury?” said resident Paul Zekos.
Samia later responded that there are other components besides the cash purchase price, including the cost for remediation, which was estimated at over $16 million.
“So $250,000 – it’s $250,000 plus a development of a $23 million investment, conservatively, of $150,000 to $200,000 in tax revenue every year, plus excise tax on vehicles, plus meal taxes on a regular basis,” Samia said. “The property right now is tax exempt.”
Residents weigh in
Some residents voiced support for a community center.
Shrewsbury children don’t have access to a lot of activities in town, said Resident Jen Luke, who has middle schoolers and who formed a committee exploring a community center.
“They’re constantly walking to the Town Center, going to Dunkin’ Donuts,” Luke said. “They’re exhausting the businesses and there’s nothing for them to do.”
James Nagengast’s family goes to Beal’s playground and fields several times a week.
“We actually met some of our best friends at the playground when my child [was] stealing the other child’s toy,” he said.
Nagengast and others asked if the plans could expand the open space.
“Green space is something you’ll never get back,” said Richard Ricker. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We’ve learned that in various ways in this town over the years.”
Resident Julie Ross has a commercial driver’s license.
“Having a commercial driver’s license, I’m looking at that parking lot, and I’m saying where are the trucks going to go to make deliveries,” Ross said.
Resident Jennifer Michalik is with the project’s future property manager, Madison Management.
On a typical Saturday, she said, she’ll get coffee in Shrewsbury before leaving to go out to breakfast or walk around shops with her children or friends in other towns.
“I’m not finding myself staying in Shrewsbury and doing those types of things,” Michalik said.
“I’m super excited about the probability of having some fun stuff right down town,” she added.
In the foreseeable future, the developers will be meeting with town boards and working through the permitting process.
They’re hoping to break ground next fall, with their building being completed and leased in spring 2024.