Shrewsbury gives Town Manager green light to negotiate Beal agreement

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Developers presented renderings on Dec. 7, of their proposed mixed-use facility at the site of the old Beal school. (Photo/via Civico Greenly)

SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury’s Town Manager will soon begin to negotiate a land disposition agreement with the potential developers of a project at the former Maj. Howard W. Beal School.

The selectmen voted to authorize these negotiations on Tuesday after holding an executive session, which, in part, addressed concerns that community members raised about this project during a public hearing last month.

The executive session particularly focused on parameters for negotiation, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen John Samia said, including requests to increase open space and public parking while decreasing the number of apartments contained in the proposed project. 

“What this proposal does is it really creates the neighborhood feel and look that we were going for in the Town Center zoning,” said Director of Planning and Economic Development Bernie Cahill. “I think this is the right way to go with the parameters for negotiation. I think we heard the public loud and clear and this is heading in the right direction.”

Selectmen note social media comments

An additional rendering of the proposed “Beal Commons” shows the mixed use development that Civico Greenly wants to build at the site of the old Beal school in Shrewsbury. (Photo/via Civico Greenly)

The developers, Civico Greenly, have proposed a mixed-use facility with retail space and 65 apartments.  

They first pitched the plan to the town in May of last year before holding that public hearing in December. 

On Tuesday, Selectmen noted another round of feedback, this time on social media, with some community members calling for the Beal deal to be stopped altogether.

Selectman Beth Casavant said she hesitated to jump into Facebook discussions about this and any other topics, noting that the town was in negotiations with the developers.  

She said, though, that it was difficult to read those Facebook posts particularly due to accusations that selectmen were “somehow not maintaining a high degree of integrity.” 

She added that her phone had rang “many times” on Tuesday. 

The posts under discussion, in part, alleged that the selectmen discussed the Beal project in secret. Some further suggested that selectmen would vote to formally sell the property at their Jan. 25 meeting. 

That did not happen. Instead, the scheduled vote gave Town Manager Kevin Mizikar formal approval to begin negotiations with Civico Greenly.

Casavant said the reasons the selectmen sit on the board are “altruistic.” 

“I think that when we sit down and speak to one another, there’s always an opportunity to find middle ground, and I just want to make sure that people still feel comfortable reaching out and speaking to us,” Casavant said. 



Reuse committee formed five years ago

The Beal school has stood downtown since the early 1900s. It’s seen a variety of uses, most recently serving as an early childhood center for the Shrewsbury Public Schools.  

The town’s 2016 master plan kicked off discussions about Beal’s future, though, eventually leading to circulation of a request for proposals (RFP) in 2020 after Shrewsbury opted to dispose of the Beal site. 

Shrewsbury separately proposed and passed new zoning bylaws for the Town Center back in 2020.

Part of that rezoning called on the town to maintain and enhance “the character of Shrewsbury’s historic Town Center by promoting appropriate development and redevelopment.”  

The zoning emphasized a need for developments that promote the town center as a pedestrian-friendly shopping and service area and gathering place.  

Civico Greenly was the only group to respond to the RFP.

 

Selectmen talk transparency 

Samia noted on Tuesday that the selectmen are bound by Massachusetts’ Open Meeting Law.  

“There are no side deals to be had,” he said, responding to concerns raised on social media. 

Samia weighed in on that recent executive session to discuss negotiations. Meeting publicly, he said, would be akin to disclosing a strategy before making an offer on a business or a house.  

“One wouldn’t do very well,” Samia said. 

Samia asked for the dialogue around Beal to continue to be respectful moving forward, noting that the Board of Selectmen’s goal is to act in the best interest of the community. 

Selectman Maurice DePalo noted the long process that led to this point, arguing this process was thoroughly advertised and discussed through multiple forums.  

“It wasn’t something that came up quickly and was tried to be pushed through,” DePalo said. “Regardless of whether people agree with whatever the ultimate project is that the board approves, there was a lot of effort that went into it.” 

Selectman Theresa Flynn said that, when she was elected, she wanted to increase the selectmen’s ability to keep the community informed.  

She said this week that there’s more the selectmen can do moving forward with regard to its communication.

“I just want to reassure people who might be tuning in tonight that I echo your comments that we do take the feedback seriously,” Flynn said. “We’re trying to make improvements.” 

Next steps

Assistant Town Manager Kristen Las told the Community Advocate on Wednesday that the selectmen did not have a set timeline for negotiations as of yet.

She said, however, that the town had reached out to Civico Greenly to start the process. 

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