Plans will decrease apartments, increase open space at Shrewsbury’s old Beal School

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Plans will decrease apartments, increase open space at Shrewsbury’s old Beal School
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)

SHREWSBURY – The number of apartments in the proposed Beal Commons development in downtown Shrewsbury has been reduced as this project moves forward. 

The amount of open space, which will remain under the town’s ownership, has also increased. 

The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a land disposition agreement, which is a precursor to a sale agreement, with these changes on Tuesday.

“If I had any hesitancy at all, I would not vote to move ahead. I would absolutely not,” said Selectman Maurice DePalo, who chaired the Beal Reuse Committee.

Plans will decrease apartments, increase open space at Shrewsbury’s old Beal School
Selectman Maurice DePalo speaks during the Board of Selectmen meeting. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

DePalo said that, based on his work, the information provided and the project’s process to date, he believes this is a good project for the town.

“History is going to judge whether or not we make the right decision,” DePalo said. “When you look at other towns and cities who are doing this kind of rejuvenation, I think it’s the right thing.”

Process dates back to 2016

Beal operated for roughly a century as a school, educating generations of students in Shrewsbury. 

It closed last year, though, and was deemed no longer necessary for school purposes after the completion of the new Beal Elementary School on Lake Street. 

Recapping their process, this week, town staff walked through studies, initiatives and Town Meeting articles that ultimately led to this project, dating back to Shrewsbury’s 2016 master plan, which discussed revitalizing the Town Center.

The Beal Reuse Committee was specifically formed to study the future of the property after Shrewsbury got the green light to build the new Beal school in 2017. 

Civico Greenly, who was the only developer to respond to the town’s request for proposals to redevelop the school, then laid out its plans back in May of last year. 

Plans will decrease apartments, increase open space at Shrewsbury’s old Beal School
Residents stood along Maple Ave. prior to the Board of Selectmen’s meeting. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

The developers presented their plans again during a public hearing on Dec. 7, prompting a response from community members.

Chair John Samia said there were three themes in the hearing — a desire for fewer residential units, more open space and more parking. 

Community members reiterated those arguments in the days and hours before this latest vote, gathering along Maple Avenue on Monday to hold signs asking the selectmen to “stop the Beal deal.”

New plans scale down development

Developers originally showed plans that included 8,000 square feet of retail space, 65 apartments and a 0.4-acre public park on Wesleyan Street. 

Town Manager Kevin Mizikar presented two negotiated options after meeting with developers. 

The one the selectmen ultimately supported included 55 units, seven of which would be classified as affordable housing. There would be between 7,000 to 8,000 square feet of commercial space as well as 136 parking spaces, 20 of which would be public. There would be 0.7 acres of town-owned open space, which is about the size of an existing ball field. 

The World War I memorial on the old Beal site would be preserved, and the town would have “perpetual” rights to the monument, Mizikar said.

Plans will decrease apartments, increase open space at Shrewsbury’s old Beal School
Town Manager Kevin Mizikar presents during the selectmen’s meeting. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

The town is estimating an annual revenue of $167,274.72 for developers, which Mizikar said is conservative. The property would be sold for $250,000. 

“I respect that an individual’s gut reaction in hearing a number like $250,000 on a four-acre parcel with a public building on it may feel uncomfortable, may not seem right,” Mizikar said. “Everyone knows what they pay for their home and the value of that.” 

“Let me be very clear,” he continued. “This is not a market rate transaction. This is a public redevelopment project with public interest in mind.” 

As Mizikar explained it, the town is selling a piece of property to a private entity, telling the developer what to build, regulating it throughout the process and holding their money in abeyance throughout the process. 

“We would actually keep it, if they didn’t perform within the public interest in mind,” Mizikar said. 

The project must balance the public interest while still being financially viable for the developer, he continued.

Selectmen weigh in

Meeting this week, selectmen had the chance to ask questions and provide feedback on the plans. 

While she’s spoken with residents who are excited about the project, Theresa Flynn said current plans represent an outcome that others do not want. 

She noted, though, that she does think the project will benefit the downtown area.

“I think it will improve our Town Center and attract business, and business that residents will appreciate, while also maintaining recreational space for residents to enjoy,” Flynn said. “I think it will be a draw for the entire community.” 

Plans will decrease apartments, increase open space at Shrewsbury’s old Beal School
Selectmen Beth Casavant and Theresa Flynn listen during the conversation about Beal. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

She said it would be “great” to engage in discussions with the community on how to invest the $250,000 paid for this site. 

Selectman Beth Casavant separately said she’s spent hours talking to residents on the phone about Beal. She said she has met with people in their homes, responded to emails and had conversations while running errands. 

“It doesn’t mean that I didn’t hear you if my decision doesn’t reflect what you wanted it to be,” she said. “It’s not a matter of listening to the loudest voice, it’s a matter of balancing all the 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 move into the Planning Board’s stage of review, Mizikar said.

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