Billerica Selectmen’s Debate Keys on Development
BILLERICA -- Planned Urban Development overlays and development opened the Board of Selectmen candidates’ debate Wednesday night.
Candidates George Simolaris, Kimberly Conway, Daniel Burns and David Gagliardi gathered to discuss the issues ahead of the Annual Town Election on April 6.
The four candidates are vying for two, three-year seats. Both Simolaris and Conway are incumbents.
On the subject of the contentious PUD-Industrial Park Overlay District (PUD-IP) article proposed for Technology Park, the candidates came out on both sides of the issue. If passed, the article would establish zoning allowing commercial and housing development at the industrial park.
Conway and Gagliardi both said they were in support of the PUD-IP district, saying it is important to attract new businesses and new businesses are looking for mixed-use zoning.
“The town has to react to the world around it and the world is changing and the PUD is the way to go,” Gagliardi said.
Conway noted that bringing more businesses would counteract high residential taxes. She clarified that the PUD-IP would enable mixed-use zoning, but there is not a specific project currently on the table.
While Simolaris said he was against a blanket PUD, Burns questioned what Billerica would get out of the PUD-IP, pointing out that the town has passed the 10 percent threshold for affordable housing.
Open space was another big theme of the night.
When asked what they would do with such properties as the old Ditson School, Vining School, Department of Public Works land and Cabot land, all four candidates discussed the potential to preserve open space and also accommodate space needs for the Recreation Department and Senior Center -- where the debate was held -- which Burns and Conway said was “bursting at the seams.”
Going back to the subject of development, Burns said it was important for the properties to be kept from developers.
“The public land stays public, we do not turn it over to developers, we do not give it away,” Burns said.
Though Simolaris advocated for preserving open space and said that if given $1 million dollars he would put it towards public space uses, Simolaris also said he saw Vining and Ditson as opportunities for small development at the front of the properties. In a similar vein, Gagliardi supported open space uses but also noted that there is a need in town for more senior housing.
When asked to rate the community’s trust in town government on scale of one to 10, none of the candidates said they felt public trust was at a 10. Conway and Gagliardi both said seven, while Burns said he thought trust was at a six and Simolaris said four.
At the start of closing statements, Conway said all four candidates share one thing in common -- caring for the community.
“My goal has been and always will be moving Billerica forward while maintaining the character and history of our town,” Conway said.
Gagliardi expressed a similar sentiment, saying that Billerica’s progress would not be possible without leaders who are unafraid of a changing world and the challenges that come with it. He also reiterated that the town needs more senior housing.
“I want to see housing for 55 and older, for people like myself that is affordable, I want to see senior housing that is affordable and allows seniors to age in place,” Gagliardi said.
As he asked for voters’ support, Simolaris called for residents to “come out and vote” on election day, noting the importance of voter turnout.
“I work hard for our town, I try to keep people informed, when someone has a problem I don’t pick and choose problems,” Simolaris said.
During his closing statement, Burns reminded residents of the work he had done as a selectman between 2014 and 2017.
“Ask yourself today, how well are you being represented,” Burns said.
The debate was sponsored by The Sun and moderated by Senior Editor Tom Zuppa.