Transformation and Development

Town of Chelmsford, MA
Written by Claire Suttles

Chelmsford, Massachusetts lies at the intersection of Interstate 495 and Route 3, providing excellent access to bustling New England markets. Established in 1655, the town is located roughly halfway between Boston and Nashua, New Hampshire, within the region’s thriving research and bioscience sectors. In addition to professional opportunities, the location gives Chelmsford’s 34,000 residents easy access to the region’s largest city, the New England seacoast, and New Hampshire’s scenic mountains.
Chelmsford has long been home to the bioscience, defense, communications, and instrumentation sectors. As a result, the town enjoys the critical mass of skilled, educated workers needed to retain and grow those sectors. “There is a legacy of the computer giants within Chelmsford and the greater Lowell area dating back to the 70s and 80s,” says Donald Van Dyne, Chair of the Economic Development Commission. “So Chelmsford has a longstanding, educated and highly skilled labor force coming out of the micro computer age.”

The majority of people living in Chelmsford are employed in white-collar jobs and 44 percent of the town’s residents have earned a Bachelor’s degree—that is 30 percent higher than the state average. Over half of Chelmsford’s residents work in management or other professional occupations, according to the 2000 Census and the town’s Economic Development Guide.

Chelmsford is in the midst of an exciting redevelopment project that will help maintain the town’s position as a top-notch business location. The town’s “most significant economic development strategy is the Route 129 office industrial redevelopment that will transform it into a modern, 21st century office park,” details Community Development Director Evan Belansky. Built in the early 1980s, the 623-acre park needs a makeover to remain relevant. “The perils of first generation industrial and office parks [is that] they met their life expectancy with a lack of amenities such as restaurant and retail, places for socialization and collaboration,” Mr. Van Dyne points out. “So the rezoning focuses on repositioning this office park to meet the needs of Chelmsford and the region moving forward.”

The renovated office industrial park will be a mixed-use, live/work/play environment with retail, restaurants, residential space, and recreational opportunities in addition to office space. On October 2016, the Town of Chelmsford voted to approve a zone overlay for the Route 129 business corridor in order make the revamp possible. The move is expected to reestablish the community’s position as a regional center of commerce for northeastern Massachusetts, and a whopping 87 percent of Chelmsford’s town meeting representatives voted to approve the measure.

The community has come together to enact the pro-business plan. The Planning Board sponsored the zoning change and the Economic Development Commission worked to gain the support of Chelmsford residents and business owners. The Finance and School Committee as well as key governing and regulatory boards unanimously endorsed the 129 overlay plan. A majority of the Board of Selectmen endorsed it.

The Town of Chelmsford worked to ensure that the zoning overlay would meet the needs of all stakeholders. To fully understand current and future demands, Chelmsford’s Planning Board utilized data compiled by the Chelmsford Economic Development Commission, which was developed with input from industrial property owners, commercial brokers, corporate leaders, and other members of the community. The new zoning overlay allows for broader use and larger scale development or redevelopment. Projects along Chelmsford’s 129 business corridor can now incorporate multi-family housing and the buildings can be taller, with more parking garages and integrated amenities, all of which will stimulate multi-use development.

Chelmsford’s industrial office park is already home to a number of corporate headquarters including Analog Devices, Zoll Medical, and Brooks Automation. The revamp will benefit these businesses as well as attracting newcomers. All businesses along Chelmsford’s 129 corridor will continue to benefit from an ideal location at the intersection of Interstate 495 and Route 3, which places them near two major markets: Boston, located only 20 miles to the south, and New Hampshire, whose border is just a few minutes away. This enviable access has earned Chelmsford the name ‘Crossroads of Community and Commerce.’

The town’s redevelopment plan creates great opportunity for developers and investors. “This overlay was strongly supported by the boards, so it definitely is inviting for developers to come to our community and consider investing and financing,” Mr. Van Dyne shares. “We are actively trying to attract a hotel dedicated to corporate businesses and business amenities such as retail, restaurants, and residential [space] to create a live/work/play neighborhood within the office industrial park.”

Chelmsford offers quality of life advantages as well as business and development opportunities. In 2011, Money Magazine ranked the town number 28 on its list of best places to live in the country. The magazine cited Chelmsford’s historical charm and relatively low cost of living. “We have all of the conveniences and amenities that a modern suburb would be expected to have,” Mr. Belansky summarizes. “Good housing stock, good quality of life, an excellent value for the public services, good schools, all the shopping that you would want, a great restaurant scene, excellent recreation and open space.”

Chelmsford is committed to maintaining its green, open spaces, and the community boasts over 1,000 acres of conservation land. Great Brook Farm State Park provides year-round recreation, from fishing, canoeing and kayaking to horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing. Visitors can also tour the park’s active dairy farm. The inviting park earned a nod from Yankee Magazine’s Travel Guide to New England as “Editor’s Pick 2000.” Nearly seven miles of the 25 mile long Bruce Freeman Rail Trail runs through Chelmsford, connecting it to a string of neighboring towns including Lowell, Westford, Carlisle, Acton, Concord, Sudbury, and Framingham. The trail is accessible all four seasons for walking, jogging, bicycling, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. A six-mile trail at the Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest provides an avenue for these pursuits as well.

Chelmsford’s Southwell Park boasts the Merrimack River’s only public boat launch between the town of Lowell and the New Hampshire border. The Merrimack River, as well as the Concord River, provide ample opportunity for sailing, water skiing, kayaking, fishing, and challenging whitewater rafting. The Vandenberg Esplanade runs along the Merrimack River and is ideal for strolling, biking, and picnicking alongside the water. And golf enthusiasts can take advantage of the Chelmsford Country Club, a public nine-hole golf course with a practice range, dining, and banquet facilities.

In addition to outdoor recreation opportunities, Chelmsford boasts highly ranked schools. The community recently finished a $31 million renovation and expansion of Chelmsford High School and two middle schools. As a whole, Chelmsford students score high marks on the state’s standardized test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), and a large number of seniors are admitted to college each year.

As well, Chelmsford is experiencing a “growing cultural scene,” Mr. Belansky says. The town’s public art institution, the Chelmsford Center for Arts, opened in 2009 and provides a wide array of opportunities. As detailed on its website, the center works to “bring the visual and performing arts to Chelmsford and surrounding towns by providing a venue for active engagement as a participant or audience member.” The center hosts the CCA Gallery, Artists-in-Residence Studios, Applause Academy, All the World’s a Stage Players, Chelmsford Art Society, Chelmsford Community Band, Chelmsford Community Jazz Band, Chelmsford Players, Toastmasters, and Illumination Opera.

The neighboring town of Lowell is home to the celebrated Lowell Folk Festival, which is the longest running free Folk Festival in the country. Every July, the three-day event draws hundreds of thousands of people from all over America to enjoy traditional music, ethnic foods, craft demonstrations, and other activities.

Chelmsford delivers an ideal business location as well as the quality of life that employees desire. The town’s new redevelopment plan will take the community’s attributes to the next level and cement its economic success for the future. “The town’s economic development motto is ‘Crossroads of Community and Commerce,’” Mr. Belansky points out. “A big theme with the overlay was choosing to compete within the marketplace to create economic prosperity for the town and its residents.”



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