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Littleton Takes New Strategy to Boost Business: Sewers

November 18, 2018

LITTLETON -- Of all the ways to stimulate a town’s economy and attract new business, investing in new sewer systems likely does not come to mind as a key strategy. But officials say that is exactly what the town needs.

Boosted by state funding and with the backing of Town Meeting, experts will begin designing a so-called “smart sewer” for the area around the Littleton Common. Town leaders say the project, which is entering a key phase after almost a decade of discussions and planning, will bring with it benefits.

The environmental pluses are apparent -- better treatment of wastewater can improve soil quality, and the way the system is designed, it should be able to help generate heat and electricity. With hope, the project will do more, though, creating opportunity for new businesses near the town center that today are not supported.

“Littleton Common was really limited in how it can go and what it can attract for businesses,” said Interim Town Administrator Anthony Ansaldi. “Now, what a sewer system does it put that infrastructure in place that really opens the door for opportunities for restaurants, for bakeries, for coffee shops, for florists and medical buildings with doctor’s offices and so forth that now will have an opportunity to move into the common.”

The existing challenges are a result of the current infrastructure. Under state law, the capabilities already in place could not support, say, a dentist’s office or a restaurant, limiting the kinds of businesses that can open.

Exact impact on shops already near the Common is less clear. Andrew Marciello, the owner of Valley Wild Books, said he has concerns that limited parking in the area might be affected by crews working on a sewer system, but that he is hopeful the project will serve as a boost.

“I’m happy for the community improving,” he said. “I hope that small businesses like this can continue to come in. If a sewer will help that, great.”

Work to pursue the project has been ongoing for the better part of a decade. The town’s most recent Master Plan suggested that the Littleton Common could be a key area for economic revitalization, and studies about expanding the town’s sewer network began around 2010.

“It started then to come up with this idea for the sewer system,” said Department of Public Works Director Chris Stoddard. “They’d been talking about it for years, but that was really when the legs started turning.”

Progress advanced significantly in recent weeks. On Oct. 26, state officials hosted a press conference in Littleton to announce the town would receive a $1.5 million MassWorks grant to support the smart sewer project, and on Oct. 29, Town Meeting approved spending $2.2 million on the sewer’s design.

“This critical funding will ensure that the Littleton Common area remains a vibrant economic center,” state Rep. James Arciero said in a press release following the MassWorks grant award. “This grant will allow for future economic development in an environmentally friendly way, and will certainly be a model for other communities in the future.”

Overall, the current project is expected to cost about $27 million, although another Town Meeting vote will be required to fund the construction. Some of that cost will be defrayed by a $6 million earmark secured by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge in an environmental bond bill. Once constructed, the system would be paid for by town buildings and business users.

The “smart” portion comes from the planned Community Water and Energy Resource Center, a connected building that brings in discarded food and wastewater and recycles it into clean water, heat, electricity and fertilizers. Those products could be sold and increase revenue to the town.

Master plan estimates suggest the projectcould have the same impact on tax revenue as The Point, the large-scale shopping center hosting more than a dozen businesses just off Interstate 495.

“During our master plan process, it was identified that Littleton Common could be an area for revitalization,” Ansaldi said. “It’s an area in town where we could really create more commercial growth in a place that falls for that type of growth and therefore, it would increase revenue to the town.”

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.

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