Residents discussed options for possible use of the Coast Guard property on Pine Hill Road

By Dot Bergin

More than 100 residents took part in a charrette (design/project management discussion), led by the architectural firm Dewey Schmid Kearns (DSK) of Concord, to explore a wide range of ideas for best use of the five-acre plot on Pine Hill Road on which the 15 so-called “Coast Guard” houses sit. The meeting took place on Tuesday, April 1.

As DSK’s Jeffrey Dearing (himself a Bedford resident and a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals) said at the outset, his company has been engaged to look at what is possible for the property.

“There is no pre-determined agenda,” Dearing said. To stimulate ideas and to get people talking with each other, this charrette is simply a way for citizens and designers to collaborate on a vision for development.

Gene Clerkin, chair of the Bedford Housing Authority, explained in his introduction that when the issue of the Coast Guard property was put on the Selectmen’s agenda last fall (at the request of the Housing Authority), about 200 people turned out for the meeting. This was an indicator of the townspeople’s strong interest in and concern about the matter. On this basis, the Housing Authority decided to hire DSK to lead a town-wide discussion.

DSK’s Tom Kearns invited the audience to “react” to images of transportation, housing styles, recreation and other community elements, mounted on inventive cardboard towers; and to indicate what they liked or disliked. For the hour after this “ice-breaker,” as he described it, ideas flowed as participants’ comments coalesced around some basic themes:

  • the need for senior housing and housing for young families
  • modest scale
  • good design
  • sustainability
  • multi-generational, possibly some co-generational living
  • transportation availability/walkability
  • amenities–community gardens

Although some participants may have come to the meeting expecting to hear that action has been taken on the disposition of the property, this was not the case. The General Services Administration (GSA) is still in in control of the property and there is no “timeline” yet for releasing it.

Town Manager Rick Reed said the federal government’s usual practice is to offer one branch’s surplus property to other federal branches first, then to state government, then to town government.  However, there is an “alternative” law that allows the agency that controls the housing (in this case the U.S. Coast Guard) to retain the property’s value upon its sale.  He learned this through a verbal communication with the GSA and “nobody knows when it will happen,” Reed reported.

Several speakers at the meeting called attention to Bedford’s newly-minted Comprehensive Plan (The Bedford We Want: Shaping our Future), which offers a wealth of information on the town’s housing stock, as well as examples of emerging housing types that could be compatible with the town’s traditional neighborhoods. It is available on the Town’s web site and in print at the Bedford Free Public Library and at the Senior Center.

The April 1 meeting will be followed by a second session on May 15.

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