By Eliza Rosenberry
The project, which would add up to a dozen independent living units to the retirement community, is contingent on changes to decades-old town zoning restrictions for nursing care facilities.
Citing an increased need for independent living among seniors, representatives from Carleton-Willard appeared before the Planning Board at a February 28 meeting to discuss the zoning changes.
“We see a growing need as the demographics indicate,” explained Barbara Doyle, Carleton-Willard’s President and CEO. “The baby boomers are planners and they’re ready to make a move. Therefore, the additional ten to twelve new cluster homes will be able to make a small dent in our very significant waitlist.”
The project would create a new residential street within Carleton-Willard called Arlington Court, with 10 to 12 two-bedroom houses designed to accommodate couples, which Doyle described as a growing demographic for their community.
Carleton-Willard suggested that the Board delete two sections of the bylaw and modify a third in order to enable their expansion. Restrictions include capping how many people are allowed to live at Carleton-Willard based on acreage and restricting the percentage of residents who can live in independent units (compared to nursing facilities) to 33 percent. Another zoning restriction relates to the percentage of wetlands on the property.
Given that the changes would affect any other future retirement communities in Bedford as well, Board members were hesitant to delete sections entirely, though they acknowledged current Carleton-Willard management would be unlikely to take advantage of cap removals.
“There may be other nursing care facilities, or there may be other owners that come in after you,” said Board member Shawn Hanegan, explaining that he would be more comfortable raising caps than completely eliminating them.
“Carleton-Willard has been a real asset to Bedford,” Hanegan said. “We want to let you do what you want to do, it seems reasonable. It’s just doing that with the future in mind.”
Carleton-Willard plans to return to the Board with proposed revisions to the existing bylaws that would accommodate their project without removing caps.
Carleton-Willard representatives originally floated the project at a November meeting of the Selectmen. The Selectmen will be asked to eliminate a restriction related to the ratio of independent to nursing units. Carleton-Willard has also appeared before the Conservation Commission, whose members will need to amend a conservation restriction that will then need state approval.
“We have a lot of hurdles to cross to do these projects,” acknowledged attorney Thomas Swaim, who is representing Carleton-Willard.
Swaim said approximately 390 people live at the facility today. He acknowledged the proposed addition represents the last viable area for expansion within Carleton-Willard’s property.
Carleton-Willard residents average 86 years old, Doyle told the Board, and there are many Bedford residents among their population. She also emphasized her facility’s role in the broader Bedford community: Carleton-Willard provides meals for community members through the Council on Aging and employs many Bedford High School students in their dining rooms.
Doyle did not specify how many people are currently on Carleton-Willard’s waitlist or how long the average wait time is, but she did point to a growing need for retirement and senior living planning.
“On our priority waitlist, we have space ‘immediately’ or ‘future,’ and they’re supposed to put the date in,” Doyle said, describing the application process. “Last week I had five priority deposits that put 2030 down.”
Board members also discussed the overall lack of available senior housing in Bedford. A recent market study related to the Board’s Great Road rezoning efforts suggested a desire for assisted living housing.