By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Although it was not unanimous, a majority of Planning Board members voted on June 18 to approve a special permit amendment that will allow developer Vince O’Neill to construct a largely residential complex at 100 Plank Street, a property that was once part of the Village at Taylor Pond apartment complex and originally envisioned as a companion commercial site in the Middlesex Turnpike mixed-use zoning area.
Approval of the special permit for 100 Plank Street allows two buildings to be constructed with a total of 6,000 square feet of office space and 44 residential units: 7 studios, 28 one-bedroom units, and 9 two-bedroom units. Although he did not have the exact figures in front of him, O’Neill said that he expects the units to be rented at “market rates,” which he quoted as $1,400 for studios, $1,700 for one-bedrooms, and $2,000 for two-bedrooms. Eleven of the apartments will be rented at lower “affordable” rates in perpetuity.
Eighty-four parking spaces are planned, some “shared” with Taylor Pond, which O’Neill said has more spaces than required by Bedford’s zoning standards. Nineteen garage spaces are included in the total, although the total number of indoor parking spaces has decreased as the plans have evolved, due to site constraints.
The amount of office space square footage—ultimately approved for 6,000 sq. ft.—has increased with each iteration of the proposal. Planning Board Member Shawn Hanegan estimated that O’Neill had been before the Board seven times in an attempt to come to agreement so that the Plank Street development could move forward.
[The Citizen has reported on many of these earlier presentations. To read the latest article, with links to previous articles, visit: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/04/19/planning-board-oneill-closer-on-plank-street-development-plan/]
Difficulty in reaching agreement on the issues prior to the June 18 meeting stemmed from several converging or related issues. The Middlesex Turnpike region of Bedford is zoned for mixed-use, and as development proceeded—and the economy weakened—the Planning Board debated whether mixed-use should be applied on property-by-property basis or by looking at the whole area comprehensively. 100 Plank Street was originally part of the Taylor Pond property, but was later sold to O’Neill. When the time came to develop it, O’Neill found that high commercial vacancy rates—which he quoted as being “well-over 18%” currently—made investment in additional commercial/office square footage unwise. Also, because 100 Plank Street has no visibility from the Middlesex Turnpike, it is a poor location for retail development.
Following an accounting of conditions that must be satisfied—such as future approval on a detailed landscaping plan, garage design, stormwater management plan, evidence of a formal agreement for shared parking with Taylor Pond, affordable unit monitoring and funding—the Planning Board voted to approve the project.
Lisa Mustapich, the one dissenting member, based her decision to vote “no” on the belief that deviation from the original vision of property-by-property mixed use was “not what we sold the voters.” Mustapich argued that improvement in the commercial real estate market will come—that signs of one beginning might be seen today—and expressed a desire to hold the line on the “erosion of Bedford’s commercial base.”
The other four Planning Board members voted for approval, reasoning that applying the mixed-use bylaw in a property-by-property manner has not proven practicable, especially with 100 Plank Street, “a flawed site” with a complicated history. However, member Amy Lloyd emphasized that the written decision on 100 Plank Street should include language making clear that approval of this particular project should not be construed as a precedent for future mixed-use zoning projects in Bedford.
Planning Director Glenn Garber said, with regard to the general marketability of commercial space, that “it is difficult to assess the long-term value of an office site” and agreed that 100 Plank Street’s distance from the main road was problematic, even though certain older commercial properties at a distance from the road were “doing OK.”
Planning Board member Sandra Hackman looked back at the original condition of the Taylor Pond and 100 Plank Street site, saying it was “terrible, with a sea of parking.”
“I’m conflicted [as are other members of the Board about approving this] but I’m reminded that this entire site was very much a [wasteland]. It was one huge, rutted parking lot with a failed business—it was a horrible warehouse-type of situation. So for all the shortcomings that we’ve discovered in this site for the vision that we had, I think [the project as presented] does add measurably to this area. [Residential real estate] is in demand, and it’s a good-looking development as it is. People need this housing and they’re using it. [Taylor Pond] is full. So, I’m really sorry that our original vision didn’t come through, and I really wish this could become an office [building], but I’m convinced that it’s [probably] not going to be [viable] in the next few years and I would like to see this project finished [in the present].”