By Kim Siebert MacPhail
A committee convened by the Planning Board to craft the next state-mandated Comprehensive Plan (CP)—intended as “both a broad vision and a more detailed blueprint to guide growth and development, capital investment and other public policy needs”—met on July 30 to continue discussions about what kind of community Bedford will to be in the year 2023.
The CP Committee consists of Planning Board members, Town Committee representatives, and several at-large citizens and is administratively supported by the Planning Office, including a part-time, short-term consultant. The group was formed following three open workshops in 2012 that gathered input from attending residents. [To access presentation materials from these workshops, visit the Planning Board’s web pages: https://www.bedfordma.gov/planning/pages/comprehensive-plan-update]
From these workshop discussions—and through submissions from Town Committees—six Comprehensive Plan categories or “elements” were identified: Land Use and Zoning; Economic Development; Natural and Cultural Resources; Transportation; Housing; and Town Services, Facilities, Recreation, and Energy Use.
At the July 30 meeting, the focus was focused primarily the Natural and Cultural Resource element, as well as on how the plan— once adopted by the Planning Board— might be carried out administratively. The Committee emphasized that another series of meetings—designed to once again gather public input—is planned for this fall after all six elements have been vetted and the Comprehensive Plan document is in a stage ready for general viewing.
While the Natural and Cultural Resources element—along with all the other elements of the document—is still in draft form, its format gives a sense as to what the final product will look like. Each of the six elements in the Plan has been broken into sections that include background information or “snapshots”; vision; challenges and opportunities; goals; investment; strategies; next steps; and action plans.
A glimpse into the Comprehensive Plan document at this stage
The Natural and Cultural Resources element begins with two “snapshots”: one that deals solely with natural resources and another that focuses on cultural resources. To illustrate what a snapshot looks like, the “Natural Resources” component as presented at the July 30 meeting provides information such as the percentage of Bedford’s protected open space—23.6% or 2,075 acres—and what those protected spaces are—Great Meadows (774 acres); Town-owned conservation land (978 acres); privately-owned property with conservation restrictions (323 acres); Middlesex Community College, VA hospital, Hanscom and Harvard University parcels with limited protections (318 acres); Town cemeteries, wells, and recreation areas ( 105 acres).
Major town-owned conservation parcels such as Springs Brook Park, the Hartwell Forest, and Fawn Lake are enumerated and briefly described, and walking and biking trails are similarly listed. Also included are natural resource maps of protected areas and endangered species habitats.
After the background snapshot is the “vision” component, which answers the question of what natural resources will look like in 2023. In its current draft form, the vision paints a picture of “protecting, enhancing and connecting the town’s open spaces,” that act as “unifying features and buffers between different land uses” and as “protections for private property and public infrastructure from flooding” that may help to “mitigate the potential impacts of climate change.”
The “challenges and opportunities” component includes, among other considerations, concerns about future development that could affect open space and the juxtaposition of development with the increasing demand for active and passive recreation areas.
One of the “goals” of the Natural Resources element reflects the desire to connect open spaces by greenways and trails, a “harmonious integration” of land development, and the establishment of a “better balance” between competing land uses.
In both the “investment” and “strategies” strands, attention to changing flood elevations and flood control planning appears, among other bullet points.
The “next steps” portion on the Natural Resources element identifies several challenges to be tackled. One such challenge in the current document is “establishing a fair basis for balancing the use of open space resources among multiple public purposes” that are listed as “habitat preservation, flood control, passive recreation, public water supply, community character, athletics, pedestrian circulation and alternative energy production. The Committee discussed adding “agriculture” to this list because of Bedford’s long history as an agricultural community and to help preserve the relatively small amount of farm and grazing lands that remain.
The “action plan” piece of the element incudes concrete directions for how to accomplish the vision and goals, and adds important information such as what group or individual will be responsible for the initiative, how much effort will be necessary, and what the timeline is estimated to be.
Administratively, it was noted by members of the Committee that the current volunteer town committee structure might not be best to attain the goals that are stated throughout the Comprehensive Plan document. Planning Director Glen Garber reported that he is aware that some communities have established implementation committees, specifically to monitor the Comprehensive Plan’s progress to ensure that action items neither become the basis for territorial conflicts nor fall through the cracks.