Residents Crowd Selectmen’s Meeting to Discuss Coast Guard Housing

Bedford's "Coast Guard Housing" sits behind a tidy fence that runs along Page Road  -- Image (c) JMcCT, 2012
Bedford’s “Coast Guard Housing” sits behind a tidy fence that runs along Page Road — Image (c) JMcCT, 2012

 

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

A Selectmen’s agenda item on October 7, intended to “begin a dialogue” with the Bedford Housing Authority (BHA) about the vacant Pine Hill Road Coast Guard housing, attracted about 60 concerned residents and caused the proceedings to move to the Town Hall’s multipurpose room to accommodate the crowd.

Once the meeting was resettled, Town Manager Rick Reed began to frame the Coast Guard housing issue, clarifying that the item was on the Selectmen’s agenda at the request of the Bedford Housing Authority. Reed explained to attendees that the Town has no control over the housing and does not maintain the streets, lawns, or buildings. He said, however, that even though the night marked the beginning of dialogue with the BHA on the subject, he— at the behest of the Selectmen— had already been in contact with Congressman John Tierney’s office and with the Coast Guard about acquiring the property, once the General Services Administration (GSA) is finally authorized to dispose of it as surplus.

Selectmen Chair Bill Moonan added that the Coast Guard and the GSA have not yet initiated the disposal process, saying that when he first began speaking with officials, he was told a decision on the disposition of the property would come soon. “Two years ago they said [they’d be moving ahead] ‘in 3 months,’” Moonan said.

Reed then explained the federal government’s practice of offering one branch’s surplus for sale to other federal branches first, then to state government, then to town government. He added, however, that “[it] is possible to follow an alternative path from the existing disposition law (pertaining to military surplus property) if a developer can be identified in partnership with the Town. Town government could negotiate directly with the GSA for the sale and avoid the usual [hierarchical] process. This has been told to me by a GSA representative. . . . .  We’d have to bring something concrete to the table that would be attractive to the GSA. . . . The federal government is not going to give the property away, even if another federal agency wants it.”

When BHA Chair Gene Clerkin took the podium, he said the Coast Guard property could present an opportunity for the town and that the BHA wanted to help maximize that opportunity. Clerkin offered to convene a town-wide forum about how best to use the property so that the Town can be ready to offer a solid plan to the GSA and, by doing so, potentially circumvent the usual hierarchical queue.

“The Housing Authority has a couple of thousand dollars that we could use for planning: hire an architect and do some public charettes with the community for what we think the Pine Hill land should be used for, covering all gamuts—affordable housing, market-rate housing, rental, home ownership. Really, nothing more than a planning exercise. That was the only motive that put this on the Selectmen’s agenda [tonight],”Clerkin said.

Reacting to Clerkin’s inclusion of affordable housing as a possible outcome for the property, some in attendance expressed the belief that the town—with 16.7% as calculated by the State— has enough, or too much, affordable housing already.

Selectmen Chair Moonan clarified that “affordable” rates—determined by a formula based on 80% of area median income (AMI)—are not necessarily “inexpensive” and that seniors already living in Bedford, who are looking to downsize but stay in town, could qualify for so-called affordable housing if it becomes available.

The Selectmen agreed that a public forum would be valuable. Residents, however, said they remained concerned about how they would find out about the forum, saying they’d been alerted to attend the night’s meeting by hand-delivered flyers, word of mouth, and through the citizen-generated website called “Bedford Speaks” that currently features a poll about affordable housing.  [www.bedfordspeaks.org ]

“Nobody knows this stuff is going on,” said Kris Washington of Wildwood Drive.

“When there’s a forum, there will be a notice on the Town website and in the normal manner,” said Chairman Moonan.  Asking to speak on the subject, Planning Board member Amy Lloyd pointed residents in the direction of the new Town website where meeting schedules and agendas are posted. Lloyd added that a new feature of the website is the ability to sign up for automatic email notification of any or all town government meetings so that important issues do not go by unnoticed. [Visit https://www.bedfordma.gov/  and click the “subscribe to e-info” button at the bottom of the main page.]

Responding to the question of whether or not resident input would ultimately hold any sway, Selectman Margot Fleischman said that, like the public Great Road Master Plan meetings and the Comprehensive Plan forums, the outcome “depends on who shows up. Residents will have the chance to have their voices incorporated into something that builds consensus about what is desirable, what is not desirable.”


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Brian
Brian
8 years ago

We really don’t need new construction up there. Keep the neighborhood and houses as stand and sell them on a lottery system. It’s really not that complicated, we don’t need hundreds of meetings on this simple issue. It’s a tiny corner of town, no need for any studies.

Joe Piantedosi
Joe Piantedosi
8 years ago

Our town lacks housing for seniors. These homes would be great if they could be obtained and restricted to over 55 senior homes for long term Bedford residents looking to downsize.

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