Special Town Meeting, 2015 Defeats Petitioner’s Change to Marketplace Zoning Map in Article 3

By Dot Bergin and Robert Dorer

Special-Town-Meeting-2015The November 2 Special Town meeting attracted an unusually large turnout of voters, with interest running high in a proposed zoning map change in Article 3. The Article asked voters to approve a change from Limited Business to General Business for the Bedford Marketplace stores fronting on the Great Road. After an hour of debate, the proposal was defeated by a vote of 49 in favor to 225 opposed.

Attorney Pam Brown, representing Marketplace developer Ross Hamlin, argued that the change would remove the 2,000 square foot limitation on retail stores (Limited Business) and aid the developer in securing tenants for spaces not yet leased in the buildings now under construction.

The current plans for the site (with current zoning intact) were approved by the Planning Board in 2009.  Ross Hamlin purchased the property in 2014 prior to the implementation of any of the 2009 approved plans.  Since that time he has been developing the property per the approved plan with some adjustments approved by the Planning Board.

The Selectmen, the Finance Committee, and the Zoning Board of Appeals recommended disapproval of the article. The Planning Board recommended approval. Speaking for the Selectmen, Mike Rosenberg said there had not been enough time to evaluate the impact of the change.  The article was presented to the Selectmen for inclusion in the Warrant at literally the last hour: they approved including it in the Warrant by a 3:2 vote.  The Finance Committee recommended disapproval by a 5:4 vote.

Jeff Cohen, speaking for the Planning Board, argued that the existing 2,000 square foot limitation on retails sales area is unrealistically low and not conducive to business growth. He said the Board agreed that at some future time it would be desirable to explore options for a new business district or corridor overlay but this would require much study. But for now, the Planning Board approved the change.

Michelle Puntillo reported for the Zoning Board of Appeals that the ZBA felt rushed and that is was a reckless article with the potential for significant unintended consequences and unanimously recommended disapproval of this article.

When the moderator called for comments, more than a dozen voters lined up to vigorously oppose the change. Objections ranged from the haste in which the Article was presented, the need for the zoning bylaw to be carefully studied and rewritten (“a rushed amendment sets a bad precedent”); that the developer knew the limitation when he purchased the property, so why is he coming in now requesting a change; and that 2,000 square feet does work for retail spaces in other business districts in town.  Although the question of building setback from the Great Road was not at issue, several speakers referred to the 10-foot setback of the building now nearly completed as a “shock.”

Other citizens also rose in opposition to the article saying the developer knew what he had, why change it now in response to this request, and that the implications need to be studied first.  One citizen in defense of the article said, “Why not give business a chance?”  Several citizens spoke to the purported 2,000 square foot limit liability citing numerous well-recognized stores that fit under this limit.  Some citizens also used this time as an opportunity to criticize the tight (10ft) setback and to them, the unappealing design and massing of new, nearly complete buildings that front the Great Road.

Resident Douglas Miller identified himself as a longtime resident and a civil engineer with much experience in land development, working on various projects in the town over the years spoke.   He noted that this article was the “worst I have seen in my career,” and went on to refute Ms. Brown’s various statements on purpose and need for the zoning change.   He echoed the need to do the study before not after such potentially significant zoning changes.

At the Moderator’s request, owner/developer Ross Hamlin came to the podium to respond to questions. One questioner asked why the popular Luigi’s restaurant is not returning to the shopping center as was previously reported.  Hamlin said two of the three owners had decided to retire.  Subsequent speakers expressed doubt, saying that the staff was expecting to return when the restaurant closed on August 29.  Later, after no more questions were being asked of Hamlin, Jim O’Neil called for a point of order. “I’ve been attending Town Meeting since 1968, and I’ve never seen a proponent of a special request be allowed to stand at the front forever in a forceful, intimidating manner. I ask that he leave instead.” The moderator asked that Mr. Hamlin return to his seat and he complied.

The question was called as the questions and statements were winding down with two citizens remaining at the microphone.   The call to end debate passed and the article was then voted on with the vote being 49 in favor and 225 opposed, the moderator declared the article defeated.

Voters left the meeting wondering “what now?”  The Citizen will make every effort to follow up and to keep readers informed on this still-current issue.

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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Dan Archibald
Dan Archibald
6 years ago

I was sorry to miss the meeting.. thanks for a great write-up.

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