By Eliza Rosenberry

A town project focused on improving the Great Road business corridor is scheduled to progress over the next year, with designated opportunities for public input along the way.

At a January 24 Planning Board meeting, consultants from RKG Associates presented findings from recent interviews with Bedford business owners, developers, officials, and residents and then outlined a path forward. The effort will focus on ways to rezone areas of Great Road, which will affect the types of buildings and businesses along the town’s main street.

Formerly known as Great Road rezoning, consultants and Planning Board members decided to call the project something else — anything, they said, without the word “zoning.” “I think [people] just hear ‘zoning’ and their eyes glaze over,” acknowledged Planning Board Chair Jeff Cohen.

A new name has yet to be determined, but consultants and Board members hope it will lead to more people being interested in the project, which could have wide-ranging impacts for families, seniors, employees, and others in the community.

Planning Director Tony Fields told The Citizen this project will be an opportunity to discuss “how The Great Road corridor should look and feel to its users, how it interconnects with the adjoining neighborhoods, and how it might evolve as a place as the world changes around us.”

For example, Bedford zoning laws do not allow assisted living facilities along the Great Road. According to the consultant, multiple interview respondents said that was a concern. Creating bicycle and pedestrian friendly streets, coordinating shared parking facilities, and attracting specific kinds of businesses could fall under the project umbrella as well.

Concerns reported to RKG Associates by business owners and developers included signage restrictions and split-lot zoning (when a single property is divided into multiple zones).

“Zoning has historically been used to separate where we live from where we work from where we shop and where we play,” Fields said. He explained this approach to development led to what is known today as “sprawl,” requiring people to drive between their daily activities and resulting in traffic congestion. Today, efforts to combat sprawl include “mixed use” development.

The project formerly known as Great Road rezoning has been overseen by a working group that includes representatives from the Selectmen, planning, zoning, economic development, code enforcement, and the Historic District Commission.

Bedford community members will have multiple opportunities throughout the project to participate in reshaping the Great Road. A public visioning exercise is planned for Saturday, March 4, with further details forthcoming.

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