Public Forum Focuses on Future “Look and Feel” of The Great Road

At Saturday’s Great Road Zoning Project forum – Image (c) JMcCT, 2017 all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

By Dot Bergin

Editor’s Note: A Bedford TV video of the two-hour Forum is now available on Youtube.com – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDKazEDICPY&t=148s and in preparation for Annual Town Meeting in March 2018 the Planning Board will hold public hearings on the proposed business zoning bylaw changes after the first of the year. Those present had the opportunity to review a series of poster presentations, showing examples of good commercial design, and to mark them up, indicating “likes” and “dislikes.”  (You can see the posters on the Town website; click here: https://tinyurl.com/y9trr3pf; https://tinyurl.com/yb4nsnfv

Saturday, December 2 was a busy day in Bedford with many events competing for precious time and attention.  But that didn’t stop nearly 50 residents from taking part in a forum on The Great Road Zoning Project and asking searching questions of the consultants from RKG, the company engaged to help the town develop a set of zoning regulations to guide future development along The Great Road commercial corridor.

As Planning Board member Amy Lloyd pointed out in her welcome message, Bedford’s business zoning was put in place in the 1960s and ’70s; except for some minor changes and an overlay district at the North Road subdistrict, little has changed.

Among the audience’s probing questions and comments:

Q: Is the goal in all of this to encourage more development on The Great Road?
A. That is the fundamental question! “You can have zoning that is designed to capture the decision of an individual property owner to do something with their property and to guide what they do, or you can have zoning that actually encourages change. And those are not the same. We are looking for direction from the Planning Board as to where you are on that philosophical spectrum. ” — Judi Barrett, of the Barrett Planning Group, collaborating with RKG

Q. “Your presentation seems to suggest that all of this is coming from you, the consultants. Many of us are very concerned that the proposed changes to the zoning will change the small-town character of the town, the historic character. Is the Planning Board telling you to go this route or are you just going off on your own?”
A. “At every step of the way, the Planning Board has directed the consultants. If there has been any hesitation on their part, it’s because the Planning board has not given them a clear enough direction. We have a working group with constituents from many different committees. We actively solicit input from citizens, so please come and give your input. This is very much a Planning Board and town-directed activity. They (the consultants) are not acting on their own at all.” — Planning Board Member Amy Lloyd

Q. “Listening to this I am getting the impression that this whole rezoning is geared to bringing business into town. It is completely unconscious about residential needs. Zoning that makes it easier for more businesses to come in would seem to be counter to [the interests] of any residents in the area.” A questioner who said she lived on The Great Road.
Following on this, the next speaker roared, “Traffic,” that is the biggest problem. “If you are putting up more buildings, what about the roads?”
A. “What the speaker said earlier about the historic character of the town-does anyone here think the Great Road Shopping Center – where TJ Maxx is – is historic? All buildings have a lifespan and when that lifespan comes to an end, they will be redeveloped. What this does (zoning changes) is guides that redevelopment.” — Daphne Politis, RKG

Q. “What about the buildings that are here now? Does the owner have to rip them down?”
A. “Absolutely not. But when the time comes that a building needs to be redeveloped, here is what the town would like to see happen. In response to your traffic concerns, one of the major components is to make Bedford friendlier for pedestrians and bicyclists. You could park in one place and walk for a longer time.” — Daphne Politis, RKG

Q. “Is The Great Road the only place where we want to encourage business development in town?” — Another resident’s traffic question
A. “That’s a planning policy question, out of the scope of what we are asked to do. It’s a comprehensive plan question, not what we were asked to address.” — Judi Barrett

Q. There are “quality of life” committees here in town – arbor resources, bike safety, etc. – who would like to meet with you? Is this possible?
A. “Again, absolutely. The consultants welcome the opportunity to hear from these groups.”  — Daphne Politis, RKG

About the Formal Presentations

Planning Board member Lloyd urged those present to take home what was discussed at the Forum and share it with neighbors, in preparation for a vote on business zoning bylaw changes at the next Annual Town Meeting. “We need to recognize that what is familiar and comfortable may not now be the best fit for our changing world…. We need to respond to the needs of the business community while striving to recapture some of the best retail-district features of the past — a streetscape that focuses on humans not cars, safe walking, green spaces, and lively storefront.”   She acknowledged that zoning codes are complex, dense, and sometimes counter-intuitive, and require work to fully understand.

In his presentation, RKG planner Eric Halvorsen reviewed the revised Zoning Bylaw and map. The draft Bylaw seeks to promote economic vitality for The Great Road’s four business areas, which are quite different from one another.  The Shawsheen subdistrict-which is the gateway to the town from the east- offers an opportunity for housing and mixed-use development.  Bedford Marketplace and Bedford Center each have unique characteristics. The North Road subdistrict, with smaller lots, offers different possibilities for redevelopment.  Strung along the commercial corridor are residences; zoning will be specific to each subdistrict. The zoning changes apply to businesses only, not to residences.


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