By Dot Bergin
The Planning Board public hearing on two zoning issues of high importance brought an overflow crowd to the January 23 meeting, so large that the meeting had to be moved from the Selectmen’s Room to the Multi-Purpose room in Town Center.
Most of the audience turned out for the first hearing on the proposed Great Road rezoning article, with more than a dozen speakers coming to the microphone to give comments both pro and con. The Pine Hill rezoning article, which has been extensively reviewed at earlier meetings of both the Planning Board and the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, garnered only a few questions toward the end of the evening. For the revised Section 21 of the zoning bylaws, now titled Pine Hill Overlay District, go here: https://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/bedfordma/files/news/coast_guard_redline_draft_as_of_1-17-18.pdf
GREAT ROAD ZONING
Judy Barrett, member of the consulting firm RKG Associates engaged to study the Great Road zoning, gave a short overview of the proposed rezoning before the meeting opened for comments. A number of studies, including a recent market study, have preceded the current one and Barrett said her team had taken all those into consideration.
What People Want
Barrett said, “In all our discussions with your Planning Board and others we spoke with, there are certain things we heard repeatedly, and one is ‘design really matters…People really care about how something looks.’ People want a mix of uses and a different size of businesses. Connectivity between parking lots is a big issue. People would also like more public spaces, to encourage socializing.”
What can zoning do? Barrett said, “From a property owner’s perspective, what matters is ‘what can I do with my property’? A lot of zoning written until recently focused on the owner asking this question. Older buildings that we value may have evolved over time, going through many changes. The ability of a building to evolve and maintain economic viability is important. Buildings really matter. We approached [our work] from a form-based approach. Let’s think about the kind of place we are trying to build here and wrap the regulations around it. “
For an informative graphic showing the proposed Great Road Corridor district and its four sub-districts, go to https://sway.com/KgHt4V3HIpB6EXXz?ref=email&loc=play
For a description of the revised Section 20-Great Road District-of the bylaws, click here: https://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/bedfordma/files/news/great_road_third_draft_clean_rev_1-17-18.pdf
In view of the high turnout, the Planning Board voted to continue the public hearing on the Great Road rezoning until January 31 and urged those present to “invite their friends” to attend and to continue the discussion. At the next hearing, the Board will go through the rezoning article section by section, which was there no time for at the first hearing.
Traffic congestion along the Great Road
How will the proposed zoning help reduce traffic? The Planning Board, the consultant, and many of those speaking acknowledged traffic as the most critical issue. Rezoning can possibly mitigate the congestion by encouraging pedestrian and bike-friendly streets. Soraya Stevens, speaking as a private citizen and not as a member of the Transportation Advisory Committee, said: “We are a cut-through town and no Board can change this but we can make it safer and more appealing for people to move around.” Meg LeSchack noted that traffic won’t decrease if businesses become more “interesting.” Laura Reynolds had concerns about a proposed condominium development on the site of the Bedford Motel; an influx of population there would further exacerbate traffic in that area. Planning Board member Amy Lloyd said traffic is a regional problem and we can’t address it at the local level but the Board is acutely aware of citizens’ concerns.
Many speakers were concerned about three or four-story buildings along the Great Road. Lloyd reminded the audience that there is already zoning in place for three-story buildings. Planning Board member Jeff Cohen pointed out that the Blake Block is actually higher than the Marketplace but because the block is more appealing generally, no one notices the height. At least one speaker, Lewis Stuhl, referred to the Marketplace as a “disaster,” with missing crosswalks and no pedestrian access between the Marketplace and Blue Ribbon Plaza.
Loss of Small Town Character
Lee Yates thanked the Board and consultant for the work and said “This is a wonderful plan – for Burlington. The idea of three-story buildings along the Great Road is horrifying to me.”
Local realtor Suzanne Koller commented on the “wonderful opportunity” for the town: “We have a rare opportunity to address several things at once. Two things I hear are the traffic, and the need for housing for downsizers. I think you are addressing the traffic, making things more pedestrian-friendly and lowering speed limits. Traffic actually hurts business.” Koller says she hears every day from people who are looking to downsize but there are few options for one-level living. Note: the proposed bylaw favors mixed-use buildings, with businesses on the ground floor and residences above.
Margot Fleischman, speaking for herself, not as a Selectman, and Lee Vorderer also stepped to the microphone to express their approval of the proposed zoning.
PINE HILL OVERLAY DISTRICT
The revised Section 21 is intended to develop the zoning that will allow the vision of the town, as expressed in the 2014 charrettes, to occur. If the article passes at the March 26 Annual Town Meeting to create the overlay district, then the developer will be able to go ahead with the second phase of the project. At that point, the Planning Board will address questions on the site plan and other considerations through the Special Permit process.
David Olson commented that the density of the Pine Hill project was not consistent with the neighborhood and the price was too high (not an issue that is addressable by the Planning Board.) Janet McClain hoped the article would go on the town Meeting Warrant “earlier” and wondered what would happen if it were voted down again.