Submitted by the Bedford Planning Board, in collaboration with the Bedford Chamber of Commerce
In 2016, recognizing that commercial development patterns along The Great Road no longer reflected the quality and character that we want for our town, the citizens of Bedford voted to enable the Planning Board to conduct a complete “soup to nuts” review, analysis and if necessary, overhaul of its outdated, 1970’s-era business zoning. As a result of this endeavor, the Planning Board is proposing a new set of business zoning bylaws that is sensitive to the distinctive personality of The Great Road corridor and our town. The proposed bylaws are nearly complete and will be presented at Annual Town Meeting in March. Below are some questions about the bylaws that are on peoples’ minds…
WHY is this necessary?
The current zoning bylaws reflect outdated, mid-20th century, auto-centric building patterns that ignore the historic context and character of Bedford. The goals of this effort are to create zoning that is…
- Clear, internally consistent & easy to navigate;
- Supports the goals and policies of our many diagnostic and qualitative studies: The Comprehensive Plan, The Great Road Master Plan, The Bike/Pedestrian Master Plan, and last year’s market study;
- Incorporates town planning current best-practices that encourages sensible, controlled development;
- Is designed to support a variety of businesses – particularly small business – and provide flexibility in a changing business environment;
- Promotes good form and design.
WHAT is the purpose of the new zoning?
- To promote the economic vitality of The Great Road’s business areas
- To encourage a mix of uses in a physical arrangement that is safe for pedestrian & bicycles, as well as vehicles
- To provide for small- and moderate-scale, single- and multi-use buildings that support a variety of retail and service uses
- To respect and preserve Bedford Center’s historic character
WHERE is this happening?
This is happening along the Great Road business districts. The new Great Road Business District will be comprised of four sub-districts, each with its own unique character, mix of business types, and activity level. The four sub-districts are:
- Shawsheen: the eastern gateway, comprised of the Great Road Shopping Center area
- Marketplace: the Bedford Marketplace/CVS area
- Center: the historic core
- North Road: the western gateway, that encompasses Bedford Farms and Doyon’s
None of these areas are being expanded.
Rezoning does not apply to existing residential districts along the corridor.
Is the goal of updating the zoning to increase the total number of businesses on Great Road?
No. The goal is to encourage redevelopment that is more sensitive to the character and personality of Bedford, and at the same time, acknowledge the changing needs and realities of business and retail in the 21st century. The actual number of businesses may marginally increase, depending on the type of developments that are proposed, but this is not a specific goal of the new bylaw.
I live on the Great Road. If my neighbor on Great Road sells their house, can they put up a big office building next to me?
There is no change to the residential districts along the Great Road Corridor: only the business districts are included in the rezoning.
I’m afraid of a Walmart going in on the Great Road. Will the rezoning allow that?
Bedford’s available spaces and zoning size limits are far smaller than what those types of big box stores require.
I own a commercial building on Great Road. How will this impact my building? Am I required to make changes?
No, this set of bylaws will provide guidance and incentives only when a property owner chooses to redevelop their property.
Are existing businesses grandfathered?
Yes. Existing businesses/property owners are not required to change anything if the new bylaws are enacted. Only when a property owner decides to redevelop in their property does the new bylaw come into play.
I heard that an outside consultant made all the decisions. What role did the town play? What about town residents and the local businesses?
From the original identification of the deficiencies in our bylaws, to constructing a realistic proposal for hiring a consultant, to spearheading this multi-year, comprehensive overhaul, the Planning Board and Planning staff have directed and overseen the entire effort.
Early in the process, the Board convened a working group that has had significant input into the direction and specific features of the proposed bylaw. This group is comprised of a diverse collection of stakeholders and interested parties from other town boards & committees, residents, the Chamber of Commerce, Bedford’s Economic Development Office, and property owners along the corridor.
Is the local business community onboard with the changes?
Yes. Feedback from the business community/Chamber of Commerce has been very encouraging. Many businesses and property owners have felt that Bedford’s business zoning was long overdue for an overhaul.
How do local community groups like the Bedford bike committee, and environmental groups stand on this?
Feedback has been positive. These groups have been engaged in the process from the outset and the Board and the Working Group have responded to their concerns and priorities.
What happens in the Historic District? Will the new zoning regulations override the historic protections?
Not at all. The Historic District Commission will continue to have full jurisdictional control over the architectural aesthetics throughout the Historic District.
Does the new zoning override our environmental regulations and local wetlands bylaw?
No: all existing local, state, and federal environmental protections remain firmly in place.
Will the new zoning ensure that redevelopment is more aesthetically appealing than previous redevelopment?
Design matters very much! Unlike current zoning, the proposed bylaw is highly focused on promoting good building form and function.
It always seems like the developers do the bare minimum. How can rezoning improve the buildings we get and prevent ugly “features” like big, blank walls?
The proposed bylaw places a significant emphasis on design and allows the Planning Board to have greater control and oversight than it does currently on form, quality, and function.
I don’t mean to sound too harsh but there are a few older buildings in town that look really run down. Have we taken that into consideration?
While it’s the prerogative of each individual owner to determine what to do with their property, the proposed bylaw is intended to give incentives to encourage redevelopment of tired & outdated parcels.
What does mixed-use really mean? Will there be huge apartment complexes on Great Road?
Mixed use, in essence, is the way towns were constructed for most of history, but updated for modern living. It allows for all the pleasant components of daily living to be gathered together into a convenient and well-designed whole, with commercial enterprise located at street level, offices and/or residences above and behind, and public amenities scattered throughout.
Mixed use also provides for a vibrant mix of business types and sizes.
The zoning does not permit huge apartment complexes all along The Great Road; however, residential use is an integral component in a mixed-use development.
Seniors need more options to stay in town. Will the proposed apartments/condos really be built for accessible and senior-friendly living?
The Planning Board is acutely aware of the deficiency of down-sizing housing options and evaluates residential developments with this need in the forefront.
“ADA” compliance is required by law for all public buildings. The proposed bylaw goes above and beyond by requiring elevator access to all upper story residential floors with 6 units or more.
Why is there a separate zoning article that recommends four story buildings? I don’t want Bedford to turn into Burlington!
In order to provide an incentive to property owners to redevelop aging, tired properties into attractive sites with public amenities, adding some height provides a financial incentive. An increase in height is proposed for two specific large parcels in the Shawsheen sub-district and under very narrow circumstances:
- Only by special permit, only at the rear of the property, and only at very limited locations would 4 stories/48 feet maximum be considered by the Board… but not guaranteed.
- The building height will be measured to the top of the peak on pitched roofs
This height proposal is in a separate article because the Board knows that some citizens have concerns and felt that it would benefit from a separate, detailed discussion at town meeting.
The proposed maximum height permitted by-right, would be the same as what is permissible now – and has existed for many years. Many aspects of the dimensional requirements are based on the existing as-built environment along The Great Road
Is the updated zoning expected to result in an increase of traffic on the Great Road?
Traffic congestion is a frustrating problem that affects us all. We know that the large majority of cars on Bedford streets during morning and evening rush hour are cut-through commuters. This is a regional problem that cannot be solved by local means, zoning or otherwise. The Planning Board cannot promise that there will be no effect whatsoever, but bylaws that encourage sensible, controlled development will not bring hordes of new drivers to town.
Will the zoning changes decrease the traffic on The Great Road?
No. However, with a focus on pedestrian and bicycle safety, it is hoped that more people will choose not to drive whenever possible.
I keep hearing references to “pedestrian amenities”. What exactly does this mean?
Critical components of community-oriented design is the incorporation of public places to gather; places to sit; walking routes that are safe, pleasant and connected; places to safely park bicycles; and green spaces. The proposed bylaw contains strict and specific guidelines and requirements for these amenities to be part of any new development.
Will the new zoning result in more sidewalks? Wider sidewalks?
The proposed bylaw requires all new development to install sidewalks (current zoning does not), but building code governs the actual sidewalk dimensions.
The bylaw also places emphasis on incentivizing shared access and enhanced links between adjoining properties.
I love outdoor dining. Will the updated zoning encourage or discourage this?
Outdoor dining – and other features that make for a lively streetscape – are encouraged in the proposed bylaw.
How will the rezoning affect parking? Will it get harder to find parking?
In order to reduce the “sea of asphalt” effect, the Planning Board looks for ways to incentivize shared parking among business that have differing peak busy hours.
Some small reductions in parking are proposed for low-impact businesses: banks for example.
There is no intent in the proposed zoning to make parking more difficult to find.
From what I read, it seems like parking will no longer be in the front of the business. Will it mean a much longer walk from my car?
That is correct, parking lots will not be allowed in front of businesses, but provisions are in place to require safe, direct walkways from parking to the business.
To make a more pleasant and pedestrian-friendly streetscape, the proposed bylaw requires parking to be placed at the side or rear of a building, but there will still be entrances and walkways making it clear for you to get to where you’re going.
I don’t see why every business has their own driveway. Does the new zoning encourage shared driveways?
Absolutely. Encouraging fewer curb cuts along the roadway is a high priority.
At their meeting on February 12, 2018, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 (with one member absent) to recommend approval of the three Town Meeting Warrant Articles that address the proposed Great Road Business Districts Zoning Bylaw amendments, to be presented at Annual Town Meeting on March 26, 2018.
Please visit the Planning Board page on the Town website and learn more about the proposed Great Road Zoning Project: https://www.bedfordma.gov/great-road-zoning-project